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A Simple Relaxation Breathing Exercise You'll Love Forever

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Tap into your natural relaxation response with this soothing technique

I looked with dread at the violent waves crashing beneath me. My hands were trembling, my fingers cut to shreds by barnacles, adrenaline hurtling through my veins.

"You've got to jump now!" said the voice in my head. But my wobbling legs remained unconvinced.

Some friends and I had signed up for a 'coasteering' day trip on the coast of Wales. Dressed in wetsuits and helmets, we'd been led by our gung-ho guide into a tempest of dark, swirling waters and gale force winds.

Midway through, we were catching our breath on a high rock above the waves. I'd already been swept underwater and tossed over rocks countless times. I was beginning to question how safe this whole expedition really was.

Our guide cheerfully informed us that it was time to leap back down into the churning abyss below. But my legs just wouldn't budge.

A magic pill for anxiety and stress?

If only I had some sort of 'magic pill' to calm my nerves so I could focus and get control over myself. Just imagine if there was a drug that could:

What's more, imagine that this drug was completely free to everyone on the planet.

Then I remembered: I did have such a drug! And so do you. Except it's not a pill. It's a breathing exercise so simple I could even use it on a Welsh cliff face.

How the 7-11 breathing exercise triggers relaxation

7-11 breathing quickly and naturally calms down the body and mind. And it's incredibly simple and easy to remember, with just three steps:

  1. Breathe in for the count of 7
  2. Breathe out for the count of 11 (pause at the end if you need to)
  3. Keep breathing like that for a few minutes

Try it now. First, breathe all the way out, and then count in your mind as you breathe:

"In...2...3...4...5...6...7...
Out...2...3...4...5...6...7...8...9...10...11"

By doing this, you're making your out-breath longer than your in-breath. Just like when you sigh with relief at the end of a long day.

A long, slow out-breath activates your parasympathetic nervous system - the part of your nervous system associated with calm and rest. When you breathe like this for several minutes, you'll find yourself feeling much more relaxed, at ease, and ready to deal with whatever life throws at you.

3 tips for putting the 7-11 breathing technique to use

1. Breathe fully and deeply, more with your abdomen than your upper chest

When some people take in a deep breath, they suck in their stomach muscles and artificially puff out their chest. This is the complete opposite of healthy deep breathing!

Upper-chest breathing is an inefficient use of your lungs and linked to the body's 'fight or flight' anxiety response. Breathing shallowly from your upper chest sends a signal to the rest of the body that there may be danger around, which will increase your background levels of stress and anxiety.

To properly benefit from 7-11 breathing, it's essential to breathe deeply from your abdomen. Abdominal breathing sends a clear message to your mind and body that all is well and it's safe to relax.

Here's how you can check if you're breathing abdominally:

  • Put one hand on your chest and your other hand on your stomach
  • Take several slow, deep breaths
  • Check which hand moves more when you breathe: the hand on your stomach or the hand on your chest
  • If the hand over your chest moves more, then you need to practice relaxing your chest muscles as you breathe
  • Gradually allow your abdomen to rise more with each inhale and allow it to contract back towards the spine with each exhale

The more you breathe with your abdomen, the calmer you'll feel and the more you'll use your lungs to their full capacity.

2. Practice with '3-5 breathing'

Some people initially find it a bit of a stretch to count all the way to 11 on their out-breath. That's fine; it does take practice.

This technique isn't about forcing yourself to breathe as deeply as you can. It's important to be gentle with yourself and make each breath as relaxed, smooth, and silent as possible.

So if you're just starting out, you may find it easier to do '3-5 breathing', where you count in for 3 and out for 5.

Ultimately, you can use whatever two numbers work for you, so long as you make your out-breath longer than your in-breath.

3. Practice for several minutes every day

While 7-11 breathing is a great technique for being able to calm yourself down in moments of crisis, it's even more powerful when you do it regularly and consistently.

A daily breathing practice is an excellent way of retraining yourself to instinctively breathe more slowly, fully, and deeply.

Over the years, I've set many of my clients the task of doing 7-11 breathing daily for several weeks. Time and again, people have told me about some completely unexpected benefits they experienced, such as increased energy and deeper sleep. One woman said it helped her immensely when it came to calmly dealing with her two moody teenagers!

You might like to do it first thing each morning, during your breaks, or last thing at night. I've set up a reminder app on my phone that goes off several times a day. Every time I get the 'Do 7-11 breathing' reminder, I stop what I'm doing and breathe slowly and deeply for a couple of minutes.

After a month of daily practice, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at the many benefits of doing this one simple technique.

Take a (few) deep breaths and be ready to jump

And as for what happened to me when I was wobbling with fear up on that rock by the sea... Well, I remembered to use my magic pill.

I lengthened my out-breath and breathed slowly and deeply, five times in a row. Within moments, I found that my anxiety levels had dropped, I could focus again and had regained command over my body. So back into the water I jumped.

What had seemed overwhelming and frightening suddenly became tremendous fun again. And I now treasure that experience as one of those times in my life when I felt incredibly alive.

You can get help training yourself in relaxation breathing with our 7-11 Breathing Hypnosis Session.

Published by Joseph Kao - in Relaxation Techniques