Breathing Practice for Stress

A breathing technique to soothe stress and work with challenging emotions with Zindel Segal, co-founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.

Nine Köpfer/Unsplash

Working with difficult emotions in real time can be challenging. Sometimes big emotions arise in anticipation of a difficult encounter or interaction, and sometimes unexpected changes in your life cause stress and anxiety.

The practice of mindfulness allows us to create space around difficult moments, to approach them with a kind curiosity to consider the range of responses available to us in any moment. 

The practice of mindfulness allows us to create space around such moments, to approach them with a kind curiosity to consider the range of responses available to us in any moment. The responsive breathing space practice is intended to help us do just that.

Guided Breathing Practice for Stress 

Responsive Breathing Space Practice

  • 7:00
  1. Find a comfortable place to sit. See if you can bring to mind a worry or concern that is present for you, something that is current. It needn’t be overwhelming—in fact, it’s best if it’s closer to a 3 rather than a 10 on your personal stress scale.   
  2. Shift your attention to your body. When you feel ready, bring your attention to the sensations of sitting, feeling the sensations in the soles of your feet as they press down into the floor. Feel the sensations of the chair supporting the weight of your body, or the spine rising up from the pelvis with the neck and head balanced.  
  3. Now bring your attention to your inner experience. Notice what is happening in your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. You may find it helpful to describe and identify what is arising in order to put experiences into words, perhaps by lightly noting in your mind that, for example, a feeling of anger is arising, or that judging thoughts are here, or that there is tightness in your shoulders.  
  4. Follow the breath. When you feel ready, redirect your full attention to the breath and follow the breath all the way in, and all the way out. You might like to explore lightly noting in the mind that you are breathing in and breathing out, or perhaps counting from one to five. Inhaling, one. Exhaling, one. Inhaling, two. Exhaling, two, and so forth. Just give the mind this one thing to do.  
  5. Expand you attention to the entire body. Allow your attention to expand around the breath to get a sense of the whole body sitting, and the whole body breathing. Hold in your awareness all of the sensations in your body right now, just as they are. If you choose, you can extend this part of the practice, especially if there is any sense of discomfort, tension, or resistance. If these sensations are present, you might bring your awareness to them by breathing into them on the in-breath, and breathing out from the sensations, softening and opening with the out-breath. You can even say to yourself on your outbreath, “It’s OK to feel this, whatever it is, it’s already here.” 
  6. Note your intention. As this practice draws to a close, perhaps acknowledge your intention to approach difficult emotions. Explore your relationship with them based on allowing and letting be. Very often, these are two important ways of caring for yourself when difficult emotions do arise. Once you feel ready, allow your eyes to open.  

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