Breathing Strategies

Slow, deep breathing is one of the fastest and most effective ways of helping you to relax, to reduce stress and tension, even to help you control pain.

Once you have mastered various breathing techniques, you can use them at any time during the day without interfering with your activities. Just a few deep breaths can help you get stress and tension under better control. For instance, you can use your breathing to help control your anger during an argument, to keep a frustrating situations (like a traffic jam) from making you tense, or to maintain control over pain from an old or new injury.


It is best to practice breathing strategies when you don’t absolutely need them, that is in times of relative calm. It takes practice to have good, consistent success with your breathing. You can practice your breathing anywhere, such as while driving, watching TV, lying down at night, or taking short breaks during the day. The concept is to get in good practice with these new skills, mastering them effectively before you need to be put on the spot in a stressful situation. If you wait to use these strategies and only practice them during stressful situations, your skill level will not be at it’s maximum.

When you are practicing, when you are feeling very tense or when your pain level is high, take a break for 20 or 30 minutes. Find a place where you can sit or lie down comfortably and where nobody is going to bother you. Close your eyes, put your mind on breathing and relaxing, and remind yourself to be patient. Keep your mind attentive to your breathing pattern until you feel more relaxed or until your pain level calms down. You can also use your breathing in this way to help you fall sleep at night.

Some things to keep in mind when you practice:

  • Breathe slowly — when you are using your breathing for relaxation and pain control, you’ll want to breathe slower and deeper than you normally breathe. If you find that it is hard to slow down, then try pursing your lips when you exhale, like you are blowing out a candle, and focus on breathing out slowly on each breath.
  • Breathing to your belly¬†— breathe in so that your belly¬†fills up (or seems to) like a balloon. When you breathe out, just allow the air to escape slowly, like you are leaking air out of the balloon.
  • Don’t strain — let your breathing feel comfortable. Don’t force your breathing. If it feels like you are straining, then back off. The breathing should help calm you down, it should not require a lot of effort or increased tension.
  • Keep moving — one of the main goals is to keep a smooth, even breathing pattern going. At first, you may have difficulty staying focused, keeping your mind on your breathing, or keeping it in rhythm. Every time your mind wanders, just notice that it has wandered and gently bring it back to your breathing pattern.
  • Maintain a rhythm — if you have difficulty maintaining a steady rhythm, try repeating something in your mind along with your breathing. For instance , try counting to four on each inhale and six on each exhale, or try saying the word’s “breathing in” and “breathing out” in your mind. You can also try using a mental image that has rhythm, such as watching ocean waves roll up onto the beach and roll back into the surf.

Suggestions for relaxing with your breathing:

  • think about breathing in feelings of relaxation and breathing out feelings of tension
  • let your whole body relax a little bit more each time you breathe out
  • allow your body to feel like it is sinking down or floating
  • allow your shoulders to droop down
  • let your jaw feel loose
  • imagine that your arms and legs feel heavy and comfortable
  • let the muscles in your face smooth out
  • remind yourself to calm down several times

Diaphragmatic Breathing Procedures

Read through these diaphragmatic breathing procedures, then try diaphragmatic breathing on your own.

  • Initially is it is easier to practice diaphragmatic breathing while lying on your back in a bed, a recliner chair, or lying on the floor. Once you can breathe easily in this position, practice while sitting and later while standing.
  • Loosen any tight clothing, especially around your abdomen and waist. You might be more comfortable with your eyes closed.
  • Rest one hand comfortably on your abdomen near your navel. Place the other hand on your chest.
  • Inhale through your nose. This allows the air to be filtered, warmed and moistened. Exhale through your mouth or nose. If you have nasal stuffiness or other nasal difficulty, it is okay to inhale and exhale through your mouth.
  • Quietly concentrate on your breathing for a few minutes and become aware of which hand is rising and falling with each breath.
  • Gently exhale most of the air in your lungs.
  • Inhale while counting slowly to four. As you inhale, gently extend your abdomen slightly, causing it to rise about 1 inch. You should be able to feel the movement with your hand and in your body.
  • As you breathe in, imagine the warmed and relaxing air flowing in. Imagine this warmth flowing to all parts of your body.
  • Slowly exhale to the count of six. While you exhale, your abdomen will slowly move down as the diaphragm relaxes upward against your lungs. As air flows out, imagine the tension is also flowing out.
  • If it is difficult to inhale/exhale to a count of 4/6, start with a shorter count and later work up to four. If you are experiencing lightheadedness, alter the lengths or depth of your breathing.
  • Repeat this pattern, slowly inhaling and exhaling about five to 10 times. As you practice, remember that initially every breath will not reach the lower parts of the lungs. This will improve with practice. The idea is to passively concentrate on slow, even, easy breathing.