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Wednesday 31 October 2012

Resources: Breathing Made Easy

Sometimes the most basic skills are the most useful as well.

One of the most common reasons that people seek help from therapists is that they experience unnecessary activation of the body’s stress response.

The stress response evolved in primitive environments where the best strategies to deal with perceived threats were to fight or run away. We developed the capacity to reprioritize the functioning of our bodies to give us more strength and speed.

Unfortunately, no benefit comes without its price. The stress response may make us faster sprinters, but it also disrupts digestion, impairs certain aspects of immune function, runs the risk of damaging the circulatory system, makes us less creative and socially fluent, and tempts us with hostile or fearful impulses that may not be helpful in the modern situations we face.

I’ve been training people in relaxation strategies for over 25 years. The research is clear that such strategies, practiced regularly, can be tremendously helpful. One of the most helpful techniques is diaphragmatic breathing. Here’s why:

  • It’s readily learned (though it does take some practice).
  • People gradually get faster and more effective at bringing their stress activation downward.
  • It can be used on the spot in stress-triggering situations – no need to go out and find a yoga class or play your relaxation tape.
  • It can be paired with other exercises to help overcome specific fears and triggers (like social anxieties, specific phobias, agoraphobia, and the memory triggers of PTSD).

I’m always tempted to race over diaphragmatic breathing training with clients, given that I know it so well and that I’m usually trying to cover a lot of ground in a session. But when I don’t take the time to introduce it slowly, it never works as well.

An Online Course

For years I’ve wanted to have a way of teaching clients diaphragmatic breathing that didn’t occupy quite so much of our limited clinical time together. I’ve also been convinced that most people, in therapy or not, can benefit from learning a good breathing exercise.

For the past few months, I’ve been working intermittently on this problem. Yesterday the result went live on the internet.

It’s a course on the education website entitled Breathing Made Easy. It’s a series of 12 short talks that lead viewers through a training process culminating in four-stage breathing – an exercise that separates diaphragmatic from intercostal breathing and helps people slow and deepen their breathing, using bodily changes as cues to vary their pace.

There are also recommendations on cue-controlled relaxation: recognizing internal symptoms and external stressors and shifting them from signals to tense up to signals to breathe and relax. The intent is to help users develop a kind of homeostatic mechanism in which anxiety is welcomed (it isn’t dangerous, after all), permitted, and used as a cue to shift into deeper breathing.

The whole program takes about 90 minutes, and provides people with three dowloadable worksheets they can print and use to help them learn and apply the exercise. It may also be useful for clinicians wanting some tips on how to train their own clients in diaphragmatic breathing.

Offer for Readers

To introduce the program, I’ve created a Coupon Code that readers of can use to access the program for $8, which is almost 50% off the regular price of $15 (itself not a bad deal, I suspect). To access the program, simply go to

and enter the redemption code “psychsalon” (all small letters, no quotation marks) where requested. Also feel free to pass the code along to friends, family members, colleagues, and clients.

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