First breathe in by expanding your chest and rib cage, this is expanding the chest to inhale. Lets call this “chest” breathing and compare it to belly breathing.
Belly breathing can be very relaxing. Take a stuffed animal to be your “breathing buddy,” (actually any object will do) and lie flat with your back on the floor. Put your stuffed animal on your belly. Expand your belly (not your chest) and lift up your stuffed animal with your belly… notice that you inhaled when your breathing buddy went up.
Now lower your breathing buddy as it sits on your belly and notice that you exhaled… the air went out of your lungs. This is belly breathing. It works best to relax if you aren’t moving your chest much and are breathing only as much as your body needs. It also can help bring your awareness to your belly.
You can practice inhaling for a count of 4 and exhaling for a count of 4. As your body calms and relaxes it will need less oxygen and you will be able to count longer on the exhalations.
As you relax more, try breathing more slowly, exhaling for a count of 8 or more and inhaling for a count of 4. This practice of exhaling for twice as many counts as when inhaling is a way to activate the parasympathetic system and “the relaxation response.” Activation of the parasympathetic system is a way of calming, resting, and restoring the body. The counts don’t have to be exact seconds, they’re just counts. The quieter your body and mind, the more relaxed, the less oxygen is needed… and likely you’ll count more on the exhale as you continue to activate the relaxation response and the parasympathetic system. With mindful breathing one can comfortably use less oxygen than when sleeping.