Breathing, Grounding & Flow States

Breath is the source of life. The very essence of our being.


It is the flow from which all human beings spring. From the moment we are born to the end of life, it is our beloved companion. The ether which keeps us alive in a continuous stream of consciousness, inhaling and exhaling - breathing in and out. Breath is the great restorative power, bringing oxygen, spaciousness and movement to the limbs as we breathe-in. Releasing tension and letting go of stress as we breathe -out.


We are blessed with the breath. It is a place of refuge and inner calm...


Breathing Exercise:


This breathing exercise is designed to restore a sense of equilibrium when you are feeling helpless, overwhelmed and intruded upon by other people. I practice this during sessions at Counselling Twickenham. You can use this breathing exercise to slow down and find calm when your emotions have been disrupted by stress and anxiety. Or you may find it helpful in an unexpected crisis when events seem out of your control and you're struggling to keep your composure.


Slowing down and deepening the breath, stimulates the vagus nerve, which allows you to discharge anxiety and deactivate the "fight and flight response".


Diaphragmatic breathing helps you to let go of unwanted thoughts and feelings. You may be prone to taking on other people’s problems, unwanted pressures at work, or stressful situations you believe you have no choice over. You know it’s going to end badly, but you often ignore the signs and carry on regardless. You seem unable to let go of stress, or identify what really matters in life and protect it. Unable to slow down or relax. And find it hard to focus on problems that are worth solving because you fear failure and avoid conflict.


Mindfulness of breathing can help bring clarity to your thoughts and reduce your time spent worrying.


At Counselling Twickenham, I often support clients learning about mindfulness as part of caring for their health and wellbeing. Perhaps you invent excuses to avoid looking after your wellbeing. As well as feeling guilty or self-indulgent looking after yourself. You may believe you're doing something wrong. But you is all you have. And you're no use to others in a state of virtual collapse. Being strong is not about being tough and ignoring your needs. It's about recognising your vulnerability and taking good care of it.


The benefits of breathing diaphragmatically:


  • to refresh and fully oxygenate the blood, breathing away pollutants and toxins such as carbon dioxide
  • to discharge the build-up on stress hormones such as cortisol and lactic acid that cause tension in the muscles
  • to activate the vagus nerve and dectivate the 'figh and flight' response (symapathetic nervous system)
  • to let go off anxious thoughts and worry by focussing on our bodily sensations and the breath
  • to realign the body through the breathing movement, by adjusting the spine, ribcage and internal organs
  • to reduce high levels of anxiety and and counteract panic attacks
  • to restore feelings of calm, equilibrium and homeostasis


This breathing exercise is for those people. People who find themselves saying yes to everything, giving in to other people’s demands or absorbing the anxiety of those around them. This exercise is about learning to accept intrusive feelings and then letting go of them, little-by-little, with each new breath. Focus your attention on the moment-by-moment process of breathing and letting go. Do not expect instant remedies. It takes time for you to notice your thoughts and emotions slowing down. And your sense of urgency beginning to diminish. Be patient and compassionate with yourself as you learn. Most of all: sit back and observe.


  • Sit on the on the floor with crossed legs, or sit on the edge of your seat with your legs bent at 90 degrees and feet parallel.
  • Try to find your centre of gravity deep inside your pelvis – making sure you're supporting your back and shoulders, with your body’s inner core and the spine upright.
  • Ensure your feet are firmly planted on the floor, grounding them as if they were anchored or taking root.
  • Begin by breathing in a slow, relaxed way, until you find your own particular pace and rhythm.
  • Inhale slowly through your nose. Exhale slowly through your mouth, regulating the flow of breath. In-and-out. In-and-out. This creates a virtuous circle of breath, allowing you to regulate your breathing rhythm, without hyperventilating.
  • Begin to take in deeper breaths, very slowly, using your entire diaphragm. You should be able to feel your belly push-out as you inhale, and your belly pull-in as you exhale.
  • With each new in-breath slow down the pace of your breathing, incrementally. Do not count down. Just trust yourself to deepen your own experience of breathing by paying attention to the sensation and sound of your breath. Listen, as it moves in and out of your body; noticing its ebb-and-flow.
  • Once you have found your own pace and rhythm, place your right hand (or left hand if you’re left-handed) over your breastplate in the middle of your chest. Hold it there…
  • Slowly, feel the warmth of your hand penetrate the area beneath your skin, your ribcage and your muscles. Feel the warmth penetrate right down to your windpipe and the area around your heart. Feel it as it softens, relaxes and loosens up your breathing. Feel the palm of your hand in contact with your skin; containing your breath as you breathe, gently in-and-out. Your hand is holding you, helping to contain your sensations and feelings.


Then repeat this mantra:


  • As you breathe-in say the words: “as I breathe in, you are here”.
  • As you breathe-out say the words: “as I breathe out, I let go”.


Grounding Exercises:

These grounding techniques are designed to keep you anchored, feeling stable and connected to yourself. You feel more present, rather than detached or disconnected when you're lost in your thoughts, worries and concerns. Grounding helps you to remain present in the here-an-now. Connecting the mind to the body, so that you do not drift off into dissociative states. Grounding helps you regain focus, stability and a sense of safety when you're overwhelmed by intense emotions and anxiety.


The benefits of grounding techniques:


  • to restore our sense of stability, groundedness and connectedness to ourselves
  • to regain a sense of strength, confidence and support from our body's core
  • to improve our centre of gravity, sense of balance and an upright posture
  • to reconnect with ourselves after a period of dissociation
  • to contain and self-regulate heightened emotional states


Below are the grounding techniques I often use in my sessions. There are many more such as standing, and bending from the core, using a medicine ball. Sensitising the feet to the drum of our footsteps while walking, going upstairs, or even balancing in a moving tube or bus without holding onto the rail.


Sitting:


  • Sit on the on the floor with crossed legs, or sit on the edge of your seat with your legs bent at 90 degrees and feet parallel.
  • Try to find your centre of gravity deep inside your pelvis – making sure you're supporting your back and shoulders, with your body’s inner core and spine upright.
  • Ensure your feet are firmly planted on the floor, grounding them as if they were anchored or taking root.
  • Begin breathing in a slow, relaxed way until you find your own particular pace and rhythm.
  • This time focus your attention on creating sensations of stability, balance and improving your embodied experience. Focus on being connected to this space, room or environment. Make a tripod out of your butt on the seat and two feet on the floor. Press on all three points, holding yourself upright and stable.
  • Gently sway from side to side and find your own centre of gravity. Then come to a rest. Keep your head still and your neck straight, with your chin up.
  • Put your elbows out with your arms bent as if they were wings.


Do three hand exercises that connect you to yourself.


  • First, make your hands into fists. Then connect each your fists together, with the knuckles interlocked; pressing them together gently but firmly. Focus on the pressure points for 2-3 minutes.
  • Second, curl both hands into claws with the right hand facing up and the left hand facing down. Place all four fingers in the clawed-shape on one hand and interlock them with the four-fingered claw of the other hand. Pull the interlocking fingers gently, but firmly in the opposite direction. Focus on the pressure points for 2-3 minutes.
  • Third, place your palms and fingers together in a prayer position, pressing both hands together gently, but firmly and focus on the pressure points for 2-3 minutes.


As you are doing this repeat the mantra:


  • As you breathe-in say the words: “as I breathe in, I am here”.
  • As you breathe-out say the words: “as I breathe out, I am still and relaxed”.


You can also use a squeezy stress ball, a pebble in your pocket or a kinetic wheel to focus on being connected with yourself.


Standing:


This exercise is similar to the stance and grounding techniques used in martial arts to keep people stable and upright, even during conflict.


  • Stand with your legs apart, as wide as your shoulders and with your feet parallel, firmly planted on the floor.
  • Bend your knees slightly and let your body gently drop down into your hips. Then sway gently from side-to-side, as if you were on a surf/skateboard. You should slowly be able to locate your centre of gravity deep inside your body core. When you find it, be still. Take a strong, stable stance.
  • Rock your body from the hips, side-to-side a few times, while remaining stable and without losing your balance. Then, rock your upper body from your hips, backwards-and-forwards a few times, while remaining stable and without losing your balance. Repeat this several times over - side-to-side; back-and-forth.


As you are doing this repeat the mantra:


  • As you breathe-in say the words: “as I breathe in, I am standing still”.
  • As you breathe-out say the words: “as I push out, I bend with the wind”.


Pushing:


  • · Stand with both legs apart (one leg forward, the other leg back) and your legs slightly bent at the knees. Take a stable stance, as if you were upright, but ready to sprint. Then lift your hands up in front of you with both elbows bent. Pushing out parallel to your shoulders and place your hands against a wall.
  • · Push your hands against the wall or door frame, pushing off your back leg with your front leg forward, maintaining balance. Push hard several times until you feel reconnected with yourself.


As you are doing this repeat the mantra:


  • As you breathe-in say the words: “as I breathe in, I am standing still”.
  • As you breathe-out say the words: “as I push out, I am strong”.


Driving:


This is a grounding technique for people who drive a lot in a car, truck or van. Or people who get nervous finding their way in a new location, or anxious after an accident. Always keep the focus of your attention on the traffic and remain flexible enough to manouvre the car.


  • Make sure you are sitting upright in the car seat, with the base of your spine and all the way up against the upright of the car seat.
  • With your hands firmly on the wheel, press yourself back hard into the seat; pushing hard against the wheel and gripping it tightly. If in slow traffic, or a standstill put your feet on the floor and push back into the car seat until you feel reconnected again.


Flow States:


Flow states of the body and mind are moments of pure sensation, in which we are able to remain fluid and open. Alert to the present moment and available to change. In a flow state we are fully immersed in our lives, energised in our being and deeply involved in whatever activity we are doing. Daring to be alive and fully present with oursleves. We live each moment.


When you are in a flow state, you feel:


  • energised, alert and felxible
  • relaxed and focussed
  • reflective and responsive to change
  • creative and instinctively calm
  • a clarity of mind

You can achive a flow state when you are breathing, grounded or moving in a fluid way through the mind and the body. Movement is the key.


  • When you are walking, running or swimming, focus on the sensation of movement in your body; creating a simultaneous rhythm between your breath and the flow of your body's movements.
  • Keep your mind in a state of deep focus as you use a spinning top, hourglass or kinetic wheel synchronised to your breathing.
  • Go kite flying in a strong wind and allow yourself to become immersed in the sensation of the ebb and flow of the wind.
  • Be in a shower. Immerse your head and body completely under the flow of the water until you create a seal, where only the sound and sensation of the water falling takes up your attention. Let your head gently rock backwards and forwards, until you reach a state of inner silence and are oblivious to the outside world. Let the water gently massage your scalp and enjoy the sensation.
  • Perform a task like turning on a lathe, knitting, painting or digging until you find your flow.
  • Breathe in-and-out using a continuous repetitive mantra over and over, until you are immersed in your sensations. Or even use humming and chanting. I find the dawn chorus of birds helps to bind me into a flow state.


Tai Chi, Yoga and Wing Chung:


There are many formal training exercises which build up core body strength, stability and flow of movement on Youtube and other platforms. They show short exercise routines that help your mind and body develop focus, internal flow states, emotional self-regulation, confidence and a sense of safety. Please look them up. There are some below: