In my groups, we spend time at the beginning doing some sort of exercise to slow down, pay attention, come into the room, and notice what is going on. Some of these exercises are specifically directed at paying attention to the breath. When breathing is slowed, paced, and regulated, a person has a better tendency to think clearer and become organized. Using the breath to regulate emotion, attention, and physical arousal is a very critical skill that frequently gets forgotten about in the heat of the moment- especially a very emotional moment.
Breathing exercises can sometimes be difficult. If you were to spend five minutes trying to focus just on your breath, you may notice spacing out, thinking about other things, and generally not paying much attention to the physical aspects of your breath. Therefore, breathing exercises may sometimes be paired with counting, walking, or other more concrete methods to help you get in touch- and stay in touch- with your breath.
Here is an exercise that is a tangible way of following the breath– and can easily be taught to young children as a way to self-regulate. Place your hand on a piece of paper and trace around it. Every time you move up to the tip of a finger, inhale. Every time you move down to the crevice between your fingers, exhale. Try to work on slowing down your breath so that it is even and steady. When you are done, start over. Keep going until you notice feeling calmer, slower, steadier, and perhaps more connected. Be gentle and notice any frustration if it doesn’t “work” right away.
One way to do this exercise is to keep tracing and re-tracing back your hand on one piece of paper. Another way to do this exercise is to not use paper and pen at all, but to trace your fingers with your other hand. This method can be used when you are out and about, in a meeting, or (depending on subtly it’s done) even talking to other people.
However, if you trace a new outline on new paper each time, you can start to accumulate several pieces of paper. If you’d like to add a beak and draw in some feathers on your “hands”, you can start to ask yourself: How many turkeys does it take to get calmed down? If you get really good and regulating your emotions by regulating your breath, you may find that over time the number of turkeys it takes will eventually go down.