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Breathing Techniques to Help with MRI Claustrophobia

posted on WED, DEC 23 2015 by Center for Diagnostic Imaging

Staying very still for 45 minutes in an MRI scanner can be too much for someone with claustrophobia. Center for Diagnostic Imaging patient Stuart George described his experience as, “Too tight, too claustrophobic. It wasn’t good for me. I couldn’t handle it.” Claustrophobia is a common issue with many of our patients mentioning it during the screening phone call before their first appointment. While some use sedatives to cope, others are looking for help without medication.

Breathing Tips for Your Next Exam

If you’ve ever taken a deep breath before tackling something that makes you fearful, you’ve experienced the power of the inhale and the exhale. “Breathing is everything in yoga,” explains yoga instructor Enid Spitz. At the heart of her teachings is one of life’s basics: Breathing.

“It’s really important because it can control your central nervous system. It can calm you down or it can amp you up. It has an effect on everything from your heart rate, to your pulse rate, to the thoughts in your mind.”

How to Practice Square Breathing

Spitz recommends a basic breathing technique called square breathing. You start with an inhale to the count of four, then you hold your breath for four counts, next exhale for four counts, then hold empty for a final four counts. When you’re finished start over, using your belly and focusing on where the breath goes in your body. “When you take an inhale, focus on expanding your ribs in all four directions,” Spitz explains. “Most of the breathing we do is really shallow in the top of our lungs. But we’ll get more air to our brain, which will calm us down if we breathe really deeply into the low part of our lungs.”  Here’s her square breathing how-to:

The more you practice square breathing, the longer you can make the count, building from a count of 4 up to 8 or 10. And Spitz says if, for some reason, the retaining of your breath makes you anxious or uncomfortable, you can just focus on counting the inhales and the exhales and skip trying to retain the air.

Uses for Square Breathing

While you might be considering square breathing for an upcoming MRI exam, the technique can come in handy in other situations. The NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine says breathing techniques are used to help with anxiety, pain, depression, stress, insomnia and chronic illness. Once you get the hang of it, you might just find yourself breathing a sigh of relief.

Square breathing technique

For more tips on managing claustrophobia, read tips from Dr. Todd Farchione of Boston University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders or see why choosing a High-field Open MRI might be the right choice for you.

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