Breathing for Relaxation
Deep breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system through a process called the “relaxation response.” Taking deep, slow breaths engages sensory receptors called baroreceptors in the lungs and other areas. The receptors send signals to the specific part of the brain called the medulla oblongata, which regulates autonomic functions.
Deep breathing increases the activity of the vagus nerve, one of the main parts of the parasympathetic nervous system. When stimulated, the result is a decrease in heart rate, relaxation of the blood vessels, and a reduction of stress hormones like cortisol. Overall, deep breathing promotes a state of calm, counteracting the “fight or flight” response accompanying the sympathetic nervous system.
I recommend the “4-7-8” breathing exercise to help you relax and reduce anxiety. Strive to do this for 5 minutes every day. Here’s how to do it:
Come into a comfortable seated position with a long spine and relaxed shoulders.
Put the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, just behind your teeth, and keep it there throughout this exercise.
Close your mouth and breathe in through your nose quietly. Begin by exhaling completely, then inhale quietly through your nose and mentally count to four.
Retain your breath: hold for a mental count of seven.
Exhale completely through your mouth: make a whooshing sound as you exhale completely through your mouth for a count of eight.
Repeat the cycle for a total of 12 breaths.
Repeat this throughout the day to help reduce anxiety and calm your body and mind.
This technique may take some time to master. Breathing deeply like this can feel like labor. Take breaks as needed or shorten the amount of breaths you take and gradually build up.
This deep breathing exercise is a powerful tool that you have with you wherever you go so that you may find inner peace and create a sense of calm even in the face of stress and anxiety. Be well and breathe. :)