Last week I went to a two day workshop taught by Marsha Linehan, the originator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). She was fascinating, as much for her ego and humorous style as for her topic. DBT is a therapy that helps a person change their thinking, and through that, change their emotions and behavior to be more effective and functional in their lives. It will take me some time to process all that I learned, but I wanted to share with you one tidbit today. It regards breathing.
I have written several times about mindfulness and breathing. Dr. Linehan shared something that I had never heard before. She said she asked Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese meditation teacher, peace activist and writer about how he teaches breathing. He said to breathe in slowly and deeply, pause, then breathe out a little longer than you breathed in. I had always heard that the breath out should be ‘as long as’, or sometimes I heard ‘at least as long as’ the breath in.
Dr. Linehan said for her, for example, a pace of 5 counts in, pause, then 7 counts out works best. I tried that, and it worked for me as well. Your pace may be a little different. Give it a try. Count as you breathe in, pause, then breathe out, counting a little longer. Find your own pace. We tend to focus more on breathing in than on breathing out, probably because we know we need the Oxygen, and we think that breathing out just gets rid of the resulting waste air. But think about it. If we don’t breathe out enough, where is that Oxygen going to go when we breathe it in? By breathing out longer than we breathe in, we ensure that there is sufficient room in our lungs for a good deep breath.
This paced breathing is a way to focus your mind. It influences the autonomic nervous system to slow down your heart rate and other subconscious functions. It calms the mind, and reduces anxiety and panic. (The symptoms of anxiety and panic are regulated by the autonomic nervous system). It not only helps the mind to relax, but also the body. When I breathe in and out without counting, my mind always wanders. The counting helps to keep my mind on the breathing, improving the quality of my meditation. I have also noticed that I am less likely to yawn if I breathe out longer than if I don’t.