The ability to focus all of our attention on the present moment, including our present environment, emotions, and experience, is a technique that can be useful to anyone, especially survivors of child sexual abuse. Whether it’s to work through difficult emotions, manage states of dissociation, or soothe the limbic system’s flight, fright, or freeze response, survivors can use grounding techniques to help alleviate the effects of their trauma as they work toward healing.

One of the most effective grounding techniques survivors can use to reconnect with the present moment is one that we have with us at all times—our breath. Ultimately, no matter where we are, how we’re feeling, or what we’re experiencing, our physical and emotional responses are rooted in our breath. When we are not getting our full breaths, our brains and bodies struggle to operate at full capacity. Without the benefits of paced breathing, we will have a more difficult time responding to the effects of trauma in the most helpful way.

So if you’re just beginning to practice Mindfulness and grounding techniques, and aren’t sure where to start, start with your breath.

Why is Breathing So Important to My Healing?

Apart from keeping us alive, what are the benefits of breathing? There are a quite a few but, namely, taking full, paced breaths achieves the following:

  • Increases serotonin and calms the mind.
  • Balances emotions and enhances mood.
  • Helps center our thoughts.
  • Harmonizes the body and mind.
  • Nourishes body cells by taking in oxygen and expelling toxins.
  • Strengthens the immune system.
  • Lowers heart and respiratory rates, lowers blood pressure.
  • Keeps balance of oxygen in our body. When the balance is disrupted, it triggers chemical changes in the body that cause dizziness, shortness of breath, and confusion.
Breath is the link between mind and body.Dan Brule

How Is Paced Breathing a Grounding Technique?

Think of your breath as an anchor that holds you to the present moment. Your breathing serves you right now, in this moment. You cannot take breaths for the past or for the future—only for your present needs. Becoming more aware of your breathing can help you calm yourself and draw your attention to the here and now. Giving your breath a steady pace to breathe to can help you and your body focus on this moment and the connection with your breath.

How Do I Practice Paced Breathing?

Below are a few resources and suggestions to help get you started.

Follow the Steps to This Standard Breathing Exercise


01
Find a peaceful place where you won’t be disturbed for about five minutes and lie down on your back. You can leave your eyes opened or closed.
02
Take a moment to get comfortable and focus on your emotions. Rest a hand on your chest or stomach if it helps you feel calm.
03
Inhale through your nose, counting four heartbeats. 1, 2, 3, 4
04
Hold your breath, counting two heartbeats. 1, 2
05
Exhale through your nose, counting six heartbeats. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
06
Repeat this for five minutes, or if you are using this exercise to help manage a trigger, repeat these steps as many times as it takes for you to feel grounded in the present moment. As your heartbeats slow, your breathing will get deeper, continuing to calm you.

Watch Our Guided Breathing Video

As you watch the video, time your breathing to the opening and closing of the lotus petals.



Experiment with What Works Best for You

There’s more than one way to practice paced breathing. What might be comfortable for someone else might not be the most comfortable for you. Below are a few suggestions on how you might tailor a breathing exercise to best fit your needs.

  • Change the pace of your breathing. For example, rather than doing the 4-2-6 rhythm as suggested above, you might try 4-3-4.
  • Try focusing on a different sensation, such as breathing to footsteps or finger tapping. Another option is to trace your fingers as you breathe, tracing upwards along your finger on each inhale and tracing downwards on each exhale.
  • Breathe to music or to another sound in your environment.
  • Use words instead of numbers to keep track of your pace. Select words or phrases that are meaningful to you and will match the 4-2-6 count. This repeated phrase could also be used as a personal motto or affirmation that empowers you throughout the day.

Whatever you try, remember that pausing for even a couple minutes to take a few deep breaths can make all the difference. Not only will you reap the full benefits of your breath, you will also practice:

  • Mindfulness by directing and observing your breathing and its effect on your brain and body with patience and kindness.
  • Acknowledgement by honoring your need to pause, reconnect with the present moment, and strengthen the connection between your brain and body.
  • Aspiration by setting the intention to practice a grounding technique that can be implemented in future situations.
References:
1. Nestor, James. (2020). Breath: The new science of a lost art. Riverhead Books.
2. Vranich, Belisa. (2016). Breathe: The simple, revolutionary 14-day program to improve your mental and physical health. St. Martin’s Press.