PAGE UPDATED: 20.01.2022
Zen Breathing is an ancient breathing technique that will help you calm your emotional brain, think more clearly, and regain control of your life.
It has changed the lives of hundreds of people I’ve personally worked with over the years and, with practise, is fairly simple to do.
On this page I’d like to tell you how I stumbled upon the technique almost 30 years ago and how to practise it yourself.
The benefits are enormous: better sleep, calmer body and mind, clear thinking, focused concentration, to name but a few.
- The failure of the medical model
- Breathing techniques for anxiety
- The Zen Master and wisdom of the Buddha
- Zen Breathing and Vipassana meditation
- Understanding how Zen Breathing really works
- Turning on the relaxation response with deep breathing exercises
- The Monkey Mind and faulty car alarms
- Trance states and false identities
- First steps to self-mastery
- Zen Breathing in everyday life
The failure of the medical model
Just before we get to the technique itself, I’d like to tell you the back story…
In the days when I worked for Suffolk Social Services, I sometimes had to administer Diazepam to people. The drug would have an effect, for sure, but there was often a thirty-minute delay before any noticeable calm was seen in the patient.
Thirty minutes is a long time if you suffer from anxiety or panic attacks, fearing that you can’t breathe, that you’re going crazy or even that you’re about to die from a heart attack!
This is really a failure of the medical model, of course; that all we need to do to fix conditions like anxiety and depression is to hand out a drug.
Sure, often the drugs do work but for many people I’ve seen over the years the opposite is true. Either nothing changes or the symptoms get worse. I often wondered to myself, ‘surely there must be something that works more reliably than this?’
I thus began a search that would lead me down an unexpected path…
Breathing techniques for anxiety
I started studying and practising yoga, meditation and deep breathing techniques in my early 20s. They helped me combat my own anxieties and insecurities back then.
Although the breathing technique I’m about to share with you might not address underlying causes of anxiety, anger, or panic (which may be rooted in your past) it will help you to lower anxiety as it occurs in the present.
The shaking will stop, your heart rate will slow down, and your thoughts will stop racing as the mind-body system returns to a state of equilibrium.
When mastered, this ancient breathing technique will help you to quickly calm down – within a minute or so – wherever you are.
Let me introduce you to Zen Breathing and how I stumbled upon this ancient technique…
The Zen Master and wisdom of the Buddha
So, by my mid 20s I’d become immersed in psychology, mysticism, and altered states. I attended a week-long meditation retreat where I was taught methods that had been passed down – purportedly – since the days of the Buddha.
A visiting Chinese Zen Master sat down beside me on the first morning. He proceeded to hold a tiny feather under my nose before whispering in my ear, “When you breathe out, feather must not move!”
Although his name has long since gone from my memory, his words have stayed like an eternal echo.
I sat motionless, focusing on my breathing, making sure my outbreath was as gentle as I could make it.
It took a bit of practise to get right but after a few minutes the Zen Master was satisfied with my efforts and moved onto the next disciple. The most noticeable thing for me was a sense of calmness – achieved within just two minutes.
Zen Breathing and Vipassana meditation
What I didn’t realise at the time was that we were being taught a method known as Vipassana meditation. This became the bedrock of those seven days; sitting in silence, focusing on the breathing.
My mind would wander for much of the time but, like most meditation techniques, with practise I learned to gently return my attention to what I was supposed to be focusing on – the longer outbreath.
It struck me at the time as being different to many of the breathing techniques I’d already learned. These other methods mostly instructed ‘equal breathing’ i.e. breathe in for 4, hold for 4, breathe out for 4.
The emphasis with Zen Breathing – at least in the way I was shown – was on the longer outbreath.
I felt an inner calm like no other, my mind was still, and I felt really present, really alive to each moment as it unfolded.
Understanding how Zen Breathing really works
Can it really be that simple to achieve inner calm, I wondered?
It wasn’t until much later in my training with the Human Givens Institute that I understood how and why Zen Breathing works so well.
Joe Griffin, co-founder of the institute, taught me what he called the ‘7/11 breathing technique’. I immediately recognised its similarities to what I’d been taught by my Zen Master.
With ‘7/11’ you breathe in to a mental count of 7 and out to a count of 11. The numbers are arbitrary, of course; you might prefer to breathe in to a count of 3 and out to 5. It doesn’t matter, as long as the outbreath is longer, much as my Zen Master had taught me.
Turning on the relaxation response with deep breathing exercises
If we consider the physiological effects of Zen Breathing, it’s easy to understand how and why it works so well…
The longer outbreath stimulates the body’s relaxation response (known as the parasympathetic nervous system). The body simply has to start relaxing when the outbreath is longer.
But it’s not just the body that starts to relax with Zen Breathing…
When your mind is focused on counting numbers (breathing in to 7 and out to 11) you have to use the logical/rational part of the brain, the part that is separate from the part that’s doing the emotional arousal.
This prevents you from slipping into an emotional trance state because you’re retaining a connection to the logical brain – the higher cortex.
The Monkey Mind and faulty car alarms
I often refer to the emotional brain as the Monkey Mind or the Survival Brain, which creates unnecessarily high emotional arousal.
The truth is that for most of your life you’ll never need such high levels of anxiety.
Most of the high anxiety you’ll ever feel throughout your life – if not all of it – is unnecessary. There is no tiger running after you.
The Monkey Mind or Survival Brain ramps up your adrenaline as a way to protect you from perceived danger. It is rather like a faulty car alarm, going off when someone or something just brushes past.
The fear response – the adrenaline rush – is created by the ‘Monkey’ in order to help you to escape the situation; to run away or fight your way to safety. The Monkey Mind’s main task, of course, is to ensure your survival.
But anxiety and panic are instant hypnotisers. They focus your attention so intensely that they hijack your intelligence.
RELATED CONTENT: The failure of CBT: why you can’t just think yourself better
Trance states and false identities
Of course, in time this over-reaction to situations becomes habitual to the point that you over-identify with it. You end up referring to yourself as, “an anxious person,” or, “I’ve always been nervous.”
But these labels – these symptoms – are not who you are; they are the emotional trance states that you’ve become overly attached to. They say nothing about who you truly are as a human being.
This is another benefit from practising Zen Breathing. Not only will it calm the mind-body but you’ll also regain your true identity – free from the trance.
What Zen Breathing does is de-hypnotize you from emotional trances. It gets you out of panic/anxiety mode and reconnects you to your true essence as a human being.
Once calmer, the rational brain can see things more clearly, like when a snow globe eventually settles down and you can see the whole scene, free from the ‘emotional distortions’ of the Monkey Mind.
And once free, you actually create spare brain capacity so that you can perform much more competently and confidently in all walks of life.
First steps to self-mastery
Freeing yourself from the tyranny of the Monkey Mind is the first step on the path to self-mastery. Learning to control your own psychology opens up a world of new possibilities and opportunities.
Indeed, if we’re to continue to evolve as a species I see it as the vital next step on the ladder. We all need to master our trance states – how to go in and, more importantly, how to come out of trance (if it’s no longer serving us).
My clients have reported major benefits through the regular practise of Zen Breathing.
If you’re suffering with nerves, anxiety, depression, or sleep problems, I’d recommend doing it for 10 – 15 minutes two or three times a day to help lower general stress levels.
This hypnosis download will help you master the technique so that you can relax and feel more in control – whatever the situation.
Zen Breathing in everyday life
Once mastered, you can use Zen Breathing in all types of situations, not just when sitting or lying down. I’ve used it just before going on stage to play music or speak in public. I’ve even used it whilst driving when the traffic is hectic.
Many clients have reported enormous benefits with sleeping.
It can also help calm exam or test anxiety, alleviate performance stress such as back-stage nerves, and help you perform better in things like sport or musical performance.
Indeed, at any time when you feel the emotional brain is unnecessarily trying to hypnotize you, Zen Breathing can serve as your master resource.
Make use of it and feel the difference!
I’d love to hear how you get on with Zen/7-11 Breathing and the changes it makes in your life.
Contact me here to share your story or ask about one-to-one help I could offer you.
Remember, with online hypnotherapy I can work with you no matter where you are!
Three books to help you break free from anxiety trances…
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