The science of breathwork
In the first part of this blog series, we covered Breathwork and why it’s become so popular. If you missed that you can read it again here.
In part 2 we are going to show you two simple breathing exercises to reduce stress and anxiety and look further into the science of breathing training.
To understand how breathing can change our mood, outlook and stop us from burning out, we first have to understand the basic principles of the nervous system. The ANS (Autonomic Nervous System) is the network that controls our fight and flight response (Sympathetic) and our rest and digest system (Parasympathetic). This overall system is activated by the Vagus nerve. Think of the Vagus nerve as a braking system. When we are in danger or alerted to action, the Vagus nerve lifts the foot off the brake and sympathetic arousal is increased. This is useful if you are in danger. Imagine a car is coming towards you, the vagus nerve lifts your sympathetic nervous system activates and your eyes dilated, blood rushes to your muscles and your body responds.
The problem we have in modern life is that, small triggers are now activating the sympathetic side of our nervous system. Mobile phones, busy roads, shouting strangers, our bodies are on a constant high alert in the modern world and without enough parasympathetic balance (rest and digest activation) we get in a perpetual state of alert. This can create higher levels of cortisol which can leave us feeling frazzled and stressed. It can also stop us from switching off. So how do we get to sleep?
The vagus nerve is directly linked to the ANS and the branches of the Vagus nerve are directly linked to our respiratory system. Every breath has an emotion which you may have learnt from a meditation practice. When we are scared or panicked, our breath becomes short and shallow. When relaxed and happy the breath moves towards the belly. Science has proven that these connected emotions can be reversed when changing your breathing patterns. When you are stressed, take a few slow controlled breaths. When tired, breathing with intent can provide energy and focus.
So let’s look at 2 breathing exercises to reduce stress and anxiety.
1.The Long Breath
The extended exhale is the fastest way to tell your body that all is well. This can be as simple as a 5 second inhale using the nose and a 10 second exhale using pursed lips. When we extend the exhale we create more parasympathetic arousal and the body responds by reducing the amount of cortisol in our system. Repeat this a few times and try to relax your shoulders on each exhale.
2. The Triangle Breath
This time we are going to add a pause into the breathing pattern. This will be a 4 second inhale, a 4 second hold and an 8 second exhale. Similar to the long breath we will inhale with the nose and exhale with pursed lips. Adding the pause in breath, controls heart rate and signals to the body that you are in control. So give it a try in the Breathonics app and let us know how you do.