If ever you’ve done research on any kind of relaxation one of the first things that comes up is a breathing tip. There are zillions of them, all telling you how to breathe to relax!! Deep breaths, hold your breath, make noises when you breathe, use your nose, use your mouth……!! I’m sure they all work well for different people, and any kind of focused attention on your breathing will generally have a positive effect on you, because of the way it uses your nervous system. Here though, I’m going to tell you all about the scientifically backed one that I use and recommend wholeheartedly. I first came across it when I was studying Human Givens therapy and it’s called the 7/11 technique.
What Is The 7/11 Technique And What Is It Used For?
The 7/11 technique is a breathing exercise where you breathe in for a count of 7 and out for a count 11. It is used to help you relax and gain/regain composure in a variety of situations. Let’s be clear though – I’m not talking about counting the seconds. I’m pretty sure I’d struggle to breathe out for 11 seconds, even though I’ve been practising this breathing for years. No, you can count as quickly or as slowly as you like, as long as you make sure that you’re counting at the same speed for the in breath and the out breath.
What Can I Use It For?
It can be used to calm panic or anxiety attacks, reduce hyperventilation, to relax you at the end of a stressful day, to get you ready for a busy day, to manage anger outbursts, to aid concentration before an exam/interview etc and to deal with almost any state which leads to high emotional arousal.
How Does It Work?
It works on the bodies’ autonomic nervous system. When we breathe in we activate the sympathetic nervous system. Receptors are stimulated to quicken our heartbeat, increase breathing rate and increase adrenalin production. Conversely, when we breathe out we activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Receptors are stimulated to slow our heartbeat, reduce our breathing rate and decrease adrenaline production.
Have I lost you?! In really basic terms when we breathe in we get excited and when we breathe out we relax. So by keeping our out breath longer than our in breath we literally force our body (and therefore our mind) into a relaxation response – whether it wants to or not.
Because it needs a degree of concentration to work it helps us take our minds off what was worrying us in the first place. We can’t ruminate while we’re concentrating on counting. Also, because it relaxes us, it gives access to the rational thinking part of the brain which gets shut down in stressful situations, allowing us to think our way around problems etc.
How to Breathe to Relax – The Technique.
Is it difficult to learn? Absolutely not! Anyone who can breathe and count to 11 can learn it. Here’s how…….
- Find somewhere comfortable to sit/lie and relax.
- It helps, when you are first practising, to sit in front of a mirror so that you can see your progress.
- Sit in a chair with your shoulders relaxed and your hands folded gently over your tummy.
- If possible breathe in and out through your nose. In for a count of 7 and out for a count of 11 (if you find it too hard to breathe out 11, start off with 3/5 or 5/9 and work up to 7/11. The important thing here is to breathe out longer than you breathe in).
- If you are doing it correctly your shoulders will remain still and your tummy will get bigger and smaller as you breathe (called belly or diaphragmatic breathing). If you sit in front of a mirror you can keep an eye on your shoulders and tummy.
- Once you can keep your shoulders still and relaxed without effort it is a good idea to close your eyes and try to picture the numbers in your mind’s eye to help you concentrate completely on your breathing.
ACTION: Practice this technique at least morning and evening for 5-10 minutes to give you an essential tool to cope with today’s hectic pace of life, and to lower your base stress level.