How to connect with your breath and calm your nervous system
How are you breathing at this very moment?
The way you’re breathing can tell you a lot about the state of how you’re feeling within.
Maybe you’re holding your breath and didn’t even realize it.
Maybe you’re feeling anxious and your breath feels really shallow.
Maybe it feels like it’s hard to take a full breath in or completely let all your breath out.
Your breath is the bridge between the mind and the body.
When you take deep, intentional breaths, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the system responsible for ‘rest and digest’, slowing down the heart rate, and lowering blood pressure and respiratory rate.
When you are stressed or overwhelmed, your breathing naturally becomes more shallow because your sympathetic nervous system is activated. This system is responsible for
increased heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate, and activates your ‘fight or flight’ response.
If you are chronically stressed, this means that your sympathetic nervous system is constantly activated and adrenaline and cortisol are continuously being released into your body.
Amit Sood, Professor of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine explains:
When you remain in a heightened state of anxiety or chronic stress, the body continuously releases cortisol and chronically elevated levels can lead to serious issues. Too much cortisol can become toxic, suppressing the immune system, increasing blood pressure and altering sugar levels.
In order to deactivate the sympathetic nervous system (‘fight or flight’ state), you must activate the parasympathetic nervous system (‘rest and digest’ state).
One way to do this is by taking intentional, deep breaths that signal for the brain to calm and relax.
Connect with your breath and feel less stressed and more centered.
Here are 7 tips to try:
1. As you inhale, send breath all the way down into your low belly.
This engages the diaphragm, which activates the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is connected to the parasympathetic nervous system, so this type of breathing triggers the body’s relaxation response.
2. Allow the breath to breathe you - rather than you trying to take air in and push it out.
Without forcing it, let air flow in and out naturally. When we try to control the breath too much it can tense us up even more. Try to relax as much as possible and let the breath flow through you.
3. Connect your hands to your belly and/or your heart space to feel how your breath affects these areas.
Feel them grow on the inhale and soften of the exhale. Connecting your hands to your body naturally brings more of your awareness to your present moment experience, which can help you to feel more centered.
4. Relax your jaw. Breath in and out of your mouth if that is more comfortable.
Many people carry so much tension in their jaw, sometimes without even realizing it. If this sounds like you, actively focus on relaxing your jaw while you breathe.
5. Make some noise as you breath out - audibly sigh it out and make as much noise as you want.
Don’t hold back. This can be a nice release that helps you to truly release all of your breath out on the exhale.
6. Count your breath. This can help if your mind wants something to focus on.
Two options to try:
Inhale for as long as you exhale. Begin with an inhale for 4 seconds, and exhale for 4 seconds. You can always decrease or increase the count.
Exhale for twice as long as you inhale. This helps to activate the parasympathetic system, calming and nourishing the mind and body.
7. Try connecting with your breath in different positions.
You can be seated, standing, walking, or lying down. There’s no wrong way to do this.
Try one or all of these techniques anytime you are feeling stressed, scattered, or overwhelmed.
Remember, your breath is a reflection of your internal landscape.
Connect with your breath and you can attune to and calm whatever is going on within.
With deep love and gratitude,