Dr. Anthony Komaroff

Dr. Anthony Komaroff

Breathing technique provides relief

By Dr. Anthony Komaroff
Medical Columnist

2 Comments | Leave a Comment

Dear Dr. Komaroff: A friend recommended a technique called “breath focus” to help me deal with stress. Does this help?

Dear Reader: Breath focus is a simple yet powerful concept that can elicit the “relaxation response,” a state of profound peace and rest. The relaxation response was popularized by Dr. Herbert Benson at Harvard Medical School.

In order to practice breath focus, you must first learn proper diaphragmatic breathing. Sit or lie down in a quiet, comfortable place. Close your eyes to remove visual distractions. Relax your abdominal muscles. Take a slow, deep breath. The air coming in through your nose should move downward into your lower belly. That, in turn, should cause your abdomen to expand. You should feel it. Now breathe out through your mouth. Your abdomen will get smaller.

Once you’re comfortable with diaphragmatic breathing, move on to breath focus. As you sit comfortably with your eyes closed, combine your breathing with helpful imagery and a focus phrase to help you relax. Imagine that the air you breathe in washes peace and calm into your body. Imagine that the air leaving your body carries tension and anxiety away.

As you inhale, think to yourself, “Breathing in peace and calm.” And as you exhale, think, “Breathing out tension and anxiety.” Start by doing 10 minutes and work up to 20.

Dr. Anthony Komaroff is a physician and a professor at Harvard Medical School. To submit a question, go to his website, askdoctork.com.

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