Every breath is an opportunity to change our internal landscape and the way that we breathe can tell us a lot about how we are living moment to moment.
Our breathing is part of our autonomic nervous system, the ANS controls all the automatic functions within the body, such as our heart rate, temperature regulation and digestion. The wonderful thing about our breathing is, it’s the only system within the ANS that’s also completely under our control.
When we understand how we can directly influence our breathing, we have an incredible tool to use (and it’s free) to change how we want to feel and how our nervous system is functioning.
Everytime we inhale, we activate a more sympathetic response (fight or flight) within the body and every time we exhale we activate a more parasympathetic response (rest & digest) within the body. If the goal is to feel more energised, focus on extending the inhalation, or if the goal is to feel calm and reduce stress, focus on extending the exhalation.
Here’s a few tips and techniques to calm and soothe the nervous system, when life gets overwhelming and your stress response is taking over.
Have regular check-ins with your breathing - Taking a couple of minutes throughout the day to connect with your breath will do you wonders! You can’t change something you’re not aware of and breath awareness is key. If you spend a lot of time on emails or your phone, you might unintentionally be holding your breath whilst typing or reading, this can cause a stress response within the body.
Slow down an lengthen your exhale - A simple and really effective breathing technique is making your exhalation double the length of your inhalation. You can start with breathing in for a count of 3 and breathing out for a count of 6, then progress to breathing in for a count of 4 and breathing out for a count of 8. Breathe this way for around 5-10 minutes.
Focus on breathing into the belly - When feeling stressed or anxious there’s a tendency to breathe shallow and rapidly, upper chest breathing activates a ‘fight or flight’ response. Breathing into the belly ensures you are breathing deeply and slowly and engaging your diaphragm which is the primary breathing muscle. This tells your nervous system that you are safe, and moves you into a rest and digest state, this is the state that allows the body to do all the wonderful things it needs to do such as repair and digest food efficiently. Place both hands on your belly and breathe into them for a couple of minutes or whilst practising the technique above and see how you feel.
Article by: Kelly Alexa from Eleven Breathwork