Saturday, January 9, 2010


In my stress seminars, I would always pose this challenge: If you were the midst of a tense, stressed and angry crowd and had a mere fifteen minutes to get control over them, what would you do? People said things like hose them down with water, force them to chase you until they got tired, and some said simply” beg for mercy”. All reasonable good options of course, but being a stress doc, my answer was: Teach them how to relax. It’s the best way to quickly reduce tension, stress and anger.

I’ve studied and used relaxation techniques for decades and have finally discovered one that is scientifically sound and, most importantly, a method that people will actually use. There are many great relaxation methods like meditation, yoga and tai chi, and believe me, I’ve taught all of them. But none of them work unless you practice. So I searched for a technique was valid, effective and fast. And the winner is…diaphragmatic breathing or gut breathing, as I call it.

VALIDITY. There are numerous studies that support the validity of gut breathing. I won’t bore you with them here. If you are interested, write to me via my website (included below) and I will send you the references.

EFFECTIVE. It slows breathing, heart rate, reduces muscle tension, quiets the mind, etc. Every healthy response you want in a relaxation technique.

FAST: Gut breathing takes fifteen minutes or less to learn, and you can practice it in multiple one minute sessions throughout the day.

Now really! Is that too much to ask for better mental health, less tension, stress and anger, and even better relationships. I practice gut breathing everyday myself, and can vouch for its benefits.

Here is a simple way to learn the technique which is taken from my latest stress book, NOW WE KNOW WHY IT’S CALLED A PUNCH LIST: How to Cope When Your Beloved Home Is Invaded by a Gang of Tool-Wielding, Tattooed, Organized-Challenged Contractors and Subs (

Step 1. In a sitting or standing position, place one hand on your chest and another on your gut. Take a deep breath - through your gut - so that your hand rises slowly as you breathe in. Your chest should move only slightly or not at all. Breathe in very slowly until your lungs are full of air. Hold your breath for just a moment.

Step 2. Release your breath ever so slowly, resisting the temptation to let it go all at once. You have now completed one breath cycle.

Step 3. Repeat this pattern of breathing several times until you get accustomed to this “gut breathing” and find that your chest barely moves as you breathe in air. When you feel that you have learned the “gut breathing” method, you can bring you hands back to your sides, and begin practicing in a more normal position.

Studies have shown that people under stress engage in shallow, chest-oriented breathing. Interestingly enough, this form of hyperventilation is particularly evident when you are sitting at your computer. Check yourself out. Are your breaths short and coming from your chest? Yep…got you!

Try the three steps right now and notice the quick changes in breathing, overall tension level and feelings of well-being. Gut breathing is truly one of the best things you can do for your “self”. Of course, the best training results are obtained by doing a fifteen minute practice session each day followed by one minute sessions as you need them; that is, when you catch yourself breathing incorrectly.

Until the next time, may your habits be calming and health-enhancing.