Exercises- Grounding Exercise

The Field Guide contains some distressing content. You can use the following quick breathing exercise if the content causes you distress, including difficulty breathing, tension, a sense of disconnection, or hyperventilation. Please read and practice the exercise a few times before beginning the rest of the Guide.

This exercise specifically focuses on extended-release of the exhale in your breath. As we will discuss in the Guide, deep breathing from the diaphragm muscle stimulates the vagus nerve, one of the main communication highways that helps your brain coordinate all sorts of relaxation responses in your body.

The instructions are quite simple. The exercise can be done alone or in a group, anywhere, anytime. Practice this exercise a few times before continuing the Guide, until the exercise feels comfortable for you. It is straightforward.

  1. Make sure you are sitting down comfortably somewhere, ideally in a chair with your back straight against the chair.
  2. Either close your eyes or keep them open with a neutral focus straight in front of you.
  3. Take a deep but comfortable breath in through your nose. Do not force a breath that is uncomfortable.
  4. Breathe out normally, with a gentle exhale through your nose.
  5. Repeat this a few times.
  6. After a few breaths, place your hands on your abdomen. Place your thumbs on the bottom of your rib cage, and place your middle finger on your hip.
  7. On your next breath, breathe in as before through your nose. On the exhale, extend the exhale as you draw the bottom of your ribs closer to your hip bones. You should feel your thumb and middle fingers getting closer together, almost touching, as you finish the extended exhale.
  8. Repeat a deep inhale, with the extended exhale as described before.
  9. Repeat a few times.
  10. Place your hands on your legs, and breathe naturally.

This exercise will stimulate the vagus nerve and will send relaxation signals through your brain and body. It will help you regain a sense of calm, connection, and control over breath. If it does not work, and you continue to be stressed or anxious, you have several options: 1) try it a second time; 2) simply close the Guide and walk around inside or outside, and speak to someone until you can move on with your day; or 3) contact medical services if you feel deeply distressed.