There’s a good reason why I so often talked about the use of breathing exercises for quitting smoking in Quit Smoking and Be Happy.
As I explained in the book, a few simple techniques can prove an invaluable addition to your tool kit for coping with anxiety, preventing a relapse, or creating the space you need to pause when life just gets too much.
If you’re caught in the maddening grip of ever-heightening anxiety, being dragged ever closer into the terrible storm of a full-blown panic attack, then taking a few moments to mindfully control your breathing can prove incredibly effective in soothing that storm.
With slow, conscious, managed breaths, you invite a sense of calm into your being, giving you the opportunity to take control of the situation rather than letting the anxiety take control of you.
Why Use Breathing Exercises for Quitting Smoking
The easy breathing exercises for quitting smoking that I’m about to share with you may make all the difference when faced with the temptation to pick up a cigarette in times of stress, fear, or other challenging emotions.
Something happens, and we begin to get worked up about it. Eventually, our physiological state changes as a result of the situation. This only exacerbates the problem because we then attach emotions to this way of being:
“I feel tense, stressed or angry and I don’t like it. This isn’t good. I need to do something about it.”
The decision we then make is barely a decision at all but an instinctive reaction. For so long, changing the way we felt meant using a cigarette, so we instinctively react ad grab a cig.
When we know how to use different breathing exercises, we can choose not to react this way. Instead of smoking, we can choose to take some deep breaths and return to a state in which the decisions we make are driven not by our emotions but by cognitive thinking.
In a moment, I’ll share with you some of the best breathing exercises I know for achieving this, but first, let me answer an important question:
How Do Breathing Exercises work?
When we get anxious, our breathing tends to quicken. Our breath comes in short, shallow, rapid bursts from the chest. This is sometimes called chest breathing, thoracic breathing or just shallow breathing. It can make us feel as though we’re not getting enough oxygen, thus heightening our sense of panic.
Chest breathing tells the brain that something’s wrong and the brain, in turn, sends its own signals throughout the body, resulting in insufficiently oxygenated blood. This is what causes all of those classic anxiety symptoms like a pounding heart, muscle tension, and dizziness.
When we stop these short, shallow chest breaths and start breathing from our diaphragm, we send a different signal to the brain, telling it that all is good and that it’s time for calm.
As a result, we naturally feel calmer.
Without further ado then, let’s dive into the exercises.
Easy Breathing Techniques
1: Simple Abdominal Breathing
Let’s begin with something nice and simple, shall we?
Also known as ‘belly breathing’ and ‘diaphragmatic breathing technique,’ abdominal breathing can change your whole state.
Even if you’re not feeling particularly anxious, this is still a good technique to practice as it can help you to feel naturally more relaxed throughout your day.
Besides, as with all of these techniques, the more you practice them when you don’t need them, the easier it will be to utilise them when you do.
Here’s how the abdominal breathing technique works:
- Find yourself a comfortable position in which to sit or lie down.
- Close your eyes. Unclench your jaw and let your shoulders drop. Think about where you’re feeling the most tension in your body and just let it go, imagine that tension just evaporating out of you and dissolving.
- Take a deep, slow inhale through your nose, feeling your belly expand. If it’s helpful, place a hand gently on your belly and feel it being pushed up as you draw in a breath through your nose.
- Keep your jaw relaxed and slowly breathe out through pursed lips. As you exhale, feel your shoulders drop even further and just let go of everything.
- Keep repeating this until you feel calmer and more relaxed.
2: 1:4:2 Power breaths
I picked up this technique from Tony Robbins’ game-changing book, Unlimited Power. I’ve used it myself on many occasions and found it helpful for moving from panicked thoracic breathing into gentler, diaphragmatic breathing.
This is a little more complicated than abdominal breathing, but that’s part of its charm.
By focussing solely on the exercise and getting the inhale/exhale right, your mind is taken away from whatever triggered your anxiety. By the time you return your thoughts to that trigger, the breathing itself has put you in a much calmer state, so you’re able to deal with it differently.
The name 1:4:2 refers to the ratio of how long you inhale, hold, and exhale each breath. For every one second that you inhale, you hold for four times that amount and exhale for twice that amount.
That may sound tricky, but it’s pretty simple to get used to.
The easiest way to do it is using an inhale of five seconds so that you do the exercise as follows:
- Inhale for the count of five
- Hold for the count of twenty
- Exhale for the count of ten.
If that’s too much, try reducing the initial inhale but keeping the same ratio.
For example, you could:
- Inhale for the count of three
- Hold of the count of twelve
- Exhale for the count of six.
3: Equal Breathing (The 4-4-4 Technique)
OK, yes, I know..
The 1:4:2 technique is a good idea, but when your head is all over the place, all that counting is just too much like hard work, isn’t it?
Try this one instead.
It’s the same principle, except we inhale, exhale, and hold for the same count.
Here’s how it works:
- Drop your shoulders, unclench your jaw and let that tension evaporate.
- Drawn in a nice, slow, steady breath for the count of four.
- Hold it there for a count of four.
- Exhale for the same count of four, letting your shoulders drop further.
- Repeat until you’re feeling much calmer and more relaxed.
If you’re read Quit Smoking and Be Happy – This is the 4-4-4 technique I refer to many times throughout the book.
4: Alternate Nostril Breathing
If you’re thoughts and feelings are overwhelming you to such an extent that they’re practically paralysing, then focussing on the physical action required for alternate nostril breathing may prove useful.
Here’s how it works:
1: Draw in one deep, slow breath just to get yourself in the frame of mind to do this exercise.
2: Again, drop your shoulders, let your jaw unclench and your muscles relax.
3: Take your right thumb and press it against your right nostril.
4: Draw in a deep, slow breath through your left nostril.
5: Switch and place your left finger against your left nostril
6: Breath out through your left nostril
7: Continue to alternate, breathing in through one nostril and out through the other, using your thumb or finger to block whichever nostril isn’t in use.
Which Breathing Exercise Should I Use?
Honestly, there’s no clear-cut answer to this.
While all of these breathing exercises for quitting smoking will prove to be effective, you might want to try different ones and find the ones that feels as though it’s the best fit for you.
Personally, I love the Equal Breathing (4-4-4) technique, but will also use simple abdominal breathing throughout my day just to create a moment in which I can check-in with how I’m doing.
However, you might find that alternate nostril breathing really resonates with you, or that you find the 1:4:2 method to be incredibly powerful.
As with most things when it comes to quitting smoking, there’s no right or wrong here, only what’s right for you and what isn’t.
Learn more tricks, tools and techniques to help you find freedom from nicotine in Quit Smoking and Be Happy – the new book out November 8th.