Did you know that the way we breathe can offer a powerful way of calming our body under stress?
Basically, our fight and flight system is operated by two separate branches of our nervous system, called the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. One works like an accelerator pedal on our stress response; it revs up our system, preparing us to run or fight for our lives. The other system, (the parasympathetic), acts like a brake and slows this whole reaction down. These two systems act like a see-saw. When one is on, the other switches off. Obviously, switching on the parasympathetic system is best for calming stress. We have some control over this by the way we breathe.
Basically, when we breathe more slowly we switch on the parasympathetic system. Also, our heart rate slows when we breathe out. So, we can put the brake on our stress response by both breathing slowly and by taking longer out-breaths than in-breaths.
Firstly, ‘belly breathing’ involves taking long slow deep breaths that go right down into the body. Your belly should pop out as you fill your lungs to their full capacity and then slowly return to normal as the lungs are emptied. The second approach is called the 4-7-8 breathing technique (or sometimes ‘one-minute breathing’). In this approach, based on Yogi teaching, breathe in to a count of four, hold for seven, and then breathe out to a count of eight. Do this for four breaths. So, why not experiment with these two breathing techniques? The results aren’t instant. But over time you can cultivate a powerful way of calming and turning down the full throttle of anxiety when you get stressed. These techniques are simple, available to everybody and don’t cost a penny.
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