The Healing Power of The Breath

Did you know that the simple act of breathing has many healing benefits? The power of the breath is often underestimated. When counseling clients I have often had clients with underwhelmed expressions when session time is spent discussing, modeling and practicing focused breathing techniques. Why? They can’t believe that something so simple and no cost can impact their well-being so dramatically.

The truth is, we have the internal mechanisms that can solve many of the issues that plague us. The reality is that chronic stressors along with mental and physical conditions impede many from utilizing these resources. Also, the normalization of stress in our daily living has made us less aware of the tension that plagues us. Focused breathing practices such as progressive muscle relaxation help us regain awareness of the tension and anxiety that is stored in our body.

My experience with focused breathing for stress, anxiety and panic symptom reduction is not simply based on evidence-based practice protocols but also on personal experience in managing stress, anxiety and panic. Clients outcomes improve dramatically when they have trusted and practiced focused breathing. Many have shared that after consistent practice they have regained a sense of control and empowerment over their symptoms in conjunction with CBT based treatment protocols.

4 Square Breathing is simple breathing technique that has over time proven to help first responders and others to integrate strong emotions and to decrease anxiety. This will help you too.

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4-Square Breathing

  1. Breathe in through your nose for four counts.

  2. Pause/hold your breath for four counts.

  3. Exhale through your mouth for four counts.

  4. Pause/hold your breath for four counts.

Points to remember:

  • Practice this breathing for 4 sets of breaths and least 3 times a day, until it becomes second nature.

  • Practice even if you are not stressed; in fact practice when your not stressed is better.

  • Breath in deeply (diaphragmic deep breaths) Think singer’s breath.

Image found on Pinterest uploaded by

Image found on Pinterest uploaded by

Why Is Focused Breathing Helpful?

Simply, most everyone automatically breathes. Your breath is magical. Practicing focused breathing techniques on a daily basis not only significantly improves your well-being but is the tool most often used for deescalating when an anxiety and panic attacks occur. Breathing naturally helps to trigger the "relaxation response" (Dr. Herbert Benson of the American Institute of Stress coined the term "relaxation response”).

According to Dr. Herbert Benson of the American Institute of Stress, “the relaxation response is a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress (e.g., decreases in heart rate, blood pressure, rate of breathing, and muscle tension)".  The American Institute of Stress list the following effects as a result of focused breathing practices:

How to Integrate Focused Breathing into Your Life

These are some suggestions and resources for integrating focused breathing into your self care routine.

  • Explore and choose focused breathing techniques that work for you. There are many to choose from such as progressive muscle relaxation, visualization, meditation, prayer and mindfulness. Search GOOGLE or YOUTUBE for endless free resources. One of my favorite books and recordings to use with children when teaching them about focused breathing is:

Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon

  • Set a time and frequency - start with one session a day, preferably before bedtime.

  • Use technology - use apps such as CALM and headspace for on the go. There are versions of these apps for children too.

  • Exercise - choose exercises that use breathing in combination with body work such as yoga and Pilates.

  • Environment - create a calming environment by using aromatherapy or using ambient lighting. Try different comfortable positions such as being seated or laying in a comfortable space.

*Do not engage in focused breathing techniques while standing or driving due to risk of dizziness. If you have chronic medical conditions that put you at risk for falls or have a cardiac condition, consult your medical doctor before attempting. *

By Susana Anaya-Baca, LCSW

If you are having issues with anxiety, panic and depression, I am here to help. We at Central Counseling Services Murrieta, look forward to journey with you on your path to mental wellness. For appointments I may be contacted at 951-778-0230. We are located at 29970 Technology Drive #116 Murrieta, CA 92563.

Susana Anaya-Baca, LCSW joined Central Counseling Services as a therapist in 2018. She is a graduate of California State University Long Beach School of Social Work where she earned her Master in Social Work with a concentration in older adults and families (OAF).

She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW#69056) and is licensed to practice psychotherapy in California since 2015. She is fluent in Spanish.

Ms. Anaya-Baca has experience working with a wide range of individuals and settings. Prior to entering private practice, she practiced as a clinical medical social worker with individuals and families facing life-limiting illness in the area of home health, palliative care and hospice. Susana is a member of the National Association of Social Workers.

If you have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately

All information, content, and material are for informational purposes only and are not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician or healthcare provider. The information provided is not intended to recommend the self-management of health problems or wellness. It is not intended to endorse or recommend any particular type of medical treatment. Should any reader have any health care related questions, promptly call or consult your physician or healthcare provider. The information presented should not be used by any reader to disregard medical and/or health related advice or provide a basis to delay consultation with a physician or a qualified healthcare provider. You should not use any information presented to initiate use of dietary supplements, vitamins, herbal and nutritional products or homeopathic medicine, and other described products prior to consulting first with a physician or healthcare provider. Susana Anaya-Baca, LCSW disclaims any liability based on information provided.