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Physiological Sighs

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

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 responds by preparing us for adversity. This is the fight, flight, freeze response you may be familiar with. Before you’re aware of what’s happening, your heartrate has accelerated, and your breath has quickened to deliver more oxygen to your blood.

Alternatively, when an unexpected has triggered the freeze response, you might hold your breath or restrict 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.

Fortunately, we can control our breathing to manage our autonomic response. When you’re anxious, the physiological breathing technique is the fastest way to calm.

Introduced into the mainstream by Stanford researcher Andrew Huberman, this super simple breathing method 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.

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

The Practice

  • 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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