Breathe Your Way to Instant Calm, The Physiological Sigh

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Calm down and take a breath!  How many times have you heard this advice? How many times was is helpful? The answer depends on how you were breathing.

When we’re feeling stressed, our body’s autonomic nervous system primes us for action. This is the fight, flight, freeze response you may be familiar with. Before you’re aware of what’s happening, your heart rate has accelerated, and your breath becomes fast and shallow in order to deliver more oxygen to your blood.

Or your action of choice could be the freeze response, where you find yourself holding your breath or barely breathing.

So depending on whether you’re revved up in anxiety or frozen in fear, taking a deep breath may either make you feel more anxious, as in the sped-up response or calmer if you were holding or restricting your breath.

This is why you can learn to control your breath to manage your stress response. When you’re anxious, this 2-sip breathing technique is the fastest way to calm down.

Introduced into the mainstream by Stanford researcher Andrew Huberman, the Physiological Sigh is a super simple breathing method that has been called the fastest path to stress reduction. Especially helpful because you can do it anywhere!

This practice works to reduce stress by decreasing the CO2 levels in the lungs, bringing the autonomic nervous system (ANS) into balance, and downregulating your emotional state.

Physiological Sighing

  • Calms the mind
  • Oxygenates the body
  • Brings your nervous system into balance
  • Creates equilibrium between alertness and relaxation

The Method

  • Sitting or standing, begin by exhaling fully
  • Eyes open or gently closed, take 2 full inhales through the nose followed by an extended exhale through the mouth, breathing all the air out.
  • Complete 2-3 rounds
  • At the end, drop your hand down, take a big breath in through both nostrils, hold in a few seconds and sigh it out. This is a great time to do a short meditation if you want to make this part of your daily routine.

The Breath

  • Breathe fully into your belly, extending it to create space as the diaphragm lowers, then continue breathing upward into your chest, which begins to expand as your belly moves slightly inward.
  • For each breathing cycle, be sure to take a full breath in and to exhale completely; bringing the maximum volume of oxygen into the lungs.
  • With practice, extend the length of the breath, making the inhalations and exhalations full gentle, slow, and extended.

Notes

The neural circuits that control the heart work a little more slowly than those which control the lungs, so the heart rate will take about 40 seconds to come down.

If you find it hard to breathe through the nose due to congested sinuses, you can keep your teeth clenched, open your lips and breathe in through the mouth, followed by a normal exhale.

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3 Comments

  1. Andreane on April 2, 2023 at 1:40 pm

    Question, Is the physiological sigh is ok or détrimental if we are in a state of hypoarousal, parasympathetic shutdown.

    Thanks a lot!



  2. Elizabeth Borelli on April 3, 2023 at 4:52 pm

    Hi Andreane,

    Thank you for your question. Yes, this practice is designed to help you downregulate your stress response and return your breath and body to a state of balance, signaling to your nervous system that you’re safe in the present moment. Hope this helps!

    Elizabeth



  3. Susan on July 27, 2023 at 2:52 pm

    I heard there are some contraindications to doing this practice related to excessive cortisol?. can u clarify



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