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Finger Breathing

Finger Breathing

Mindful breathing can promote calm even in stressful circumstances. When we feel frightened – and especially if we are trying to be very quiet – we automatically hold our breath or take shallow breaths. Practicing mindful breathing equips us to override this tendency. Mindful breathing reduces anxiety by oxygenating the blood and activating the parasympathetic nervous system, a key part of the brain for calming. One technique is called Starfish Breathing, Finger Breathing or Breath Tracking. This involves tracing the outline of the fingers of one hand with the index finger of the other in sync with one’s breathing. Once students are familiar with this practice, they will more easily follow a teacher’s visual prompt of holding up a hand and tracing it even in the midst of a drill or emergency. 

The Exercise

  • Choose a hand to be your starfish, and a finger to be your breath pointer.
  • Start below your thumb, down at your wrist, and wait for your next in-breath.
  • As you breathe in naturally, trace your in-breath carefully up your thumb with your finger. You need to time it so that you’re at the very tip of your thumb when your in-breath becomes an out-breath.
  • Let your breathing be totally natural. Your tracing finger is simply representing the breath along your hand.
  • Breathe down your thumb for your out-breath, so that you’re at the very base when your out-breath becomes an in-breath.
  • Remember – no messing with your breath! Simply speed up or slow down your tracing finger.
  • Breathe up and down each finger, with care and deliberate focus. Let yourself rest in the sensation of movement – your lungs breathing and your finger moving. As you breathe down your little finger, rest at the base of your wrist for a moment. Check-in and see how you’re feeling. Simply notice the feelings – there’s no need to judge or explain anything. You’re just looking.
  • Then swap hands.
  • Settling at your wrist, wait for an in breath and repeat the process, leisurely tracing your breath up and down your fingers, in and out. Pause again at your wrist. How are you feeling? Again, simply notice and label. There’s nothing to fix.
  • Once you have learned Starfish, your body can respond very quickly to the practice, immediately settling into the sensation of breath and touch. We learn that this is an appropriate moment to rest in our body and focus on ourselves. It helps us remember that we’re okay.

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