Using our breath to remain in the present

February 21, 2022 by Seth Strawn, Child & Family Therapist

Generally speaking, people desire to experience states of peace and calmness in their lives and within themselves. However, life frequently presents many obstacles to this, such as: worries, anxiety, stress, uncertainties, and the list can continue on-and-on. The thing about Peace is that it is experienced in the present moment. The thing about anxiety (especially when it is constant) is that it takes us away from the present moment, and therefore, away from peace. Anxiety and stress either take us back to some past memory or experience, or into the future to our anticipated (yet not actualized) fears or hopes. The trouble is that it is impossible to live in the present, when we are continually dwelling on the past or on the future (whether intentionally or unintentionally). And the realm of life in which we are able to experience enjoyment, peace, relationships, have influence, and make choices is the realm of the present.  

One challenge which we often face in our day-to-day lives and in our pursuit of Peace is the challenge of how to remain in the present. A “tool” which we can all use to help us with being more grounded in and aware of the present moment is the tool of our breath. Having an awareness of our breath can literally be an anchor which grounds us in the present moment. – As you read this, take a brief moment to consider the pattern of your breathing when you are stressed, worried, or even fearful? In those moments, is it usually more shallow, or other times more rapid? What about right now – what do you notice with your breathing right at this moment? 

The first “grounding skill” or “mindfulness skill” I will work on with a client is deep breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing. This is a tool and skill I regularly practice myself, as well:  

  • First, simply pause and be still (yes, this is often easier said than done). If you are seated, place both feet on the floor and perhaps put your hands in your lap.  
  • Close your eyes for a moment and simply notice any sensations in your body (e.g. any tightness, tension, pain, discomfort, etc).  
  • Then turn your thoughts and awareness to your breath. Intentionally take deep breaths utilizing your diaphragm. Breathe in through your nose, noticing your stomach expand with the inhale. Hold your breath for a moment, and then slowly exhale your breath – slowly allowing the air to pass over your lips. And repeat.  
  • Continuing this practice for as long as you need, and be sure to focus your awareness simply on your breath and any sensations you notice in your body. When you are finished with the exercise, take notice of any differences in your body/mind/breathing in your current state as compared to your prior state (before beginning the exercise).  

For many individuals, this exercise often feels uncomfortable and weird, especially if they have never done it before. If that is you, then I assure you that you are in good company and not alone. I encourage you to continue practicing. Often, even just five intentional deep-breaths can make a significant difference to help with re-orienting to the present moment.