breathing practices

Calm Your Body and Mind with 2-to-1 Breathing

Our breath is one of the most powerful and accessible tools that we have to support our physical and emotional health and wellbeing. As someone who used to struggle with panic attacks and debilitating anxiety, I can humbly say that learning how to breathe deeply with conscious intention has been life changing.

One of my favorite breathing techniques is 2-to-1 Diaphragmatic Breathing (also known as Relaxation Breathing). It’s a deeply calming breathing technique that stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (which is also known as our rest and digest system).  It’s called 2-to-1 Breathing because you lengthen your exhalation to twice as long as your inhalation, which helps the body and mind to unwind. Our inhalations are naturally more energizing and upregulating – they stimulate our sympathetic nervous system (which is responsible for our fight or flight response), while our exhalations are naturally more grounding and calming, stimulating our parasympathetic nervous system. By extending your exhalation, you offer your body the opportunity to settle into a greater state of rest and relaxation.

Breathing with Your Diaphragm

The diaphragm is a large, dome-shaped muscle located at the base of the lungs and is our primary muscle of breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing (also known as belly breathing or abdominal breathing) helps the lungs work more efficiently. Breathing into our chest and bypassing our abdomen is more of an activating breathing pattern that when done chronically, can lead to stress and tension in the body.

Take a moment to quickly check in with your own breathing pattern. Place one hand on your heart and one hand on your abdomen just below your rib cage. Continue to breathe naturally for a few moments observing the rise and fall of breath in your body. Do you sense this rise and fall more palpably in the hand on your chest or the hand on your abdomen, or perhaps you feel both rising and falling equally?

If you feel your chest rising and little movement in your abdomen, not to worry – you are not alone. As babies, we naturally breathe from our abdomen, but as adults, many of us tend to shift our breathing up into our chest. The great news is that with practice, you can absolutely train yourself to strengthen your diaphragm and breathe more deeply into your abdomen.

Try it out by taking a full deep inhale through your nose, and gently inflate your abdomen as you breathe in so your abdomen moves out against your hand. Exhale out through your nose, inviting your abdomen to gently fall. Keep the hand that’s on your chest as relatively still and steady as possible, inviting only the hand on your abdomen to rise and fall with each inhale and each exhale. Practice a few rounds and then take a moment to notice how you feel.

How to do 2-to-1 Diaphragmatic Breathing:

Start by finding a comfortable position either seated or lying down on your back. If this is your first time practicing diaphragmatic breathing, I recommend lying down if you’re able to, as it can often be a little easier to sense the movement of your diaphragm and abdomen while on your back.

Inhale through your nose and feel your abdomen gently rising, then exhale out through your nose and sense your abdomen gently falling. Continue for a few rounds. Note: If your sinuses are congested or there are any other reasons why breathing out through your nose doesn’t feel comfortable, you may choose to breathe out through your mouth or through pursed lips, like you’re blowing out of straw instead.

Step 1: Inhale through your nose for a count of 4, inviting your abdomen to gently inflate as you breathe in.

Step 2: Exhale through your nose for a count of 8, inviting your abdomen to gently fall as you breathe out.

Step 3: Practice 3-5 rounds, breathing in for a count of 4 and breathing out for a count of 8 as one round.

Deepen Your Practice

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