Day 5: Every Breath You Take
Now you’re here, take a deep breath, and e-x-h-a-l-e…
Don’t you feel better?
It’s the first thing and last thing we do in the cycle of life, and it has a profound impact on fully how we live. An average person takes more than 670 million breaths over their lifetime, so the good news is your body does it without any involvement or opinion from you.
From a physiological perspective, our breathing system is part of the autonomous nervous system – which consists of the sympathetic and parasympathetic pathways. These regulate our vital function of the body and can be influenced by internal and external factors.
The sympathetic system “fight or flight” - is activated on the inhale and, triggered by stress, and is the system that prepares our body for physical activity. When activated, heart rate increases, breathing shallows and pupils dilate. If the body falls out of balance and is under constant stress, we can quickly escalate to anxiety, excessive worry, insomnia and depression.
The parasympathetic system – “rest and digest” has a calming influence. It is activated during the exhale and lowers the heart rate and blood pressure, while promoting digestion and the uptake of nutrients in the body.
Both systems are governed by the vargus nerve, which originates in the brain stem and spreads nerve fibers to the throat and upper body. Through these fibers, signals activate to and from the body to the brain. The vargus nerve connects the vocal cords, tongue, and most importantly influences the brain, heart and lungs, and rules your body and your mind.
One of the keys to managing one’s breath, and hence one’s stress levels, is being able to activate the calming parasympathetic pathways of our nervous system on command to reduce the fight or flight response, and activate resting and digesting.
Tip: Even simply holding your breath for a brief moment and slowly exhaling stimulates the vargus nerve to drop your heart rate, and relax your mind, so you can think clearly and focus.
3 Keys to Good Breathing:
1. Sit (or lie) comfortably with a straight spine, ensuring your feet are flat on the floor. This helps the breath more easily throughout the body and expands your chest capacity.
2. Rest your hands in your lap, on your knees, palms up or down. This helps stop the urge for fidgeting and helps quiet the mind.
3. Close the eyes or lower your gaze to focus on a single focal point. This helps remove surrounding visual distractions and focus the mind. If you don’t feel comfortable to completely close your eyes, simply lower your gaze and choose a still point in front of you to focus on.
Breathing is a simple thing you can do before a meeting. Take a minute, and check in with yourself. Sit up tall, put your hands in your lap, close your eyes and breathe.
No matter how many breaths you take in this silent space, you will be amazed the wonders it can work.