Breathing, you’re doing it right now but have you ever stopped to notice your breath? Is it smooth and deep or shallow and fast or something different? Of course it changes throughout the day depending on what you’re doing.
Your breathing is usually governed by your autonomic nervous system, meaning its on auto pilot, so that when you go for a run you don’t have to think: I must breath faster now, it just happens. You also have conscious control, so you can deliberately slow or deepen the breath just by thinking about it.
What’s fascinating is how your breathing changes when you are stressed. Cue simplified biology lesson. Stress triggers a brain and hormone response, which amongst other things makes your breath faster – lets call this the stressed breath. This is an excellent thing for running away from sabre tooth tigers, which was what it was designed for, but a terrible long-term strategy for thriving in chronically stressful situations like juggling a busy day at work or at home.
Under ongoing stressful conditions – otherwise known as modern life, your breath, when left to its own devices, will be sustained in faster and more shallow pattern.
That’s because without intervention your physiology easily gets stuck in an unhelpful feedback loop. Your brain ‘listens to’ your breath and if your breathing is shallow and fast then it registers ‘danger’ and it perpetuates the hormone signals to continue the stressed breath. Along with the stressed breath comes chronic muscular tension, elevated blood pressure, depressed immune system function, impaired thinking capacity, digestive system shut down and chronic nervous system exhaustion. If that list sounds familiar that’s because these are the most common health issues of our time!
Thankfully spending a few minutes a day consciously applying simple breathing techniques can profoundly change your wellbeing.
Try this simple exercise. Breathe in normally and count one, two, three and so on until the end of your natural easy inhalation. Then as you breathe out extend your exhalation by one count. So if you breathed in for a count of four breathe out for five. Continue this for 10 to 12 breaths and notice the difference even a few conscious breaths can have on the way you feel.