“Breathing is the most important function we do,” says Dr. Gerbarg, co-author of The Healing Power of the Breath. Gerbarg and her husband Dr. Brown have spent the last 15 to 20 years finding easy, quick and effective ways to help people suffering from stress and anxiety, which if experienced on a regular basis can be disrupt your sleep habits. As a result they came up with he Breath Body mind program, which they have been teaching since 2005. This program focuses on teaching people simple and effective breathing techniques to help relax and calm the body. One of these stress-reducing techniques is Coherent Breathing, which can be used to help anxiety and sleep problems. In this excerpt of The Healing Power of the Breath, they describe beginner steps for Coherent Breathing.
You may sit or lie down in a comfortable, supported position. Close your eyes, close your mouth, and breathe through your nose. Focus your attention on feeling the breath move in and out through your nose and airways to your lungs. When other thoughts enter your mind, just let them float through and refocus your attention on the breathing sensations. Breathing should be slow, gentle, comfortable, not forced in any way.
When you are first learning to do Coherent Breathing at five breaths per minute (bpm), you will need to begin in steps to slow down your breath rate. Once you have learned to breathe at five breaths per minute, you will not need to use these starting steps. You will be able to just start the Healing Power of the Breath CD and within a few breaths you will be in the correct rhythm. But the first few times, follow the beginning steps listed below.
If you find that trying to breathe at five bpm is too difficult, then as an alternative begin with six bpm using the last track on the CD that accom- panies this book. Once you have mastered breathing at six bpm, it will be easier for you to slow down to five bpm, or you may choose to stay with the faster rate.
If you are not able to slow down to six bpm, you may need to begin with Steve Elliot’s Slow Down! CD. (See the sidebar in the introduction.) This CD begins at your natural breath rate and very gradually slows your breathing down.
Beginning Steps for Coherent Breathing
• Breathe through your nose with your eyes closed.
• Taking your time, count slowly and silently in your mind: As you breathe in, . . . two . . . as you breathe out . . . two . . . repeat this for two breaths.
• Taking your time, count slowly: As you breathe in . . . two . . .three . . . as you breathe out, . . . two . . . three . . . repeat this for three breaths.
• Taking your time, count slowly: As you breathe in . . . two . . .three . . . four . . . as you breathe out . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . repeat this for four breaths.
• Taking your time, count a little more slowly: As you breathe in . . .two . . . three . . . four . . . as you breathe out . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . repeat this for four breaths.
Once you learn to breathe at five breaths per minute, you will not need to use these learning steps. You will be able to just start the Healing Power of the Breath CD and within a few breaths you will be in the correct rhythm.
Play track 2 of the CD. Continue breathing slowly as you listen first to Dr. Brown’s voice, and then to the two-bells chime. When you hear one chime tone, breathe in very slowly. When you hear the next chime tone, breathe out very slowly. If you find it difficult to sustain your breath from one tone to the next, it may be because you are breathing too forcefully, inhaling or exhaling the air too quickly. Try to move the air more slowly in and out. This will slow down your breathing and allow you to retain enough air to make it to the next tone. The more slowly and gently you breathe, the easier it will be.
Old tensions are stored in our systems. Feel where the tension is in your body. You may feel the tension in your belly, chest, throat, or neck. Let it go more and more with each out-breath. Imagine the breath as the wind mov- ing through a forest of trees.
Continue the Coherent Breathing practice for five minutes. If it is going smoothly and easily, continue for ten minutes. However, if you are struggling, stop and rest. Relax a bit and then try again. Be patient and give yourself time to adjust to the breathing without judgment. If you are still having difficulties, read “How to Deal with Obstacles to Coherent Breathing,” below.
Most people enjoy the gentle sound of the chimes on the Healing Power of the Breath CD. However, some people find the human voice to be more soothing. If you prefer to pace your breath using a voice recording, we recommend that you use the Respire-1 CD recorded by Stephen Elliot. It is available on his Web site, http://www.coherence.com. On the third track, voice commands are used to pace the breathing. People who have had head trauma often find the voice-led track to be more comfortable and calming. Another reason to use the Respire-1 CD is that the longer-running tracks are convenient for practicing twenty minutes. The Coherence Web site also allows for direct downloading onto iPods or MP3 players.
Reprinted from The Healing Power of the Breath. Copyright © 2012. Published by Shambhala Publications, Inc.