Four Breathing Exercises to Increase Regulation

Breathing is one of the simplest ways to come into the present moment and connect to the body. Breathing increases regulation when you are pulled into experiences of the past or are spiraling into worries about the future. It is also a way to focus the mind, even if is it only briefly. For these reasons, it is commonly recommended to spend time on breathing when one is anxious, angry, stressed, or overwhelmed.

While you can definitely just put your attention on your breath, there are other variations of breathing that can increase grounding and connection to the body. Try these breathing exercises and become familiar with them as both a regular practice and to use when you feel anxious or disregulated. Discontinue and return to your regular breath if you feel overwhelmed, dizzy, or short of breath. 

1. Belly Breath

Lie down on your back or sit comfortably. Feel the connection of your body with the floor or chair, and feel your body getting a little heavier. Start to observe your breath as it is. You may want to close your eyes or let your focus be soft in front of you.

As you inhale, feel your lower chest, ribs, and belly gently expand. When your inhale is complete, gently draw in the navel to push the air out of the belly and chest. Continue at your pace. To increase relaxation, you can let your exhale be one to two beats longer than your inhale. You can put a hand on your upper abdomen or both hands on the side of your lower ribs to get the feedback of touch as you breathe. Continue for several minutes before returning your attention back to the room. Observe how your body is feeling.

2. Mainstream Breathing

Start in a comfortable seated position. Put your attention on your breathing without trying to change it. Just sit for about a minute with your focus on your breath. Gently bring yourself back to your breath if you get distracted.

Turn your attention to something you see that is pleasing to you. It could be a tree or the sky, an object in the room, a color. Give that your attention. Look at every detail, shadow, the perceived texture, shape, and so on with your full attention and curiosity. Then, turn your attention back to your breath for about a minute, imagining the air traveling in and out of the body through the nose.

Next, gently close your eyes and pay attention to the sense of sound. Imagine that you are opening your ears so you can take in all of the sounds, obvious and subtle, that are in your environment. Take a moment here just listening. Then, turn your attention back to your breath and listen to the sound of your breath coming in and out of your body through your nose.

Turn your attention to your sense of smell. Notice any smells in your immediate environment, even if they are very subtle or nonspecific. Just put your attention on this sense for a moment. Then return your attention to your breath, noticing the air coming in and out of your nostrils.

Place your attention on the sense of taste. This may be the taste in your mouth or imaging a taste that comes to mind. Just take a moment to notice this sense. Then return your attention to the breath, noticing the breath coming into the chest and belly on an inhale and leaving on an exhale.

Finally, place your attention on the sense of touch by touching something pleasant in your immediate environment. This could be the cloth of some of your clothes, an object in the room, or the surface you are sitting on. Notice all the details associated with touch such as texture, size, density, and temperature. After a moment here, return your attention to your breath. Notice how your breath feels inside your body.

You can opt to go through fewer than five of the senses. For instance, you can just pay attention to the senses of sight, sound, and touch.

I learned about this technique from Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Somatic Experiencing readings and trainings.

3. Circle Breathing

Start in a comfortable seated position with the soles of your feet on the floor. As you inhale, imagine that you are breathing in from the bottom of one of your feet. The air travels up your leg on that side, through your leg and torso to your upper chest. The air then moves to the other side of your body, and you exhale it down and out that side, all the way out the foot. Repeat this cycle. It does not matter whether you start with the right or left side, and you can try starting with the opposite side the next time you visit this breathing exercise.

Circle breathing is a technique from Freedom From Pain by Peter Levine and Maggie Phillips.

4. Bee’s Breath or Chanting “Om”

This breath involves making sound on the exhale. You can either put your lips together and hum like a swarm of bees (hence the name “bee’s breath”), or you can chant a deep “Om” sound, with half of the exhale being on the long “O” sound and half the sound vibrating the “mmm.” Inhale through the mouth and exhale “Om” or hum like a bee. Repeat four times and then observe the effects of this breath.

The louder that you make this sound, the more tension you create in the jaw, so try making a softer sound and being aware of how your jaw feels.

I hope you enjoy trying out these breathing practices and seeing how you experience them. While it is normal to notice some change in energy from doing breathing exercises, please discontinue any exercise that causes you pain, and consult a physician if you are concerned that you may not be able to do these exercises due to other health concerns.