Conscious Breathing

  • A growing number of studies show that breathing techniques are effective against anxiety and insomnia.

  • These techniques influence both physiological factors (by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system) and psychological factors (by diverting attention from thoughts).

  • Because these techniques are safe and easy to use, scientific validation might result in their being more frequently recommended and practiced.

As newborns, we enter the world by inhaling. In leaving, we exhale. (In fact, in many languages the word “exhale” is synonymous with “dying.”) Breathing is so central to life that it is no wonder humankind long ago noted its value not only to survival but to the functioning of the body and mind and began controlling it to improve well-being.

Breathing: it should be the most natural thing in the world. We do it without thinking, some 20,000 times a day. And from their very first gasp, babies respire as nature intended, ribs expanding, torso rising and falling. Yet it seems that this instinctive ability decreases as we age, and high-pressure jobs, emotional trauma, bad posture and restrictive clothing (yes, really) all take their toll.

the brain’s stress response system can be ‘hacked’ simply by changing the breathing pattern. “In a stressful situation, the heart rate increases, causing shorter, faster intakes,” he says. “When we exhale for longer than we inhale, it activates the vagus nerve and slows the heart rate. In this calmer state, we are able to respond better to those situations.”

There is a clear link between the breath and our emotions, he says. “One thing humans do differently to other mammals is to hold our breath when we’re angry, or if we’ve had some upsetting news and need to hold the tears in.”

Practitioners of a therapy known as breathwork believe that such poor breathing techniques adopted over time are responsible for increasing stress and anxiety, lowering energy levels and even affecting cardiovascular health. The good news, they say, is that we can reverse these effects simply by relearning how to breathe properly. Now, many companies are offering breathing classes to stressed-out employees in need of workplace calm.

controlled breathing can change the response of the body’s autonomic nervous system, which controls unconscious processes such as heart rate and digestion as well as the body’s stress response. Consciously changing the way you breathe appears to send a signal to the brain to adjust the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system, which can slow heart rate and digestion and promote feelings of calm as well as the sympathetic system, which controls the release of stress hormones like cortisol. When you take slow, steady breaths, your brain gets the message that all is well and activates the parasympathetic response. When you take shallow rapid breaths or hold your breath, the sympathetic response is activated

Coherent Breathing

If you have the time to learn only one technique, this is the one to try. In coherent breathing, the goal is to breathe at a rate of five breaths per minute, which generally translates into inhaling and exhaling to the count of six. If you have never practiced breathing exercises before, you may have to work up to this practice slowly, starting with inhaling and exhaling to the count of three and working your way up to six.

Sitting upright or lying down, place your hands on your belly.

2. Slowly breathe in, expanding your belly, to the count of five.

3. Pause.

4. Slowly breathe out to the count of six.

5. Work your way up to practicing this pattern for 10 to 20 minutes a day.

In fact, every relaxation, calming or meditation technique relies on breathing, which may be the lowest common denominator in all the approaches to calming the body and mind. Research into basic physiology and into the effects of applying breath-control methods lends credence to the value of monitoring and regulating our inhalations and exhalations.

Even a rudimentary understanding of physiology helps to explain why controlled breathing can induce relaxation. Everyone knows that emotions affect the body. When you are happy, for instance, the corners of your mouth turn up automatically, and the edges of your eyes crinkle in a characteristic expression. Similarly, when you are feeling calm and safe, at rest, or engaged in a pleasant social exchange, your breathing slows and deepens. You are under the influence of the parasympathetic nervous system, which produces a relaxing effect. Conversely, when you are feeling frightened, in pain, or tense and uncomfortable, your breathing speeds up and becomes shallower. The sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s various reactions to stress, is now activated. Less well known is that the effects also occur in the opposite direction: the state of the body affects emotions. Studies show that when your face smiles, your brain reacts in kind—you experience more pleasant emotions. Breathing, in particular, has a special power over the mind.Rapid breathing can contribute to and exacerbates panic attacks through a vicious circle: fear triggers faster breathing, which increases fear.

Slow, deep breathing increases the activity of the vagus nerve, a part of parasympathetic nervous system; the vagus nerve controls and also measures the activity of many internal organs. When the vagus nerve is stimulated, calmness pervades the body: the heart rate slows and becomes regular; blood pressure decreases; muscles relax. When the vagus nerve informs the brain of these changes, it, too, relaxes, increasing feelings of peacefulness. Thus, the technique works through both neurobiological and psychological mechanisms.

Coherent Breathing is a form of breathing that involves taking long slow breaths at a rate of about five per minute. Coherent breathing, or deep breathing, helps to calm the body through its effect on the autonomic nervous system.

Whether it is practiced as part of yoga or meditation, or simply on its own as a relaxation strategy, coherent breathing is a simple and easy way to reduce stress and calm down when feeling controlling our breath, we can affect our body in a positive way. Coherent breathing involves simply adjusting the length of time that you spend on each of these phases of breathing. Our natural tendency is to breathe at a rate of two to three seconds per inhale and exhale. We naturally consume an amount of air that is proportional to the length of our breaths. In coherent breathing, the goal is to extend the length of both the inhale and exhale to around six seconds (perhaps longer if you have a longer torso).

This is why the easiest way to activate your vagus nerve to put the neural brake on a racing heart is to slow down your breath. It's almost like a hack for your nervous system—you can do something within your conscious control that has an effect on processes that you otherwise can't directly control.

Research is still in its infancy regarding the effects of coherent breathing; however, there is lots of promising news. We know that this type of breathing may be helpful for insomnia, anxiety, depressive symptoms, stress, immune system response, alertness, concentration, vitality, post-traumatic stress disorder, and attention deficit disorder

Technology can help you to practice coherent breathing. Download an app for your mobile phone that guides you through the proper lengths of inhaling and exhaling.

Autogenic Training 

The goal of most relaxation techniques, including autogenic training, is to encourage the natural relaxation response in your body by slowing breathing, lowering blood pressure, and, ultimately, producing a feeling of increased well-being

Easily and quickly learn a series of simple phrases to bring a body mind awareness that supports you to naturally switch off your  “fight, flight, freeze” stress system and switch on your “rest, repair, recuperate” system.

  • Take just a few minutes a day sitting quietly to reverse stress, reduce worry and anxiety,  refresh yourself and give yourself an energy recharge.  Bring yourself back to the present moment calmly and easily.

  • Practising autogenics can bring you many benefits such as  lowering blood pressure, increasing T-cell counts, improving performance, enhancing creativity, maintaining well-being, and much, much more.  

you may consider using a voice recording, such as the free MP3 audio file offered by McMaster University, in Ontario Canada, with directions on practicing autogenic training

2008 review of studiesTrusted Source found that relaxation training, including autogenic training, could consistently and significantly reduce some symptoms of anxiety.

“Conditions such as social anxiety disorder (SAD), general anxiety disorder (GAD), depression, and insomnia can benefit from autogenic training,” explains Hafeez.

Autogenic training is also helpful in managing daily stress, and it can even be helpful during panic attacks.


Drawbacks and limitations

Autogenic training should not replace your current treatment plan. If you’re participating in psychotherapy or taking medication for anxiety, autogenic training should be used in addition to your current treatment.

However, if you’re trying techniques like progressive muscle relaxation and autogenic training on your own (or with a counselor or therapist), and you’re not feeling any alleviation when it comes to stress, frustrations, sadness, or anxiety, Hafeez says it’s time to consult your internist for referrals to other mental health professionals who can help assess how you’re feeling and guide you in finding the right method to deal with your specific case.

Ha breathing for reenergising

© 2020 by Theresa Cawley