The Coping Kete

Tag Archives: Breathing Exercises

No. 161: Laughter Yoga

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

… I will practice laughter yoga every day. Laughter yoga is the practice of deliberate, voluntary laughter. The idea is that forced laughter soon turns into real laughter and has the same benefits for body, mind and mood that spontaneous laughter does. Laughing on purpose can help us learn how to create laughter from the inside and how to use laughter to shift our moods, rather than waiting for our moods to shift before we can laugh. Laughter yoga is usually practiced in groups. We get the most benefit if we can laugh vigorously for 20-30 minutes, according to Laughter Yoga Aotearoa New Zealand. Natural laughter usually comes in bursts and this why practicing in groups can help. But there’s no reason why we can’t also practice laughter yoga alone, using a few simple exercises to get us started.

This week I will schedule time to practice laughing for no reason, without needing something ‘out there’ to make me laugh. It might help to start with just a few minutes and build up to 10, then 20, then 30. I might also need to warn the people I live with to expect to hear some loud laughter coming from my room for a while – they might even want to join me. Laughter yoga is something that can wake my body up, so I won’t schedule my practice time right before bed, unless I find that it tends to make me feel relaxed and tired afterwards. It will probably feel strange to do this at first, but that’s okay. This week, I give myself permission to be silly for a brief time each day.

To practice laughter yoga, I will do some simple exercises that involve forced, extending laughing.

  1. Take a Laughter Drink
    • Standing up straight, feet hip-width apart, I will raise one hand in front of me as if I am holding an imaginary (and bottomless) cup full of laughter.  I will take a deep breath into the bottom of my belly, then ‘pour’ the laughter into my mouth for the entire out-breath. As I tip the ‘cup’ into my mouth and breath out I will force myself to laugh out loud as I ‘pour’ more of the laughter out of the cup. I will repeat this for ten breaths in and ten breaths out, trying to pour more and more laughter out of the cup each time.
    • This time I will imagine the cup is full of different kinds of laughter. The light, giggling laughter is floating on the top, the deepest belly laughter is sitting on bottom. This time, when I tip the cup to my mouth, I will start with light tee-hees and move through the whole range of laughs until I get to the loudest, deepest ha-ha-has. With each cycle of breaths, I will try to laugh for a little bit longer.
  2. Laughter Balloons
    • Standing with my back straight and my feet hip-width apart, I will place both palms flat on my belly and imagine I am holding a giant, empty balloon against my stomach. This time, on my first out-breath my laughter will fill the balloon, until my arms are stretched out in a circle in front of me. Then I will take a deep breath in and slowly release the laughter out of the balloon on my next out-breath, laughing out loud until the balloon is emptied and my palms are once again flat on my belly. I will repeat this two-step process five to ten times, aiming to laugh for longer each time.
  3. Laughter Hand-Ball
    • Standing with my back straight and my feet hip-width apart, facing a wall, I will pretend I have a laughter ball in my hands. I will take a deep breath in and on the out-breath, I will ‘throw’ the ball at the wall with a burst of laughter, and ‘catch’ the ball when it bounces back with another burst of laughter. The louder my laugh, the faster the ball will travel. I’ll experiment with a different kind of laughter each time.
  4. Laughter Body Fill
    • Standing with my back straight and my feet firmly grounded on the floor, this time, my laughter will fill my body. I will imagine each in-breath fills a different part of my body with the energy to laugh. On each out-breath I will laugh out loud from that part of my body, starting with my toes, legs, stomach, chest, shoulders, nose and the top of my head.

If I work up to spending five minutes on each exercise, I’ll eventually be doing 20 minutes of yoga laughter a day. As I move through the week I will observe how this affects my body and moods.

Once I am comfortable using yoga laughter at an everyday kind of time, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping during times of stress and distress. Doing some laughter yoga could allow me to take a break from my distressing thoughts, shift my body’s physical stress responses and release some of my brains happy chemicals.

No. 155: Make Space for What is Here

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will practice expanding to make space for stress, distress and upsets when they appear, rather than tightening up around them and getting stuck struggling against them or having to make them stop. Being human involves a wide spectrum of emotions; I can feel them all and this week I will practice allowing myself to.

To begin with, I will pick a couple of anchor-tasks that I do every day that I can use to practice with, like making my morning cuppa or waiting for emails to load. Whenever I find myself doing my anchor-task, I will take a moment to observe my thoughts and moods in the moment by putting words to them, one by one. Breathing deeply, for each observation, I will tell myself “I have space for what is here” and imagine myself expanding around it as I breathe and shift into an open, relaxed posture, releasing any muscles I am tensing. If I notice a struggle to expand around something, I will repeat the strategy with that set of thoughts, observing, describing, making space. After a moment, I will bring my attention back to my surroundings and the task at hand (or what I really need/want to be doing), carrying this sense of space with me.

Once I am familiar with using this strategy at a planned time, I can practice using it throughout the day whenever I notice an unwanted shift in my moods, so I start to get used to expanding around stress and distress. Sometimes, part of making space for stress and distress, means soothing it. It might help to respond to distressing thoughts and feelings with supportive self-talk as I breathe and relax around them.  Expanding to make space also means accepting what I need and getting those needs met. I might need some self-care or distraction or support to help me, expanding around distress, doesn’t mean I have to carry it on my own or give up on trying to feel better.

When I am comfortable expanding around stress and distress, I will add ‘expanding to make space’ to my Personal Coping Kete as a way to survive the times when I am struggling.  I’ll be able to take a moment of observe my thoughts and moods in the moment by putting words to them. Breathing deeply, I will tell myself “I have space for what is here” and imagine myself expanding around it as I breathe and shift into an open, relaxed posture, releasing any muscles I am tensing. If I notice a struggle to expand around something, I will repeat the strategy with that set of thoughts, observing, describing, making space. After a moment, I will bring my attention back to my surroundings and what I need/want to be doing next, carrying this sense of space with me.
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Acknowledgement: “Expansion” is an acceptance strategy found in Russ Harris’s ACT self-help book ‘The Happiness Trap‘.

This post is one person’s way of learning and practicing expansion – it isn’t necessarily the right way. When it comes to coping there is almost never a right way. We’ve each got to experiment to make it our own.   

 

No. 149: Balloon Breaths

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will practice relaxing myself with my breath. Whenever I notice my breathing, I will clasp my hands together and place them on my belly, just below my rib cage (right on my diaphragm). I will imagine my stomach is a balloon. As I breathe in, I will blow my belly up like a balloon, pushing my hands out. I will let my breath fall out slowly through my lips in one long, smooth breath. I will take 5-10 breaths like this, blowing my belly up like a balloon with every breath in and letting the air out nice and slowly on each breath out.

As my mind distracts me from the task, I will bring my attention back to my breathing. It can help to notice the movement of the hands, the sensation of the breaths and to count out each deep breath in and out ‘In one….out one…in two…out two…’

Afterwards, I will notice what effect this breathing exercise has on me. I will notice how the heart slows down, how the body feels more still, the mind more calm.

When I am comfortable slowing my breathing down like this at an ordinary time, I will add ‘Balloon Breaths’ to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping with stress and distress. When I feel agitated or upset, I will be able to take a brief moment to do 5-10 balloon breaths and calm down my physical stress responses that make it difficult to think clearly and respond in a helpful way. By taking a moment to breathe deeply and fully, I will be able to clear my head a bit before I act on my emotions.

Balloon breathing is another way of thinking about diaphragmatic breathing.  Diaphragmatic breathing is a well-known strategy for calming physical stress responses and is a great base for any number of relaxation exercises like visualisation and sensory modulation.

No. 146: Be Still and Breathe

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

… I will practice being mindful of the wider moment by pausing as often as I can remember and simply being still. Throughout the day, wherever I am when I remember, I will stop what I am doing, be still and just breathe. Whatever is going through my head, I will notice and let pass, while I breathe and be still. I will take this time to notice the light and temperature and textures around me and the sensations in my body as I stop what I am doing and settle into the moment.

When I notice thoughts I will practice noticing them kindly, without judging them. I will practice letting the thoughts I notice pass by looking at what else there is to notice in this moment. Moving my awareness on will help me make sure I don’t get hooked into one particular train of thought. If I notice myself making judgements, I will observe the judgement and again move my awareness to what else I notice while I am breathing and being still.

In this way, I will practice having little rest spots throughout my day, where I can slow down and notice what is happening inside and around me, without getting hooked into the stressful stuff. Taking moments to slow down and be still might help me be aware of what am dealing with, while I allow myself to be mindfully distracted by my surroundings. After a little while of being still and breathing, I will carry on with what I was doing.

When I am comfortable stopping to be still and breathe in everyday moments, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a strategy for times of stress and distress. When I notice I am getting wound up, I will be able to stop what I am doing, be still, breathe and look around me to get a bit of soothing space between feeling and responding.

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This week’s Coping Kete strategy is inspired by a strategy from a member of the public who attended The Butterfly Diaries launch during Mental Health Awareness Week.

No. 145: Look For Movement

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

… I will practice taking a break from thinking and focusing on something relaxing to improve the moment.

This week, when I notice myself caught up in my thoughts, I will pause and mindfully look around me or out the window at all that is moving. For just a minute or two, I will mindfully breathe and notice all that is moving in the space where I am and, if I am indoors, all that is moving outside my space, through the window.

As I stand or sit, I will simply observe the movements of the things around me. When I notice my mind wandering back to my thoughts of the future, I will congratulate myself for being mindful of my thoughts and turn my attention back to noticing the movement of the things around me – the direction the grass is blowing in, the way the flowers in the garden throw their heads around, the way the trees move, the laundry on the washing line and how it all moves together.

After a minute or two, I will return to my day and what I was doing.

Once I am comfortable interrupting a thought and making myself mindful of the movement around me, I will add ‘Look for Movement’ to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of giving myself space when I am distressed. If I can give myself space when I am feeling stressed or distressed, I will give my mind and body time to rest and make it easier for me to face the things that are tough. If I can give myself space before I react to my distressing feelings, I might react in a different way that has more helpful consequences for me in the long-run.

This week’s Coping Kete strategy comes from a member of the public who attended The Butterfly Diaries launch on the 13th of October and decorated the launch tent with a strategy that helps them feel better when things are tough.

 

The Butterfly says: “I Take a break from thinking sometimes and go outside and notice how everything is moving in the wind.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Acknowledgement: Mindfulness can be traced back to buddhist philosophy. Thich Naht Hanh is known for creating the Engaged Buddhism movement  and popularising mindfulness in the Western world. Jon Kabbat-Zinn is known for popularising mindfulness in the medical community with the Mindfulness-Based Stress-Reduction (MBSR) programme at the University of Massachusetts. Marsha Linehan is known for popularising mindfulness in the mental health community with Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT).  The basic practice of mindfulness features in many strategies shared in The Coping Kete. Once you learn the basic skills, you can use mindfulness in any moment you find yourself in, in countless different ways. There is an awful lot behind each of the skills involved. Follow the links above to learn more. 

No. 141: Observe My Physical Connection to the Moment

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellness…

…I will, practice grounding myself in the physical moment as a way of changing my experiences. This week, I will interrupt myself once a day, place both feet flat on the ground and take a few deep breaths into the bottom of my lungs (see belly breathing exercise here). As I breathe, I will focus my attention onto the sensation of my feet connecting with the ground. I will look around me and notice the other sensations I feel as my body connects with the environment around me – the air on my skin, the temperature of the light. After a few moments, breathing slowly and noticing my connection to the space around me, I will turn my attention back to my day.

I might set an alarm on my phone to help remind me to practice turning my attention away from one thing and onto my connection with the physical environment around me in this specific moment. In this way, I will get skilled at letting go of one moment and shifting my attention to something calm and grounding.

When I’m familiar with interrupting an ordinary moment to ground myself in the space around me, I will add the strategy to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping during times of stress and distress. When I notice myself becoming upset or focused on unhelpful thoughts, I will be able to take some time out to calm my distress before returning to what needs my attention next. The breathing will help me to soothe my physical responses while being mindful of my physical space will distract me from unwanted or unhelpful thoughts.

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Acknowledgement: Mindfulness can be traced back to buddhist philosophy. Thich Naht Hanh is known for creating the Engaged Buddhism movement  and popularising mindfulness in the Western world. Jon Kabbat-Zinn is known for popularising mindfulness in the medical community with the Mindfulness-Based Stress-Reduction (MBSR) programme at the University of Massachusetts. Marsha Linehan is known for popularising mindfulness in the mental health community with Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT).  The basic practice of mindfulness features in many strategies shared in The Coping Kete. Once you learn the basic skills, you can use mindfulness in any moment you find yourself in, in countless different ways. There is an awful lot behind each of the skills involved. Follow the links above to learn more. 

No. 140: Observe the Facts of the Moment

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

 once a day, I will practice distracting myself from unhelpful thoughts by mindfully interrupting myself in the middle of an ordinary daily task  and spending a few seconds observing and describing the current moment to myself without using any emotional words. While I am observing and describing the current moment to myself I will practice belly breathing to help me relax. Once I have observed and described each element of my current moment to myself, I will go back to my task. 

I could use an alarm to help me remember to interrupt myself each day.  

I will pass my mind over the space I am in, the people present, what they are doing, what the air feels and smells like, the weather, the sounds around me, the scene out the window, the position of my body in the room, the sensations within my body – all of the physical facts of the moment.  If I notice my mind making judgements about anything I observe, I will watch the judgement pass by me like a train and turn my mind back to describing the moment around me. Everything but these observable facts is my perception. I can choose which perceptions to attach myself to and which perceptions to let pass me by. I will remember this as I move back into my task. 

Once I am comfortable with interrupting an ordinary experience to mindfully connect with the physical moment, I will add the strategy to my Personal Coping Kete as a way to interrupt distressing thoughts and get some space from my emotions. When I notice I am getting distressed, I will give myself permission to let go of my worry for a little while and turn my attention to my breath and the physical facts of the moment around me. I will keep observing and describing the physical facts of the situation until I have calmed down and am able to think a bit more clearly about how to cope. As distressing thoughts come into my mind I will observe them as they pass by, without chasing after them and turn my mind back to noticing the physical facts of the situation and continue with my breathing until I am feeling calmer.

No. 138: Visualising My Intentions

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

I will practice telling the difference between my expectations and my good intentions and get in the habit of letting my intentions guide me instead of my fears. While my expectations are useful, they can get in my way at times, but my good intentions bring me back to what it is important to me, back to my values.

This week, I will take a moment every morning to practice slow, belly breathing while I focus my attention on visualising my positive intentions for the day. 

Before I get out of bed in the morning, I will lie back and do a few minutes of belly breathing.

As I breathe slowly down into my belly and let each breath float back out, I will think about my good intentions for the day by saying to myself “today I would like to ….” and then picturing it happening in my mind.

If my self-critic or inner future-predictor interferes and I start thinking about barriers to my good intentions or reasons why it won’t work out, I will notice the thoughts then come back to my breath and my intentions for the day. After a few minutes, I will open my eyes if I had them closed and move on into my day, carrying my values and positive intentions with me.

In this way, I will get used to setting aside my expectations to get a clear sense of what I value and what I want to happen, so I can carry these things throughout my day and come back to them when I find myself in a tough moment. I’ll also get to start my day off with a bit of calm breathing which might help set me up for a more relaxed day too.

Once I am comfortable with spending a few moments breathing and connecting with my values and wishes rather than my fears and expectations, I will add this to my Personal Coping Kete as a strategy for self-soothing during times of stress and upset.When I notice I am distressed, I will be able to take a moment to breathe, come back to my own values and intentions as a way of soothing my unhelpful thoughts and problem-solving how I will deal with the situation I am facing. 

No. 134: Grounding Myself with Sounds

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will practice getting grounded by slowing down and observing the sounds around me. I will begin by closing my eyes and noticing the sound of my breathing, then I will gradually move my awareness away from my body as I notice the sounds I can hear close to me, then further into the distance. Then I will bring my awareness back towards my body until I become aware of the sound of my breathing again.

Each time I notice my mind wandering back onto concerns of my day, I will bring my awareness back to the sounds around me. As I return from the distance to the sound of my breathing, I will remind myself “I am here, in this place, breathing my breath.” Then I will open my eyes and return to my day.

I’ll start out by practicing this exercise for one or two minutes every morning or night and then move to practicing pausing during the day between tasks to take a moment to ground myself within my body and in environment around me. In this way I will get used to letting go of my thoughts and concerns and giving myself a moment of peace. This will help prepare me for interrupting unhelpful thoughts and giving myself a moment of peace when emotions are running high.

Once I am familiar with this kind of exercise I will add ‘Grounding Myself with Sounds’  to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of shifting my mind away from unhelpful thoughts during moments of stress and distress.

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Acknowledgement: Mindfulness can be traced back to buddhist philosophy. Thich Naht Hanh is known for creating the Engaged Buddhism movement  and popularising mindfulness in the Western world. Jon Kabbat-Zinn is known for popularising mindfulness in the medical community with the Mindfulness-Based Stress-Reduction (MBSR) programme at the University of Massachusetts. Marsha Linehan is known for popularising mindfulness in the mental health community with Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT).  The basic practice of mindfulness features in many strategies shared in The Coping Kete. Once you learn the basic skills, you can use mindfulness in any moment you find yourself in, in countless different ways. There is an awful lot behind each of the skills involved. Follow the links above to learn more. 

No. 132: Breathing Affirmations

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will spend a moment every morning taking some calm, slow breaths while I repeat a couple of positive self-affirmations in my head.  For just two minutes, I will sit still, with my eyes closed, as I breathe deep into my belly and gently repeat my affirmations in my mind. As I notice my mind drifting away from my affirmations into doubtful, critical or negative chains of thought, I will bring myself back to my slow breathing and once more begin repeating my affirmation to myself. After a couple of minutes I will open my eyes and carry on with my day. Before I try this, I will need to prepare some statements that I might find validating, hopeful, strengthening or soothing in some way. 

A positive self-affirmation is just a statement about something positive that I think is true about myself or my place in the world.

What is a useful, comforting affirmation for one person, might not be any help to another person. So this exercise involves doing some exploration of what fits for me. Some people use inspiring quotes they have read somewhere, others use simple self-statements like “I am okay, whatever happens, I can survive it.” Others like to acknowledge their values and intentions. Others like to remember things like “I am connected to the wider universe and the ancestors that came before me.” Really, an affirmation can be anything at all.  Over the week, I will pay attention to the kinds of statements that I find useful and figure out what kinds of self-affirming statements work for me.  This week, each morning, I will have a chance to get used to hearing myself being kind and encouraging to myself.

Once I am comfortable with doing a breathing exercise while I think some self-encouraging statements, I will add the Breathing Affirmations to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping during times of stress and distress. When I notice myself feeling upset or troubled in some way, I will take a moment to breathe and feed my mind some soothing, strengthening thoughts.