7-11 Breathing

in8 Cards Resource PackWe in the Western world seem to have forgotten how important controlled breathing can be to our mental and physical well-being. The following disciplines all place attention on correct breathing:

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Tai Chi
  • Qi Gong
  • Martial Arts

There is a particular form of breathing which can be a great help (no matter what state you are in) if you…

  • Feel Depressed
  • Have difficulty sleep
  • Have difficulty concentrating
  • Feel agitated or anxious
  • Suffer from “nerves” or anxiety

We often teach people this technique because it can be a powerful tool for recovery. See the testimonials.

To lower stress

The secret is to make each “out” breath last longer than each “in” breath. This has the effect of stimulating the body’s natural relaxation mechanism. It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. A simple and effective way to do this is to use a simple counting method whilst paying attention to your breathing.

7- 11 BreathingSeven / eleven breathing (animated)

Try this. You can do it anywhere – in bed, on a bus or the train, even whilst walking gently.

Seven / eleven breathing instructions

Why count?

Counting has the effect of distracting your mind so that it can’t also be worrying or analysing stuff at the same time. It also helps to keep the “out” breath “half as long again” than the “in” breath. Note that you will have to breathe in slightly “harder” and breathe out “more gently” if you are not going to end up gasping for air!

How fast?

Find a breathing rate which is comfortable for your own lungs. It does not have to be particularly “deep and slow” breathing. The important thing is to keep the rate constant without getting out of breath!

Seven / eleven breathing (animated)

This animated image shows typical breathing speed.

How long for?

Most people find that 10 to 15 minutes a day of good 7/11 breathing really helps them. But it does take a little practice and needs to be learned as a new skill. It can be hard to keep count when you first start – but keep trying. You will need to concentrate quite hard at first – but it gets easier with practice.

It’s a bit like learning to ride a bicycle. When you start, you may find that as you get a bit more relaxed, your mind wanders off in a daydream and you forget to count. Think of this like having to put your foot down to stabilise yourself on the bicycle. Don’t give up – just try again. Once you can get to the end of the lane and back without taking your feet off the pedals, you have mastered the new skill. If you find that you have stopped counting, just start again and continue until you can do it for a full fifteen minutes. By the time you can keep it going continuously with at least part of your mind on the counting you will have mastered a valuable new skill.

I have been using this for several years and it is has now become natural for me. If I have any difficulty getting to sleep, just a few breaths is usually enough to send me off.

Card 2 - ImaginationUse your imagination too

It can really help if you can imagine yourself in a place which feels safe and calm while you do this. Some people imagine being on a warm beach, some a cool garden, others by a gentle stream or walking in a wood or in the hills. Other people prefer to imagine being curled up in their bed. Whatever works best for you, try to bring in all your senses into this imaginary picture. Wherever you choose to be, bring in the sights, colours, sounds, feelings (e.g. sun on your skin), taste or smell of the place you are thinking of. Using all your senses, even just pretending, can really help your body and mind to relax. Some people have never experienced anywhere which feels safe or calm. This makes it harder – but there is often something which works, even if it is getting lost in a video game or a physical activity such as running. Your imagination is a powerful tool. Practice using it.

Why is this useful?

Every problem has at least one solution. Imagine that you are in a boat being tossed about by huge waves. These waves represent your emotions and feelings. Any strong emotion or feeling can have this effect: excitement, love, disgust, jealousy, anger, sadness, grief, anticipation, hatred, greed or impatience….

Stormy waves

The effect of strong emotions on our mental state are like storm waves.

But the solutions to the problems you are facing are like gentle ripples on the surface of a still pond.

Ripples on a pond

Notice that it is impossible to see the ripples (your solutions) while they are obliterated by the waves (your strong emotions). Only by calming our mind and lowering our “emotional arousal” can we start to think clearly.

Card 7 - EmotionsAre you saying that emotions are bad?

No! – emotions are not bad!

Emotions are what drive us forward. Without feeling hunger we would forget to eat. In fact without emotions we would never do anything. Dictionaries in the 17th and 18th centuries described emotion in a direct meaning from the Latin derivation emovere (to move away from). However, in any situation, being aware of how and when our emotions and feelings affect us gives us many more options. It is important to realise that strong emotions can make us functionally stupid. When we are driven by anger, disgust or fear we tend to act on our instincts -without using our capacity for thought.

Is that all?

Please try this technique for yourself.

in8 Cards Resource PackYou may be able to follow these instructions easily. However, many people find it much easier to learn it from a person, face to face, rather than from instructions. We often teach this and other techniques during therapy sessions. We recommend trying it for yourself but don’t give up if it seems too hard or seems not to work. Learning it face to face can be very much more effective.

7-11 Breathing is just one step in helping towards mental and physical well-being.  At in8 we have a range of techniques and resources (such as the in8 Cards well-being resource pack) so contact us now for more information about how we can help you.


We also supply handy credit card sized reminders of this technique. Please contact us if you would like to buy some!

7-11 breathing - Handy reminder

Bi-fold, credit card sized
handy reminder of the
7-11 breathing technique