Breathing techniques are starting to become synonymous with meditation or mindfulness. But they don’t have to be framed in this way and some people do not want to or are not interested in developing a meditation practice. That's fine, it's not for everyone. But it doesn't mean they wouldn't benefit on a purely physiological level from a breathing exercise. We breathe continuously and our rate of breathing changes throughout the day based on activity levels, as well as acute stress levels. The physiology of breathing is what is most important here, not whether we are mindful of it happening. It will happen anyway.
A technique for you and your students?
So this post is about changing or controlling your breath to change your physiological state rather than using a specific meditation technique. It is a technique we can use quickly and in the moment if we find ourselves getting stressed. Acute stress is often referred to as the Fight or Flight response and most of us are familiar with the symptoms, like feeling flushed, increased breathing and heart rate etc. This process is triggered by the autonomic nervous system when our brain recognises some form of threat. The emotions we might describe in these situations may vary from anger, frustration, upset, anxiety etc but the physiology is much the same.
In order to reduce these physiological effects there are simple breathing techniques that are recommended that can combat some of the physiological effects of stress. Although the acute stress response is triggered automatically, once we recognise what is going on we can use conscious control to change things. Since we can use conscious control over our breathing, this is a great place to start.
Deep breathing is recommended by the NHS as a form of stress management. It specifically suggests you control your breathing by lengthening both the inhale and exhale.
Why this is different from Mindfulness
Mindfulness is not about trying to relax, the aim is not to achieve greater relaxation. This may be a by product of the practice, but it does not have to be. Also, many mindful breathing techniques are not about changing your breathing rate, they are about noticing and paying attention to it, whatever state it is in and in whatever way it changes.
Deep breathing is a simple technique that does not require you to learn meditation or think any further than extending your inhale and exhale deliberately for a few minutes. And yet despite its simplicity to try it is incredibly powerful with its results. It is even something that could be introduced with students as an exam stress reduction technique.
Obvious clauses apply if someone feels strange or dizzy from changing their breathing rate then they should go back to whatever their normal breathing is and ideally distract themselves with another task because some people have found that focusing on the breath can increase anxiety.
Clare Martin is a the founder of the Positive Teacher Network who specialises in helping teachers to find the ultimate Work Life Balance and supports them with many of the difficulties teachers face today.
The Positive Teacher Network provides practical tips and strategies to busy, tired teachers to help them improve their lives allowing them to focus on being great teachers.