How we breathe plays a vital role in the way we feel. It can influence our stress response or our calm response.
The way we breathe can communicate to our body whether we are faced with a perceived threat or not.
For instance, when we feel stressed, we tend to breathe shallow, as in, we breathe into our chest and it is our chest that rises and falls.
When we are relaxed, we tend to breathe with steady and slow breaths into our belly, so that our belly rises and falls.
Ideally, we should be breathing into our belly with slow and steady breaths most of the time. This tells our body that it is safe and therefore this activates our calm response.
As mentioned in the 1st chapter, when our calm response is active then our body is working in balance.
This includes regulating our digestive system. When our body feels safe through the way we breathe, our digestion works well and therefore prevents issues such as irritable bowel syndrome and constipation.
Steady and slow belly breathing also benefits our mental state. Through this type of breathing we help ourselves get a good dose of oxygen which the brain needs to function properly. It helps us be productive and think with clarity.
It also reduces the onset of depression, anxiety and negative thoughts.
When our stress response is activated, the only way to deactivate it, is through our breath.
The sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our survival against life and death situations and for activating our stress response, activates it unconsciously. In other words, we can’t tell it to stop.
In comparison, our central nervous system is the part of us that works by conscious thought.
For instance, it is what allows us to pick up a cup or sit down.
So whatever activity we would like to do, we can do it. But when it comes to perceived life or death threats, our sympathetic nervous system has our survival as its top priority, and therefore, we cannot make the stress response stop simply by telling it to.
The only way to stop the stress response process is through our breath. When we are stressed, we don’t usually breathe slow and steady into our bellies, instead, we breathe fast and shallow into our chest.
Therefore, by making the effort to breathe slow and steady into our belly, this communicates to our body that we are safe.
This then allows our body to activate the calm response, which brings our body back to functioning in balance, and looking after our health.
Being conscious of how we’re breathing throughout the day and night is important.
In this modern age, people tend to get stressed easily and often, and over things that aren’t putting them in immediate danger. Consequently, people are activating their stress response frequently, which is causing them health issues.
In a study of people who suffered heart attacks, it was found that 100% of the patients were shallow, chest breathers.
Whether you are at home or at work or out and about, take time to check-in with how you are breathing and make sure it is slow and steady from your belly.