Heart-Focused Breathing: Stress Reduction Strategy
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry,
There is something special about the heart: a miraculous, continually pumping, life-giving organ located in the center of the chest, the heart beats 100,000 pumps a day, over the course of a life that’s 2.5 billion beats (more heart facts here).
The heart also contains neurons that allow for communication with the brain. While this does not mean that the heart is a brain, there is evidence of interaction between these two parts of the body, affecting one’s health and emotional state.
When I visited Andrea Patton‘s classroom earlier this week, we used heart-focused breathing with students before moving them into a prompt where they mined their own thinking about the process via journaling.
Heart-focused breathing is a relaxation technique that focuses one’s attention on slowing the heartbeat and breathing, therefore countering or interrupting the stress response. It is very simple and can be done at any point and in any setting. I first heard about it from a participant and therapist in an online group-training I was taking. With an internet search, I found a number of versions on Youtube, so there are other guides you can explore beyond this one.
Here are the steps we used to guide the process:
Place your hands palm down in the center of your chest over your heart
Take three slow, deep breathes, imagining that you are breathing through your heart
After three breaths, switch palms and breathe again three times, slowly and deeply. As you do this, feel the warmth of your hands holding your heart
For a third and last time, switch palms. Continue breathing slow, deep breaths
Take a few moments now just resting in the breath. Breathing slowly, in and out, in and out, feeling the slow rise and fall of your chest, imagining the breath moving in and out of your heart
As you continue, begin to imagine that you are breathing in gratitude, breathing out anxiety and worry. Continue with this practice for a few moments
When you feel ready, bring to mind the image of something for which, or someone for whom, you feel grateful
Move that image into the space of your heart, holding it in the warmth of your hands, still slowly breathing in and out
Sit for a few minutes, holding the image, still focusing on the sensations of breathing, the warmth in your chest
When you feel ready, express your gratitude for this moment and lower your palms
Remember that you can return to the heart at any time. That you can feel the warmth in this space and the gratitude. It is always available to you.
I will do a Part II about the writing process we used later and share a student response from the experience. For now, try this strategy sometime today or the next time you feel your stress level rising. If it works and you like it, then it might be something you can share with others.
On a sub-note, I couldn’t help but add this trailer for The Little Prince. The beginning of the movie really speaks to why students need practice focusing on their hearts instead of their heads.
Did you/have you tried heart-focused breathing? How was the experience?
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