Have you ever wondered why when you or someone you know is stressed, upset, angry, or overwhelmed many people respond with just breathe? It’s not to annoy you or make you even more emotional. Heck, I don’t even think many people who give that response know how much truth there is to it. It seems to be an automatic piece of advice we give out without knowing exactly why we do it – why we need to breathe during those moments.
Our bodies have two opposing forces continually fighting to keep our responses to the world in order: the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), or Fight or Flight, and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS), or Rest and Digest. Through the breath, we can manipulate these systems into working both for and against us.
Imagine the last time you were mad or really upset/crying. Your breath was probably quick and sharp – exerting a sort of huff and puff with each inhale and exhale. This type of breathing feeds your Sympathetic Nervous System, which in turn fuels your reactions. Not such a good connection.
By stopping to take consciously slow and deep breaths, you are communicating to your body to relax – which in turn, will travel up to your brain to help your mind do the same:
“The sum total of slow, deep breathing results in a relative increase in PSNS/”Brake” (Rest and Digest) activity. And in a state of petroleum-fueled anxiety there is no better remedy than a biological brake. In fact, high PSNS/”Brake” tone has been associated with trait happiness, resilience in the face of stress, and childhood cognitive performance (6).” – Psychology Today
Now, I know; easier said than done, right? I mean, who was it that said the phrase: Never in the history of calming down has anyone calmed down by being told to “calm down?”
BUT – Like with everything, this technique can be strengthened through practice. By spending even just a few minutes a day, week, etc., to practice deep breathing, you will gain the awareness needed to remind yourself to breath during the times you need it the most.
Cue: Meditate With Me
Each month, you can watch/listen to a short guided meditation and truly meditate with me. If you’re new to this quiet practice, this series is for you. They are what I consider the most simple techniques, and inspired by some of my favorite teachers (i.e. Ram Dass, Deepak Chopra, Louise Hay). Join me each month for literally a few minutes and if it jives with you, you are welcome to it whenever and wherever. I hope you begin to make connections to your mind and body and allow yourself to attain a little equanimity.
I hope you’ll join me to be still, to breathe, and to find space in a world that can make us feel cluttered at times.
(6) Porges, S. W., Doussard‐Roosevelt, J. A., & Maiti, A. K. (1994). Vagal tone and the physiological regulation of emotion. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 59(2‐3), 167-186.