Breathing Techniques

A most powerful coping tool

Breathe in thoughts of recovery; breathe out fear.  Oh, how powerful a breathing technique can be. The breath is nature’s relaxant and in withdrawal, it can be a lifesaver, almost literally!

Some people find it challenging to focus for more than minutes at time during withdrawal and learning something new is an impossibility.  If a new technique, positive self-talk, non-resistance or other recommendations are too much for you at any time during withdrawal, this is one other very important practice that, if used properly, will have a positive influence and help to calm your nervous system.  Yes, if you can find just one simple breathing technique that works for you, you will be equipped with one of the most powerful coping tools.  Here are some, a few of which are very simple.

Noticing your breath is a good place to start

Let your mind focus on your breath as you take air in and out slowly. You will begin to create a rhythm as you become more aware of your breathing pattern and it becomes steadier. One way to create a rhythm is to breathe in to the count of 1-2-3, pause 1-2-3, and slowly exhale to the count of 1-2-3-4-5-6. This is an easy process 3-3-6 which can eventually be increased to 4-4-8 as your find your rhythm and it begins to feel unforced.  Another highly recommended pattern is the 4-7-8: breathe in to the count of 4, hold for 7 counts and exhale to the count of 8; again, it should feel unforced and natural.

Pursed lip breathing

This is another very simple, effective technique which you can use to control your breath and calm you:

Breathe in slowly through the nostrils to the count of 1-2 (not deep, a normal breath)

Purse your lips (as if blowing out a candle) and breathe out slowly through your pursed lips to the count of 1-2-3-4.


Overbreathing or hyperventilation occurs when one breathes deeper or faster than is necessary, often as a result of stress or anxiety. It is also a classic withdrawal symptom.

Many people are unaware of their overbreathing and do so even when they are relaxed. When a person overbreathes the body does not have enough time to retain the carbon dioxide and they end up having too much oxygen but are unable to utilise it due to this lack of carbon dioxide.

This can cause many problems including light-headedness, palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, numbness and tingling in extremities, chest pain, sweating and even fainting. If you become aware that you are overbreathing there are several things you can do:

Breathe into a paper bag

Use a paper bag or a similarly expansible container and breathe in and out of it. This will force you to regulate your breathing and re-inhale the carbon-dioxide which you need.

Try diaphragmatic breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing always works:

Sit or lie comfortably and place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. As you inhale feel your stomach move out against your hand and as you exhale your stomach will go in. Try to have a longer out-breath than in-breath. You can also breathe out with pursed lips through your mouth.

Pranayama/Yogic Breathing

7:11 Breathing is simple and effective

Try the very effective yet simple 7:11 breathing pattern where you breathe in to the count of 7 and out to the count of 11 preferably breathing diaphragmatically.

Longer out-breaths help to relax

Prolonging the out-breath is calming; this is different to taking ‘long, deep breaths’ which some people misinterpret and end up take long in-breaths instead. Long in-breaths will arouse rather than calm.

Out-breaths stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (‘rest and digest’) as opposed to the sympathetic nervous system (‘fight or flight’) and as a result they can help to lower blood pressure, slow heart rate and cause a deep feeling of relaxation.


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