Are you tired of being told to "Focus on Your Breathing?"

Are you tired of being told to "Focus on Your Breathing?"

Me too. I usually hear, "Why don't you just focus on your breathing" from well-meaning adults who 1. Do not have anxiety or 2. Do not practice this themselves regularly (this includes most mental health workers - many don't practice the methods they are teaching). While I would never condemn someone for wanting to help another person, not all help offered feels helpful, doable, or kind. And help from someone who does not practice breathing meditations themselves - regularly - is not really helpful at all because they don't understand how difficult these techniques are to learn and master. For someone who is on the brink of a panic attack, being told to "focus on your breathing" puts all their attention squarely on something that is currently not working for them. As someone intimately familiar with panic attacks, the LAST thing I want to do is focus on my short, fast paced breathing. That leads to "Oh no. I'm breathing too fast. Oh no. I'm not getting enough air. Am I going to pass out? Am I having a heart attack? Am I going to die? What will happen to my children? Oh no oh no oh no...." You see, terrible advice for most people.   

Anyone who actually practices mindful breathing daily will tell you that it takes a lot of time, effort, and consistency to do it well and effectively. So, if someone has not been practicing mindful breathing, telling them to automatically pick this up in the middle of a meltdown is like telling someone who has never weightlifted to bench press 250 pounds their first time at the gym. It's doomed to failure, injury, and probably, shame and guilt. Just because we all have lungs and a brain does not mean we know how to breath mindfully, especially with no prior practice, and in the middle of a crisis.   

There's also the added challenge of people who have anxiety doing better with physical objects we can hold. Asking me to mentally focus on box breathing while adrenaline is flooding my body is going to be difficult for me. Thankfully, there are many practices from various traditions that have found other ways to practice mindful breathing. One example that I love personally is the Japanese Buddhist komuso and their practice of “blowing zen” with their shakuhachi - a flute made of bamboo. The komuso developed this practice in the 17th century, and it continued until almost the end of the 19th century.

For political reasons, the komuso were banned in Japan in the late 1800s, but this practice of "blowing zen" has reemerged. When a person used a shakuhachi for meditation, they were using the flute to help them focus on their breathing, their breath control, and their overall mindfulness. Buying a shakuhachi today would set you back between $1,000 to $8,000, because the bamboo used takes over a decade to shape into the correct form for the flute. However, a wearable mindful breathing necklace adapted from the shakuhachi, like the "One Breath" Breathing Necklace available in my store, has a similar concept behind it, without the beautiful flute sounds. A mindful breathing necklace helps the person using it focus on their breathing with a physical object. For someone with anxiety, this helps them put their attention on an object that is not their own body, drawing attention away from the self in panic. The person only needs to breath in through their nose for a few seconds, and try and breath out through their necklace for longer than they breathed in. This process helps the person naturally learn how to slow down their breath and be in the moment, focusing on their breathing through the necklace.

Simply said, mindful breathing necklaces give those of us with anxiety a physical way to channel and slow our breathing. It gives us something to focus on - just our one breath in and out through the necklace - and helps mindful breathing feel accessible and doable for us. We come away feeling like we CAN actually manage our anxiety, and that is a win for ALL OF US.

Of course mindful breathing necklaces are not magic. Those of us who need meds will still need them. We will still need to access and use our coping skills. We will still need to maintain our appointments with our therapists and providers. But slowing down breathing does help the body in so many ways, and these mindful breathing necklaces do help people feel like they can actually do this whole mindful breathing thing. We are not helpless, or stupid, or lazy. This helps us remember those important truths, and that's a big deal.

I am aware that not everyone can buy a mindfulness breathing necklace. I would never want you to feel like you have to choose between lowering your anxiety and paying for groceries. I looked around my house trying to figure out what the average person might have access to already that could also be used for this technique. Hopefully you, like me, have a junk drawer. In mine there were several different drinking straws. I found some McDonald's drinking straws and cut them to about three inches. I quickly found the hole for those straws is too wide to allow for this technique. I exhaled all of my air in three seconds. I found another type of regular drinking straw, white, unmarked, and probably from a gas station. It was the same length, but the hole for drinking was smaller - less wide - specifically 0.25 inches in diameter. I cut this new straw to three inches, exhaled through it and voila! - it worked. It slowed down my exhale naturally and allowed me to focus on breathing in through my nose and out through the straw slowly. Like mindful breathing necklaces that naturally slow your exhale down so it lasts for 8-14 seconds, this smaller white straw also naturally slowed down my exhale without making me lightheaded. So, if you cannot afford a wearable mindfulness necklace, try out some different straws cut to three inches. Remember, you want them to slow down your exhale so you can comfortably breathe out of them for 8-14 seconds without getting lightheaded. No passing out allowed. 

You are welcome to borrow my mantra that I use with my mindful breathing necklace. I think this to myself as I exhale: "I'm still here. God is with me. Just one breath at a time."

Abrazos (Hugs),

Rev. Nicole Estefana (she/her), M.Div, BCC

Please click the link below to watch a video for how to use the One Breath Meditation Necklace:

How to Med Necklace Video by Nicole Talkington


Please click the link below to watch a video for how to use a regular drinking straw for breathing meditations: 

How To Breathing w Straws by Nicole Talkington


Please click on the link below to listen to Marconi Union's song "Weightless" which was created with sound scientists to help reduce anxiety. You should never listen to this song while driving or operating heavy machinery. 


Please click this link for relaxing "Crystal Healing Music":