Breathe. And Again.
Breathe. And again. Breathing is such an important action (apart from the fact that if you don’t you will die) for a number of reasons. One of the speakers at the CThA conference that I attended is Judith Quinn. Part of her talk was to get us all nervous by saying that she was going to get someone to come to the front of the room to speak about whatever subject she gave – enough to get the heart rate of most people accelerated! And then she said that one of the best ways to get rid of those nerves is to take a slow, deeeeep breath. Why? Because slowing the breath down kicks the parasympathetic nervous system awake which slows down the heart rate, reducing your stress. You see, not all breaths are created equal. A great, simple breathing exercise for calming both the nervous system and your racing mind is a timed breath where the out-breath is longer than the in-breath. When you exhale for a few counts longer than you inhale, the vagus nerve (running from the neck down through the diaphragm) sends a signal to your brain to turn up your Parasympathetic nervous system and turn down your Sympathetic (‘fight or flight’) nervous system. When the SNS is activated, your heart rate and your breathing speed up, and stress hormones like cortisol start pumping through your bloodstream, preparing your body to face a threat. If a polar pear is running towards you, licking its lips, it is handy to have your heart pumping plenty of blood and oxygen to your muscles so that they have the power to make you run away very fast! BUT, it doesn’t help you to have your heart rate and breathing increased because you’re in a traffic jam and you’re late for work – in fact, it is is harmful. If the levels of the stress hormones are raised for too long, or too frequently, the hormonal systems of the body are put out of kilter which has knock-on effects for the other body systems. The Parasympathetic system on the other hand, controls your rest and digest response. When the PNS is dominant, your breathing rate slows, your heart rate drops, your blood pressure lowers and your body is calmed.
To get your body into this state is easy. Breathe deeply and count slowly at the same time. What number did you end up with? That is the number to use for your inhalation time. Then exhale slowly, and for longer (by 2 or 3 counts) than your inhalation, and again count. You need to then add a one-count pause at the top of the inhalation and a one-count pause at the end of the exhalation. I like to add 3. counts at the end as I feel that works better for me
Whenever you feel yourself tightening up, worrying, stressing, heart beat up slightly, all you have to do is Breeeeathe – it is quite miraculous the difference it makes!