Breathe – 5 Ways to Better Mental Health

We have all been breathing since we were born, and predominantly we do it completely subconsciously, so our breath is something we often take for granted. However when we become aware of our breath we have an amazing tool that not only keeps us alive on a minute by minute basis, but can alter our mood, calm us down and give us something to focus on in meditation.

One of the great things about our breath is when we make the time to remember we have it, we never find that we have left it at home it is always with us. Whenever we notice ourselves getting stressed, just stopping and taking a deep breath can really help to get things in perspective. When someone has just said something that really presses all our buttons, taking a moment to breathe can enable us to respond rather than react. Those few extra seconds are often priceless.

If you are noticing cumulative stress, or you are worried about something, or even having an anxiety/panic attack the 7/11 technique is really useful. Breathe in for a count of 7 and then out for a count of 11. The slower out breath helps your body to relax. If you are not used to breathing deeply and this feels difficult, to begin with you may want to start with breathing in for a count of 4 and out for a count of 6. Either way, it is important that the out breath is longer than the in breath. This slows your heart rate and has you feeling calmer. Do this until you feel better. Remember that this isn’t competitive, and if you feel dizzy or light headed, stop. Listen to your body it will let you know what it needs, but keep practising, as it may simply be that over a period of time you may have forgotten how to listen to your body. Sometimes I can simply do this once and it is just enough to remind me I can choose to stay calm, six rounds of this breathing and I am really back in the room and functioning better. If I have the time, I may breathe like this for 5 – 10 minutes, which moves me into a meditative practice which I will explain in a moment.

Simply being aware of our breath and taking a moment to notice can be all we need to shift our state during the course of a busy day, however forming the habit of a simple meditative practice can make the difference between your days being hectic and them being in flow; between your nights being wakeful or filled with peaceful sleep. The research on the benefits of meditation is extensive, and it’s practice doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated. Meditation is a habit worth cultivating for anyone who values their health, happiness or success.

People tell me they can’t meditate; there are many things in life that I haven’t been able to do particularly easily when I first tried them, but no one is watching and the only failure is to never start. If you get hooked and you want to know more there is lots of information out there that will detail more ideas, but I am just going to start you off with a simple breath counting meditation.

It doesn’t matter whether you sit, lie or stand, but ideally your spine will be relaxed in it’s natural slight curve, upright but not forced. I do meditate lying down at night, but often the consequence is sleep, so I would also encourage you to try it at another time of the day. Find somewhere where you will be undisturbed for a short while. I prefer to close my eyes, but you may choose to simply lower them and bring them to a soft focus just in front of you. Now you can either do 7/11 breathing for a while, or you can breath count. Simply notice your breath and count the out breath. Breathe in, exhale count 1, breathe in exhale count 2, etc all the way up to 7 and then start counting again from 1. If you lose track or your mind wanders off, once you notice simply bring yourself back to your breath and start again. If you lose track again, just bring yourself back and start again, and again. Don’t judge yourself, if you keep losing track just be gentle. There have been times when I have written the shopping list and planned the next week before noticing and gently bringing myself back to counting my breath again.

Make this a regular habit. I recommend that you set aside the same time each day. You don’t have to do it for half an hour. Start with just two minutes a day and build it up to 5 minutes, then perhaps 10. After a while you may find that you want to extend the time, but it is far better to start with a short time that happens every day than to set an unrealistic intention that barely lasts two days.

With 1 in 4 of us suffering some sort of mental health crisis in our life time this stuff is important, please share this with your friends. These practices make a real difference to our mental wellness.

written by

Ruth Steggles