Step-by-Step Guide to Diaphragmatic Breathing

The purpose of various relaxation techniques like diaphragmatic breathing, meditation, yoga, mental imagery is to help the body reach homeostasis in states of heightened arousal. Whenever, we face a stressful or anxiety provoking situation, our body reacts by going into state of heightened physiological arousal both at neurological as well as hormonal levels, and the sole purpose of these techniques is to help reach physiological calmness. Diaphragmatic breathing is one such relaxation technique and perhaps the easiest one to learn and practice in day-to-day life. It is easy because breathing is an act that we perform without any hesitation or thought. But factors like stress, poor posture, clothes that cause restriction of movement, lead us to breathe from our chest instead of from diaphragm. Diaphragmatic breathing is controlled deep breathing and involves the movement of lower abdomen, whereas, normal breathing emphasizes on the expansion of the chest.

There are lots of benefits of diaphragmatic breathing and it plays an important role in meditation which helps in managing stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) etc. It also helps lower heart rate and has been highly recommended for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The beauty of diaphragmatic breathing technique is its simplicity; it can be performed anywhere and at anytime and does not require special equipment.

Here’s step by step guide to diaphragmatic breathing:

1. Take a comfortable position: Start by taking a comfortable posture. With your eyes closed you can either sit in a comfortable chair or preferably lie down on your back on the floor. It is recommended for the beginners to wear loose clothes, especially around the neck and waist. To begin with, it is recommended that you keep your hands on your stomach so that you can feel the rise and fall of your abdomen. Once you have mastered the technique, you can perform diaphragmatic breathing almost anywhere and at any time—while driving, standing, or while talking to someone.

2. Concentration: Just like other techniques of relaxation, diaphragmatic breathing also requires concentration. For the beginners, it is recommended to practice the technique in a quiet place with less interruptions and noise. While practicing, you might experience that your thoughts begin to wander. This is normal. Whenever you feel this happening, bring your attention back to breathing. You can in fact imagine these thoughts leaving your body as you exhale metaphorically.

Whereas, normal breathing is an involuntary and not-a-conscious activity, diaphragmatic breathing is a conscious and voluntary one. Concentration can be enhanced by focusing your attention on the components of each breath. Each breathing cycle is composed of four phases–inhaling; slight pause; and exhaling; followed by another slight pause before inhaling again. When performing this technique, isolate and recognize each phase and try to control the pace of each phase-breathing thereby regulating your breathing. During the phase of exhalation, body experiences the highest form of relaxation, so try to focus on this phase and experience how light and relaxed your body feels during this phase.

3. Visualization: This can be easily attached to diaphragmatic breathing and can enhance the effects of this breathing technique. The two most commonly used visualizations along with suggestion are discussed below:

(i) Breathing clouds: Start by closing your eyes and try to focus all your attention on your breathing. As you inhale, visualize the air being inhaled as pure, clean, fresh, rejuvenating, and with healing power. Imagine this whole air traveling throughout your body from your head to toe. Now as you exhale, visualize the air leaving your body as some dark cloud of smoke comprising stressors, tension, and toxins that are inside your mind and body. During each phase of inhalation and exhalation, feel the clean, fresh air with healing power circulating though out your body and all the stress and tension leaving your body as you exhale. Repeat this breathing cycle for five to ten minutes. As you perform the breathing technique, observe that your body becomes more relaxed, stress-free and tension-free. Also, the color of the exhaled cloud becomes light in color from dark to light, which is a symbol of your body becoming relaxed and cleansed from all the negativity.

(ii) Alternate nostril breathing: This technique may require some practice. Start by closing your eyes and concentrate on the breathing. Inhale through your nose or mouth and feel the air entering your body and reaching down your lungs and experience a rise in your stomach as you breathe in. Now feel your stomach descending as you exhale. As you become relaxed, through breathing, take a slow deep breath again. This time exhale solely through your left nostril. After you take out all the air from your body through left nostril, begin inhaling only through your right nostril. Repeat this breathing cycle for fifteen to twenty times. Breathe in through your right nostril and breathe out through your left nostril. After fifteen to twenty cycles, now shift the passage of breathing cycle; start by slowly inhaling through your left nostril and exhaling through the right one. Repeat the cycle for fifteen to twenty times. As you do, visualize the air as it flows through your body. Use your fingers to control inhaling and exhaling, it will also helps you better visualize the air flow.

(iii) Energy breathing: This is a breathing technique in which you breathe not only through nose or mouth, but through your whole body. This helps vitalize the body. In this breathing, the whole body in a sense assumes the role of one big lung. This technique can be performed while sitting or lying down on the floor. This technique has three phases. First, attain a comfortable position; now imagine a hole at the top of your head. As you inhale, visualize energy entering the top of your head in the form of a light beam. Now as you inhale, take this energy down to your abdomen. As you breathe out, let it (energy) go out from the top of your head. Repeat this ten times. As you perform this technique, let the light touch all the inner parts of your upper body.

Now move on to the next phase; visualize that the center of each foot has a hole. Again imagine energy in the form of a light beam. As you breathe in from your diaphragm, let the flow of energy move up to your abdomen from your feet, while focusing only on the lower parts of the body. Repeat this ten times. As you do, let the energy in the form of light reach all the inner parts of your lower body.

Now uniting the movement of energy from the top of your head and feet, direct it to the center of your body while inhaling with the diaphragm. Then allow the flow of energy to reverse direction as you breathe out. Do this ten to fifteen times. Every time you circulate the energy in your body, feel each body part and each cell getting rejuvenated. This technique, however, requires practice.

Also read Five Tips for Better Sleep
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Also read Posttraumatic Stress Disorder


Is Coffee Addiction an Addiction for Real?

A recent study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology provides insight into what can help kick caffeine habit. The researcher recruited 48 heavy caffeine users, consuming at least 270 mg per day of coffee, for the study to examine how knowing about dose reductions influence self-assessments of withdrawal severity, and therefore, how much of the caffeine withdrawal process was real versus imagined.

The researcher randomly assigned participants into two groups and put both the groups on the same caffeine reduction plan over a 5-day period. On the first day, participants were given one cup of coffee in the morning, and one in the afternoon with a total of 300 mg caffeine. The procedures on the second, third, fourth and fifth day was similar to the first, except that caffeine doses were gradually reduced (200 mg, 100 mg, 0 mg, and 0 mg, respectively).

However, only one of the two groups received accurate information about the caffeine reduction schedule. The other was rather (mis)informed that full 300 mg of caffeine was given to them on the first, second, and third days of the experiment and 0 mg on the fourth and fifth days.

Using the Caffeine Withdrawal Symptom Questionnaire (CWSQ), the researchers measured caffeine withdrawal symptoms every day. CWSQ is a 23-item scale that measures symptoms such as low alertness/difficulty concentrating, mood disturbances, fatigue/drowsiness, low sociability/motivation to work, flu-like feelings, nausea/upset stomach, and headache.

The respective CWSQ scores of the two groups were then compared. The researchers had predicted that caffeine withdrawal symptoms would be more in line with the information the participants received about the doses, and not the actual doses they were given. Interestingly, this was exactly what the finding revealed too.

The group that was given correct information about their dose reduction schedule exhibited caffeine withdrawal symptoms steadily increasing throughout the multi-day test period. On the other hand, the misinformed group showed flat-line CWSQ scores for the first three days and a big uptick on day four. The researchers opine, “Given that they received identical doses of caffeine, these day-to-day differences in reported withdrawal can only be explained by differences in expectancies.”

Unfortunately, however, which one of the two groups was more accurate in assessing their actual withdrawal symptoms, cannot be known for certain. It is likely that both groups were biased in reporting their symptoms. While the misinformed group responded under the influence of “placebo effect” thinking they were getting effective treatment when, in reality, none was given, the group that received correct information was likely biased by a “nocebo effect,”  manifesting the negative side-effects the treatment was known to cause.

Despite this, the study does validate that at least part of our withdrawal symptoms are based purely on our expectations. This insight can help one picture a better outcome when he or she attempts to quit or reduce his or her coffee intake next time. It also suggests that tricking oneself into thinking one is getting caffeine when the dose is actually decreasing, or conversely, thinking that one is decreasing the dose while receiving caffeine, might be a great way to give up one’s coffee habit.

Door-in-the-Face Technique

Door-in-the-Face technique is a sequential request strategy often used for eliciting compliance by making a very large initial request, which the recipient is sure to turn down, followed by a smaller request. In other words at the start a big request is made which a person is expected to decline. Then a smaller request is made which the person finds difficult to refuse because they think they shouldn’t say “NO” again. The theory is that the initial rejection puts the other person in the mood to be more agreeable. Door in the face is an analogy to a customer slamming a door in the face of a salesperson after an unreasonable offer.

The technique was introduced in the year 1975 by a US social psychologist Robert B Cialdini and several colleagues who performed a field experiment in which students were approached on campus and requested to volunteer to spend two hours a week, for two or more years, as unpaid counselors at a local juvenile detention center. No one agreed to this, but when they were then asked whether they would be willing on just one occasion to escort a group of juveniles from the detention center on a two-hour trip to the zoos, 50 per cent agreed, compared with 17 per cent in the control group who received only the second smaller request.

Link Found between Forcing a Smile for Customers and More Drinking after Work

According to researchers at Penn State and the University at Buffalo, employees who force themselves to smile and or who try to appear happy before customers despite being annoyed—may be at risk for heavier drinking post work.

The research team studied the drinking habits of people, who are in public dealing jobs such as nurses or teachers who work with patients or students respectively, or those in food service working with customers. They found that regularly faking or amplifying positive emotions, like smiling, or suppressing negative emotions while resisting the urge to, for instance, roll one’s eyes, was linked with heavier drinking after work.

Alicia Grandey, professor of psychology at Penn State, asserted that the findings indicate that employers may want to reconsider “service with a smile” policies.

According to Grandey, faking and suppressing emotions in front of customers make employees reach for a drink and it is something beyond the stress of the job or feeling negative. “The more they have to control negative emotions at work, the less they are able to control their alcohol intake after work,” she said.

While earlier research has shown a link between service workers and problems with drinking, why this actually happens could not be known. Grandey hypothesized that employees may be using a lot of self-control to fake or suppress emotions in front of customers and therefore, later, those employees may not have too much self-control left to regulate how much alcohol they drink.

“Although smiling as part of one’s job sounds like a positive thing, doing it all day can be exhausting. As usually money is tied to showing positive emotions and curbing negative ones in these jobs, money motivates the individuals to disregard their natural tendencies, but doing it all day can be draining.”

The study published in Journal of Occupational Health Psychology included data from phone interviews with 1,592 U.S. workers. The data was, in turn, part of a larger survey funded by the National Survey of Work Stress and Health, which included almost 3,000 participants representing U.S. working population.

The information included in the data was about how often the participants faked or suppressed emotions, also called “surface acting,” as well as how often and how much the participants drank after work. The researchers also measured how impulsive the participants are and how much freedom they feel they have at work.

The researchers found that overall, employees who interacted with the public drank more after work as compared to those who did not. Besides, surface acting was also related to drinking after work, and that connection was stronger or weaker depending on the person’s trait-like self-control and the job’s extent of self-control.

“The link between surface acting and drinking after work was clearer for participants who were impulsive or who lacked self-control over behavior at work,” Grandey said. “If an individual is impulsive or constantly told how to do his or her job, it may be harder for him or her to control emotions all day, and when that individual reaches home, he or she doesn’t have that self-control to stop after one drink.”

Specifically, the findings demonstrated a stronger relation between surface acting and drinking when employees who were highly impulsive also worked in jobs where employees have one-time service encounters with customers, like a call center or coffee shop, rather than relationships, like health care or education. “People in these jobs tend to be younger and in entry-level positions, and may lack the self-control tendencies and the monetary and social rewards that can buffer the costs of surface acting,” Grandney pointed out. Further, the results suggest that surface acting is less likely to create trouble when the work is personally rewarding to the employee.

“Nurses, for instance, may intensify or fake their emotions for clear reasons,” Grandey said. “They’re trying to comfort a patient or build a strong relationship. But someone who is faking emotions for a customer they may never see again, that may not be as rewarding, and may eventually be more exhausting or taxing.”

Grandey said that these insights may be useful for employers to create healthier workplace environments. “Employers may want to consider allowing employees to have a little more autonomy or independence at work. And when the emotional effort is clearly connected with financial or relational rewards, the effects aren’t so bad.”


Foot-in-the-Door Phenomenon

During the Korean War, many captured American soldiers were imprisoned in war camps run by Chinese communists. Without using violence, the captors secured their prisoners’ collaboration in activities ranging from running errands and accepting favors to making radio appeals and false confessions to informing on fellow prisoners and divulging military information. When the war ended, 21 prisoners chose to stay with the communists. Many others returned home “brainwashed,” convinced that communism was a good thing for Asia.

A key component of the Chinese “thought-control” program was their effective use of foot-in-the-door phenomenon, a tendency for people who agree to a small request to comply later with a larger one. It is a technique for eliciting compliance by preceding a request for a large commitment with a request for a small one, the initial small request serving the function of softening up the target person.

The Chinese exploited this phenomenon by gradually escalating their demands on the prisoners, beginning with harmless requests (Shein, 1956).

The technique was introduced and named by the US social psychologists Jonathan L. Freedman and Scott C Fraser in 1966. Research studies show that the foot-in-the-door tactic also helps boost charitable contributions, blood donations, and product sales.

The moral is simple, says Robert Cialdini (1993). To get people to agree to something big, “Start small and build.” And be wary of those who would exploit you with the tactic. This chicken-and-egg spiral of actions feeding attitudes feeding actions enables behavior to escalate. A trifling act makes the next act easier. Succumb to a temptation and you will find the next temptation harder to resist.

Reference: Myers, D. G. (1995). Psychology (4th ed.). Worth Publishers: New York.