In medicine, we know it only takes three deep breaths to significantly support vagal nerve tone, which helps modulate your autonomic nervous system. Meaning your heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure and brain all get calmed and centered and soothed… and pain significantly decreases as well.
Because we can actively control our body’s air exchange through intentional breathing, there are lots of awesome ways you can play around with using your breath to calm you, invigorate you, increase your focus, decrease your anxiety, decrease your pain, increase your oxygenation, decrease stress and muscle tension, and more.
Although unconsciously most of us will default to holding our breath when feeling stress, or tension, or fear, or anxiety, intentionally taking a few deep breaths is a deeply healing way to give our body the message that we are okay. Because we can override our default brainstem breath pattern with an intentional, more powerful, deeper breath, focusing on breathing gives us a unique ability to actually modulate our neuronal activity with intention.
We typically can’t go in with our brain and override our other autonomic nervous system functions — like intentionally slowing a pounding heart rate or intentionally decreasing a spiking blood pressure — we CAN actually go in and intentionally take deeper breaths, which then allow that heart rate to slow down and that blood pressure to alleviate… naturally.
This gives us an amazing tool for natural biofeedback. And we can do this as often as we want, anywhere we want, and even be totally in public and still privately practicing this healing biofeedback tool of intentional breathing.
I have done tons of research for you — from personally attending live Transcendental Breathing events to workshops on yoga breathing techniques to more traditional medical training in lung physiology, respiration and oxygenation patterns, experience in using respiratory interventions like incentive spirometery and lung percussion, years and years of hands on lung auscultation, as well as decades of reading the latest medical literature.
And after all that, I can report back to you that I have four favorite, simple, fun, and effective breathing tips. I’m going to share them with you, right now. So stop holding your breath during times of stress and illness and tension and transition, and instead use the power of your breath to help you instantly transform it.
5 Ways To Use Your Breath To Feel Instantly Better:
1. Use the power of three:
It truly only takes three deep breaths to boost vagal tone, slow your heart rate, boost oxygenation, calm the mind, increase focus and productivity, stimulate digestion, and reduce stress.
Just three deep breaths — just 3! — try them right now. You will instantly give your body a mini-break and your brain a mega-boost.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
- This is one breath. Repeat the cycle two more times for a total of three breaths.
The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is what is important here… spending twice as long exhaling as inhaling.
If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise up but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice you can slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply.
This exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. Unlike tranquilizing medications, which are often effective when you first take them but then lose their power over time, this exercise is subtle when you first try it but gains in power with repetition and practice. Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension.
2. Incorporate grounding:
To relax into a longer breath-work session, it is really helpful to incorporate movement — in this case, walking.
And here is the key to make this breath work even more powerful: do it grounded.
Walking barefoot on the earth during walking meditation is the hands-down easiest way to drop out of your monkey mind, calm your thoughts, and center your awareness down in your heart (or even better — down at your feet!)
And being grounded naturally boost vagal tone, so along with your breath work, you are exponentially calming your central nervous system, releasing stress and anxiety, calming your heartrate, lowering blood pressure, boosting your circulation and oxygenation, releasing muscle tension, brightening your mood, and giving your body a head-to-toe fresh start.
Grounding supports your vagal tone so well that it actually helped premature infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to improve outcome. Read this article on my blog right here to find out more about that important study.
If you are suffering from trauma, from insomnia, from anxiety, from depression, from anger, or from any other stressor (and who isn’t?) support your recovery and release by simply doing ten minutes of grounded walking.
If you have never done a walking meditation, you are in for the biggest treat.
In the video below, I sneak you into my favorite walking meditation — using a labyrinth! I also share with you some super easy ways you can create your own labyrinth, so even if you don’t have access to a labyrinth (and even if you don’t have any of your own yard space to create one) you can still do a walking meditation.
Watch me as I do a walking meditation for you and then let’s plan out a way for you to do it too:
Literally drawing a spiral with a piece of chalk on a sidewalk square, or simply walking up and down a line on your driveway, or using tape to create a line or spiral in your garage, all of these ideas can create a grounded walking meditation path that will literally transform your day.
- Any cement, sidewalk, concrete surface outside is grounded, so anywhere you can kick your shoes off and walk a line or a spiral on a sidewalk or concrete will get you grounded without ever getting your feet dirty! For example. Walk up and down a sidewalk slowly. Walk back and forth across your driveway slowly. Draw a chalk spiral on your cement basement garage or basement floor to walk on. Or get fancy and use tape to create a labyrinth in your garage or basement on the concrete floor that you can use forevermore! This video shows how you can create a labyrinth out of masking tape, in just minutes.
- Of course, any dirt path outside would make a fabulous grounded meditation path, just slowly walk it up and back.
- If you love the feeling of grass on your bare feet like I do, you can always walk on any safe green space in a grounded walking meditation.
- Most garden paths and patio walkways are grounded, because slate, tile, brick, even gravel is all grounded when they are lying on the earth. So almost any outdoor walkway is an instant grounded meditation spot when you walk it barefoot. In this video I show you 15 different outdoor surfaces that will ground you, beyond just grass.
- And if you are lucky enough to have your own yard, you can even spray paint a little spiral on your grass to use it for several days in a row. If you love it you may be inspired to create your very own labyrinth path by laying stones or brick to create a personal labyrinth in your yard or garden. I know this is on my bucket list to do one day!
If you can take ten minutes to do this walking meditation daily — grounded — I believe with my whole heart it can change your perspective on your entire life, fill you with a sense of hope and fresh positivity, and help you feel physically better too.
3. Use a chime:
If it’s absolutely not possible for you to go outside for a grounded walking meditation today, don’t worry. It’s a little too cold for me to go barefoot yet this year too, so in the meantime I lean heavily on my favorite chimes.
Using an auditory cue, like a chime, to focus on while you take three deep breaths, allows you to reap similar benefits, any time and any place, even inside your home or office.
In the 15 minute video below, I share with you 3 easy ways to remember to take a few deep breaths throughout your day… click the video below and come do it with me!
Together we will experiment with using a bar chime (my favorite,) a tuning fork, and a wind chime.
For bonus points, do this outside. One thing I love about a bar chime is that it is very small and lightweight, so you can easily slip your bar chime in your purse, backpack or pocket… and head outside to get grounded. Using a chime for breath work outside grounded combines tip #1 (taking 3 deep breaths) with tip #2 (doing it grounded) so you can reap the benefits of both very, very easily.
I also love having the wind chime out on my desk to help visually remind me to take a few deep breaths throughout my work day, and I also find it helps give me a focus (and is especially helpful for auditory folks!) to help distract my mind from taking over with thoughts.
You can grab the different sound healing tools I use in the video right here:
- Bar Chime — best for taking deep breaths
- Tuning Fork — best for physical vibrational healing
- Wind Chime — best for uplifting & recentering, like a reset button for your day!
Meanwhile, watch this video now to give it a try and let’s breathe together:
As I mention in the above video, the work of Dr. Herbert Benson, M.D. paved the way for understanding how the brain actually improves performance when you take breaks during stressful tasks.
4. Add a mantra:
In the video above I also mention a study that was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry on June 20, 2018, that found that short sessions of repeating a mantra actually helped resolve PTSD symptoms in veterans even better than traditional talk therapy did.
Wow! Here are the details:
- 173 veterans were enrolled in the study, 89 of them using mantra therapy (focusing on a repeating a mantra) and 84 using talk therapy (with a focus on problem solving) for an hour long session once a week for 8 weeks straight.
- They were randomly assigned to each group and the assessments were done blindly (meaning the therapist did not know which patient was doing which therapy when assessing symptoms and monitoring progression) before treatment, after treatment on week 9, and at the two months follow up after the conclusion of the study (week 17.)
- The results showed that focusing on a mantra provided a clinically significant, meaningful improvement to the veterans PTSD symptoms that were sustainable, and worked particularly well for insomnia… better than the talk therapy did.
- Patients from the mantra group actually had larger improvements to their insomnia and equally impressive improvements to other symptoms, such as depression and anger.
The results showed that the mantra results were as robust as traditional talk therapy treatments that were trauma-focused.
That means, that even if you have resistance to focusing on the actual traumatic event to work through your trauma, you can have every bit as meaningful recovery when you focus on a mantra as opposed to the trauma!
This is huge news.
And equally exciting, the improvements from mantra therapy were sustained for months after the treatment ended, with more patients being PTSD free after mantra therapy than traditional talk therapy (60% of mantra patients were PTSD free at 2 months after intervention, compared to 40% of the talk therapy group.)
This study is so incredibly valuable I feel, because as someone who admittedly has a very difficult time with meditating for any length of time, I feel that knowing that just repeating a single word has literally been clinically shown to make a significant difference in improving quality of life and treating insomnia, anxiety and other PTSD symptoms is such a relief.
Slowing down your thoughts and practicing sustaining a point of attention on just a single repeated word or phrase was shown to help patients cope with daily anxiety, fear, anger, depression and insomnia.
You can practice a healing mantra any time, any where. Here are my favorite two suggestions.
I actually have this printed on the medication card in my Healing Focus Cards, so if you like these you can grab a card set for yourself here, but feel free to come up with your own word or phrase that centers you best:
breathing in: I am lovable
breathing out: I am loved
breathing in: I am safe
breathing out: I am strong
Take a minute long break to use your breath to center you when you feel your stress increase sharply — it’s simple, it’s convenient, and it’s free.
As a huge advocate for grounding therapy, you know I am a big fan of free therapies that allow patients to take control over their own health. So knowing that you can take a few mindful breaths, or repeat a healing mantra, or ring a chime, or even head outside for some grounded breath work as you do a walking meditation… is such an awesome thing.
Each one of these suggestions will measurably reduce stress in the body and give your health a boost,
Breath work is very private and very powerful.
5. Use Healing Artwork as a reminder:
I believe in the healing power of the breath so much that I painted a painting of it to remind me daily.
This is my reminder to:
Take A Deep Breath.
It occurred to me, when I was working with a patient on his breathing issues, that our lungs remind me very much of wings. I told him to take a big deep breath of air as if he were stretching out his wings behind him, imagining his lungs filling, his shoulder blades growing wings, and his arms reaching out and up as if he were about to take flight.
I liked that image I had in my mind of our lungs filling and turning into wings so much I wanted to paint it! So I did.
I grabbed my medical school anatomy book (hard to believe I used that 25 years ago now! Wowza how time flies!) and got to work, sketching out the lungs and trachea on a canvas. After that, I added an outline of wings behind the lungs:
Then on to painting… first I filled in the background with a layer of deep grey:
Then I wanted the energy to feel like it was pouring down over you, swooping in, urging you to breathe in deeply and receive the life giving air directly into those precious lungs of yours:
I added some divine purples and pinks to the background color, and began to paint in the wings with whites and light greys:
Once I got the background and wings how I wanted them, I outlined the lungs again for contrast:
And then painted them in with a pinkish orange:
Working back in some additional highlights, I painted some shadows and highlights on the lungs with white and light purples, and added some more white energy coming in from above:
Lastly I added the mantra: breathe deep.
I wanted this image to be wonderful, healing, anatomically based but spiritually expansive reminder to be the best you possible today and every day.
At least I know I could personally use the reminder to stand up straight, hold my head up as I meet the stress of each day, and stop to take those long deep breaths that feel so good.
If you could use a reminder too, you can order a Giclee archival quality print of this image right over here. Watermark does not appear on the Giclee prints, don’t worry!
I have the original hanging in my own bedroom and I just can’t part with it. But I’d love to think you had the same artwork in your own bedroom as well, reminding you to breathe deeply as you fall asleep and as you wake up again each morning!
So here are some suggestions to implement these tools today:
- start the day with a few deep breaths while you breathe a self selected, calming mantra in and out
- have a tuning fork, a wind chime, or a bar chime or in your work or living space to use throughout the day whenever stress hits, or simply re-play the video I share with you above where I hit the chime for you and breathe right along with me
- get grounded outside, walking mindfully in a straight line or along a spiral for 10 minutes during a mid-day break
- stand outside under the stars after dinner or before bedtime each night, looking up at the moon and stars and taking 3 more grounded deep breaths in and out, slowly
- hang this healing mantra artwork in a doorway, your bathroom, your kitchen your office or your bedroom to remind yourself throughout the day to stop and take those important deep, centering, healing breaths
- breathe a self selected mantra in and out for a few deep breaths each evening as you lay in bed before sleep, or while soaking in a relaxing epsom salt bath soak just before bed
And if you don’t think breathing impacts your health, you should try a transcendental breathing class… now there is a great way to feel more expansive and more free than you have felt in a long, long time!
There is a reason why, when we come into this world, everyone waits for the baby to take that first breath of air. That’s the breath of life! That’s the sign that we are healthy, that we are strong, that we are alive!
It only takes a few minutes to start to reap the benefits of using your breath to boot your health… and the results can be maintained sustainably for the rest of your life.
To your health and your inner angel wings, that are just waiting to fill and support you… don’t forget to lean on them when you need to!