Reducing stress can be as simple as breathing.
Having been a victim of stress and anxiety for many years, I came to the point where I would suffer some real health issues if I didn’t find a way to lower my stress levels. In addition, I was so ready to take back my life and be happy! Can you relate? I tried all the traditional methods of releasing stress, but it was yoga that gave me hope of living a more peaceful life.
Although every aspect of yoga is beneficial for its designed purpose, such as poses, meditation and stretching, I found that deep breathing was key to calming my mind and body. Let’s look at how this happens.
As we have all experienced, when we get anxious or afraid our breath becomes shallow and fast. The stress hormone cortisol and adrenaline are released, our oxygen intake is lowered and our heart beats faster to make up for the oxygen loss. We may feel other symptoms our own bodies present. The muscles clamp down, the gut hurts, the chest tightens or a host of other uncomfortable things. It’s a vicious cycle of the mind affecting the body and the body affecting the mind, spiraling us into overload. But by consciously breathing deeply and slowly, we can stimulate the vagus nerve which will tell the body to chill out.
But what is the vagus nerve and how does it work?
The vagus nerve is the largest cranial nerve of the body. It starts at the brain stem and meanders through the torso, branching off to connect to most organs in the chest and belly. It is in charge of measuring and then controlling the heart, lungs, bowels and other organs.
In deep breathing there is increased movement from the diaphragm and lungs which massage and vibrate against the vagus nerve channels. This stimulates the nerve to release acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter and chemical messenger, which basically helps the heart and brain to function at a slower and smoother pace. The effects can be felt within the entire body as the symptoms of stress are decreased.
Additionally, when you are focusing on breathing, you aren’t regretting the past or worrying about the future…Win Win! Another great stress reducer! It’s also pleasant to note that singing and humming stimulate the vagus nerve and the relaxation response as well. Reducing stress can boost your immune response and improve your overall health.
Following are instruction for a type of deep breathing called Three Part Breathing. Practice for 5-10 minutes each day. It’s okay to use this exercise as much as needed to calm and relax the body and mind.
You can practice anywhere, but if possible, find a quiet place either sitting or lying down. Breathe 5-10 breath cycles per minute.
Three Part Breathing (Deep Relaxation Breathe)
- Inhale down to the bottom of the lungs, expanding your belly as if you were blowing up a balloon.
- Breathe here a few times.
- Inhale into the belly and continue to inhale to expand the space between the ribs.
- Breathe here a few times.
- Inhale into the belly, into the ribs and continue to inhale into the chest and collar bones. Feel the breath at the lower throat.
- Continue to inhale belly, ribs and chest/exhale chest ribs, belly. Breathe here for 5-10 minutes.
You can also follow along with the recorded breathing exercise by clicking here.
Our breath is a powerful but under used method of calming ourselves. It is always available, free and without limit to use as a weapon against stress, anxiety or any overwhelming feeling of panic. Don’t let this secret weapon against stress go unused.
Note: This post was written by my sweet sister, Cindy Atherton Epp. She is a certified YogaFit instructor and teaches community classes in Yoga, including classes tailored for cancer patients at Yoga Bridge in Denton, TX. If you would like to join her in a class recorded for her Yoga Bridge students, you can do that here.