Have you ever noticed that negative thoughts seem to stick around a lot longer than positive ones? Quieting concerns or anxieties can be a challenge, but a bit of mindfulness can help.
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Mindfulness is the practice of being present, and it combats negative thoughts by encouraging us to live in the moment, according to the American Psychological Association.
Deep breathing, a popular mindfulness exercise, can be practiced anywhere and at any time to help bring about feelings of relaxation by lowering your heart rate, decreasing high blood pressure and reducing tension when you feel stressed, per the University of Michigan Medicine.
One easy and energizing method is called color breathing. Here's how it helps bring about calm, and how to get started.
Benefits of Color Therapy
Color therapy, also known as chromotherapy, encourages you to focus on color in an effort to be in the present moment and combat feelings of discomfort, anxiety, depression and stress.
A June 2018 study in Medical Acupuncture found that after engaging in color therapy, 93 percent of participants — all of whom were suffering from some kind of trauma — experienced a positive response.
Color therapy, combined with intentional breathing, can help instill a sense of calm and relaxation when intense emotions arise. It's particularly helpful for dealing with stress, which puts the body in "fight or flight" mode.
Deep breaths spark your body's parasympathetic nervous system, which reverses the stress response by slowing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure and calming the mind, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Color Breathing Exercise: The Basics
Color breathing is a simple breathing technique that you can use at any time to trigger a relaxation response, Sophie Mort, a clinical psychologist based in the UK, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
This form of color therapy entails taking long breaths and visualizing a certain color that has meaning to you — because it represents either how you want to feel or a feeling you'd like to let go.
"I recommend that my clients use color breathing any time they notice tension rising in their body (if their shoulders [and] neck feel tense or their chest feels tight), when they feel anxious or angry and when they can't sleep," Mort says.
How to Practice Color Breathing
This technique is both customizable and flexible. To start, choose a color that represents the mood you wish to feel; for example, blue or green might help induce calm, while yellow is tied to confidence, according to Color Psychology.
Don't get too caught up in choosing the "right" color — rather, "simply choose a color you like and that feels soothing to you," Mort says.
Once you've got a hue in mind, follow these steps:
- Start by closing your eyes and taking three slow, deep breaths, down into your diaphragm — the lower part of your ribs. (Find tips for mindful breathing below.)
- Visualize the color of your choice. Imagine that you are breathing the color into your body with every inhale.
- Imagine the color spreading through your body, all the way to your fingers and toes with every exhale.
- If you notice your mind wandering (which is normal), simply come back to the color.
- Keep visualizing the color and notice any sensations or new feelings that arise.
- Repeat for two minutes or longer, if you'd like. There is no minimum time to achieve the benefits of this practice — any amount of time can cultivate relaxation in your body.
- When you are ready, open your eyes and come back to the room.
Tips for Mindful Breathing
- Find a comfortable seated position.
- Put one hand on your chest and the other on your lower ribs (diaphragm).
- Close your mouth and breathe through your nose.
- Breathe naturally and notice where your breath is coming into.
- Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.
- Tighten your stomach muscles, letting them fall inward as you exhale through pursed lips.
- Turn attention to the place where the breath feels most vivid: This could be the tips of your nostrils, the back of your nose, the throat, the chest or somewhere else. Focus on the sensation of the breath as it comes in and down into the diaphragm and as it goes out.
Mort recommends practicing this once a day — not only during stressful moments, but during moments of calm, too. A consistent routine will allow you to master this coping mechanism, so you can call on it when you need it most.
Other Ways to Find Calm
There are many ways other than color breathing to achieve a state of calm. If this technique doesn't feel right, you may want to try other deep-breathing skills or other relaxation exercises.
"Try a meditative practice like focusing on your breath, a color or a mantra," says Mort. "The most important thing is to have a mechanism to ground yourself in the present moment, which over time stops us being whisked away into our worry thoughts about the future or fears about the past."
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- University of Michigan Medicine: "Stress Management: Breathing Exercises for Relaxation"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response"
- Medical Acupuncture: "Auricular Chromotherapy in the Treatment of Psychologic Trauma, Phobias, and Panic Disorder"
- Color Psychology