The Coping Kete

Tag Archives: Breathing Exercises

No. 131: Mindfulness of My Breath

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

...I will practice being mindful of my breath as a way of changing my state of mind in the moment.

This week, I will try to pause at least once a day to spend a few minutes simply noticing my breathing, as I observe my thoughts and come back to being aware of my breaths.  Observing my thoughts means that as I notice my mind has wandered I describe what I am thinking to myself in my head. For example I might say to myself “Oh I am thinking xyz about work right now…”  and then I will turn my mind to noticing my breathing. Observing and describing my thoughts might help me express to myself what is really going on for me.

I won’t try to change my breathing at all, I will simply sit still for a few minutes while I breathe and notice myself breathing. As I see thoughts come into my head, I will notice what I am thinking and then I will bring my thoughts back to my breathing. I will notice the sensation of the breaths as they come in and out, I will notice the temperature of the air, the sound of my breathing, the way the breath feels on the way in and the way it feels on the way out. While I notice my breathing and observe my thoughts, I will practice having compassion for myself  and not criticising myself for the thoughts I have. Even if I notice myself criticising myself, I will simply bring my thoughts back to my breathing without further judgement. After a few minutes, I will open up my eyes and come back to my day.

It might seem pointless at first, but giving ourselves a chance to be mindful of our breathing has been shown to help a lot of people feel calmer about things, even though it doesn’t change the situation. Taking time to be mindful of our breath can help us  feed ourselves the air we need to have a clear head and give us the space we need for our thoughts to become clear to us.

Once I am used to spending some time being aware of my breathing while I observe my thoughts, I will add this exercise to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of dealing with stress and distress. When I notice myself becoming tense or upset, I will pause and spend some time focused on my breathing while I observe my thoughts without judgement and come back to my breath. No matter what happens, I am still here breathing. This can be an excellent way to give myself some space when things are tough. Sure, breathing doesn’t change anything I am facing, but it gives me some time and room to clear my head and become aware of where I am at in the moment, so I can move forward through my day with awareness and a bit more clarity.

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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. 123: Count Ten Breaths

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

… I will practice counting out ten deep breaths twice a day as a way of sowing the seeds of mindfulness into my daily life.

To do this, I will imagine my thoughts are following my breath as I breathe into my belly and count  ‘in, one’ and then breathe out and count ‘out, one’, then ‘in, two… out, two’ and so on until I get ten. Each time I breathe in, I will see my thoughts moving down into my belly and each time I breathe out, I will see them being released with my breath. I will not hold on to any particular thoughts, but come back to my breath as I count in and out until I get to ten.

In preparation I will schedule in two times a day so I don’t have to rely on my memory to remember to practice counting my ten breaths (such as waking up and going to bed) or set up a daily trigger to remind me to practice (such as waiting for the kettle to boil or sitting down to eat).

When I am comfortable stopping to count ten breaths into my belly and ten breaths out, I will add ‘count ten breaths’ to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping during moments of stress and distress. By stopping to count ten breaths I will feed my body calming signals, mindfully distract my attention and give myself some space before responding to whatever it is that lies before me.

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The Coping Kete is taking a summer holiday and will be back in mid-January 2013 ready for another year of coping strategies. Search the archives for fresh ideas to try in the meantime and have a safe holiday period.

No. 118: Declare a Peace Treaty with the Moment

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

… I will practice mindful distraction and self-soothing by regularly pausing and declaring a peace treaty with the current moment. When I declare a peace treaty with a moment, that means I am committing to spend a moment in peace before moving on to my next experience of the day. I will surrender whatever is on my mind for a moment and peacefully engage my attention in my surroundings.

This week, when I am in between tasks, I will practice saying to myself either silently or out loud “I declare a peace treaty with this moment.” I will then take a minute or more to ground myself peacefully in the current moment before I move on to the next task before me. Declaring a peace treaty with a moment means that for this moment I will interact with myself and my surroundings in a kind, calm way.

I will take 10 slow, deep breaths while I stop and mindfully observe my current surroundings. As I notice thoughts about the past or the future surfacing, I will remind myself of my peace treaty with this moment and turn my attention back to my peaceful breathing and the space around me in this current moment.

In accordance with my peace treaty, if I notice critical or judgemental thoughts, I will say something kind or accepting to myself to soothe them. I will then bring my attention back to my breathing and observing my current surroundings.

In this way, I will practice giving myself times of relaxation and release from worrying or critical self-talk. By practicing breathing at the same time, I will be able to return to the next task of the day with a clearer mind and calmer mood.

Each time I find myself in between tasks, I will stop and practice declaring a peace treaty with the moment again. Throughout the week I will experiment with different ways of doing it until I find what works well for me. I will keep a record of the things that make it tricky and how to respond to them differently next time, so I can start to build a good list of what a Peace Treaty with the Moment looks like and involves for me.

Once I have become familiar with the practice of declaring a peace treaty with a moment and taking some time to be present and kind to myself in between ordinary, daily tasks, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete for times when I find myself struggling against stress and distress. I will be able to declare a peace treaty with the difficult moment, disengage from feelings of conflict and take some time out to send myself some mindful messages of calm and compassion before I respond.

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Acknowledgement: This mindfulness strategy was inspired by Thich Naht Hanh’s Peace Treaty method for communication during conflict. Thich Naht Hanh is known for creating the Engaged Buddhism movement  and popularising mindfulness in the Western world. 

No. 116: A Moment for Self-Care

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

… I will practice using small moments of self-care to create positive experiences in my day. Self-care is the act of caring for myself by meeting my basic needs for food and water, movement, fresh air, sunlight, stillness, and physical care. I will spend some time every morning and evening focused on a self-care activity from one of these categories.

I will start out by making a list of activities I like for each kind of self-care first and then use my diary to plan which activities I will do each morning and night. I might even add to these categories if I want to, I could add ‘Connection’ or ‘Noise’ or any other kind of activity that I feel fits with my idea of what my ‘basic needs’ are.

For example

  • Food and water
    • Sit down and eat breakfast
    • Take time to prepare lunch
    • Make something really healthy for dinner
    • Eat a favourite food
    • Stop to drink a glass of water
  • Movement
    • Dance to music in my room
    • Go to a ‘No Lights No Lycra‘ event
    • Do some yoga stretches
    • Take mini-breaks to stroll round the room
  • Fresh air
    • Pause and do some belly-breathing
    • Stand outside and breathe deep for a moment
    • Pop my head out an open window
  • Sunlight
    • Read a book in the sun
    • Do some gardening
    • Eat lunch outside
  • Stillness
    • Go to bed early to read a book
    • Light some candles and listen to chill-out music
    • Paint something on that blank canvas I have sitting around
  • Physical care
    • Make one of the spaces in my house nice to be in
    • Cleanse and moisturise my face
    • Wash and brush my hair
    • Wear something that feels good to be in

As I do each activity I will focus all my attention on the task at hand, being aware as I go that I am making a simple gesture of caring to myself. As I move through the week, I will be mindful of how I am affected by my moments of self-care so I can tell which activities work to shift my mood and whether I want to adjust them at all.

Once I am comfortable purposefully doing self-care activities on a regular basis and have found some that boost my mood, I will add them to my Personal Coping Kete and use ‘A Moment of Self-Care’ as a way of nurturing and valuing myself during times of stress and distress.

No. 103: Mindfulness of My Senses

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

…I will practice using the 5 senses of taste, touch, sight, sound and smell to shift my attention away from unhelpful thoughts, concerns and moods.

This week, as I move through my day I will take pauses whenever I remember to and make myself aware of my five senses in that moment. This will allow me to practice moving my attention away from a moment and onto my senses during everyday situations. I might set an alarm to remind me to practice.

Each time, I will take a few belly breaths like in the standard breathing exercise and I will mentally scan through each of my senses.

  1. What can I hear right now?
  2. What can I see right now?
  3. What can I touch/feel right now?
  4. What can I taste right now?
  5. What can I smell right now?

I will spend a moment on each sense, making myself aware of what I am sensing right now. Then I will turn my attention back to my day.

If my thoughts wander back to my day during this exercise, I will watch the thoughts pass through my mind and I will say to myself… “I am here, sensing the world.

Once I have a bit of practice with turning my attention away from the day and onto my senses for a while, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of distracting myself from unhelpful thoughts or moments of 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. 101: Stretching Distraction

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

…I will practice stretching to distract myself from the present moment and lift my energy.

Once a day I will spend a few minutes doing some basic yoga stretches. As I do them I will practice mindfully focusing my attention on the movements I am making and the way they feel in my body. I will practice letting thoughts of the day pass through my mind as I observe them and bring my mind back to my stretches.

  1. Neck Roll: Standing up, relax your shoulders, drop your head forward to rest your chin on your chest. Slowly roll your head to rest your right ear on your right shoulder, pause, return to centre then slowly roll your head to rest your left ear on your left shoulder, pause, return to centre. Repeat.
  2. Shoulder and Arm Rotation: Stretch your arms out to the side and imagine you are pushing apart two walls. Repeat three times. Keeping the arms at shoulder level, rotate the shoulders forwards and then backwards. Repeat three times. Slowly drop arms to the side and observe the sensation produced in your body.
  3. Swaying Tree pose: Standing with your feet at hip-width, reach your arms above your head, clasp your hands together, exhale and lean gently to the left. Inhale and come back to centre. Then exhale and lean to the right. Repeat.
  4. Cat Pose: Kneel on all fours with hands shoulder distance apart and your knees the same distance apart. Exhale while arching your back up and looking down at your belly. Hold for a few seconds. Inhale as you arch your back down and lift your head.

Once I am familiar with doing stretches as part of my ordinary day, I will add them to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of distracting myself from distressing moments and times of stress and tension. When I notice I am feeling tense, I can take myself away from present company for a moment and practice my stretches. 

No. 96: Learning a Theme Song

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

…I will use music to help me improve the moment and connect with positive emotion by learning to hum or whistle a song I associate with happy vibes and good energy.

If no song jumps to mind automatically I will get to spend some time listening to different songs until I find one I like.

Then as I move through my day, I will periodically remember to practice humming or whistling the tune while I am doing my daily tasks. This could help to insert some pleasant energy into whatever I am doing.

Once I am comfortable and familiar with humming or whistling my tune, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a distraction and self-soothing technique for times of stress and distress.

Then, when I find myself stressed or distressed, I can distract myself for a moment by trying to remember the tune and whistling/humming it. The act of humming and whistling changes the level of oxygen in the blood and can physically help to soothe negative emotions I could be feeling, so I can return to the situation later with a clearer head. Whenever I hum or whistle my tune, I will be reminded of the positive message of the song I chose and this might also help inspire me through tough moments.

This is also a pretty good strategy to use if I ever feel so anxious that it gets hard to breathe. Humming or whistling a song could help to counteract that without having to focus my attention onto my breathing.

No. 83: Riding the Wave

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

…When I notice shifts in the way I feel, I will stop, take a deep breath and acknowledge that even though they are distressing and unpleasant, I can survive them. I will say to myself “I am riding the wave of emotions” and I will keep breathing.

If I can, I will name what I am feeling and thinking to myself. And I will keep breathing.

It is okay to feel what I feel. Feelings always fluctuate and change, it’s impossible to experience one feeling non-stop, so I can also trust that what I feel in this moment will change. Feelings come and go, rise and fall, like waves as my attention shifts throughout the day.

As I stop and breathe in, I will breathe into an awareness of the feelings and when I breathe out, I will pretend to exhale the feelings with the air – as if I am releasing them. As I am doing this I will remind myself, “I am going to get through this, I am riding the wave of my emotions.”

By riding the wave instead of running from the tide, I will get through this. 

There is an excellent video resource for this well-known mindfulness technique on the DBT Self-Help Website.  If I find it hard to do mindfulness by myself at first, this website has excellent videos that you can practice with until you are familiar enough with the exercise to do it independently.

Once I am familiar with mindfully thinking about my emotions in this way, I will add Riding The Wave to my Personal Coping Kete to help me get through moments of distress.

No. 74: Chanting Meditation

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

… I will practice chanting as a way of meditating, doing breathing exercises and relaxing myself.

First off I will pick a word to use. The little boy in this video link  uses the word “yum”.  Yoga meditations often use the word ‘om’. I will experiment with the kinds of words I use for my chant – different words might have different feelings for me. “Om” is likely so popular because it doesn’t have any meaning and is just a sound. I might use other sounds too.

I will take a deep breath into my belly. As I let the breath out, I will repeat my word in a chant, giving the final repetition a greater emphasis on the last syllable, for example: “yum, yum, yum, yummy” / “Om, om, om, ommmm” / “Love, love, love, lovvvve”.  I will be aware of the sensations of the words moving over my lips and the other sensations in my body. I will let the words come nice and slow, so that my out breath is also nice and slow. My mind will be focused on my breath, the words and the sensations of saying them, rather than on the things I worry about.

I will repeat the chant at least three times, once a day to practice. This way I’ll be well-rehearsed if I want to try the strategy when I am distressed or stressed.

Chanting changes the level of CO2 in your blood stream, and like singing, can create a sense of euphoria or lightness.

Watch this video for a low-key, fun example of using chants to calm ourselves. The little boy in this video has heaps of energy, he gets pretty silly in this and he uses the chant to bring himself back to centre at about 2 minutes in.

Once I am familiar with doing chanting meditation, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a strategy for soothing myself and distracting from distress.

No. 68: Grounded in my Hands

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

When I notice shifts in mood, I will practice grounding myself in my body by very simply stroking my left hand with my right hand.

I will breathe and focus my attention on my hands and then slowly move my attention inside my body: what does it feel like inside my body right now? I will keep breathing as I bring my attention back to the outside and the sensations of my hands.

Here I am in my body, breathing.

Once I am comfortable making myself present in my body by stroking my hand, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of grounding myself during moments of intensity or distress.