Have you noticed how emotions affect your body and well-being? When you are calm or safe, breathing slows down and deepens. This is how the parasympathetic nervous system works, which has a relaxing effect. Opposite emotions – fear, pain, tension, discomfort – make breathing quicken, make it shallow. This activates the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s response to stress. The same effect takes place in the opposite direction: the state of the body affects emotions. When the face smiles, the brain gives out pleasant emotions. When you control your breathing, calmness returns to you.
Last Updated: January 20, 2022 (A few hours ago…)
People who, for one reason or another, suffer from shortness of breath, are more likely to be prone to anxiety and panic attacks.
Scientists estimate that more than 60% of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) suffer from anxiety or depressive disorders. These disorders are often caused by mechanical factors: the difficulties experienced by patients lead to increased breathing and increased physical discomfort and anxiety.
Rapid breathing can contribute to panic attacks, and this completes the vicious circle: fear causes rapid breathing, which intensifies the fear. Back in 2005, Georg Alpers (University of Mannheim, Germany) and his colleagues observed unconscious hyperventilation in people with a driving phobia.
Regardless of the cause of your fear or anxiety, you can use breathing techniques to calm yourself down. The healing power of combining soothing thoughts with deep breathing is rooted deep in the past, when people sought to achieve harmony in mind, body and the world around them.
Calm breathing is a remedy, not a panacea. Some breathing techniques that yogis use have passed clinical trials, others are just waiting in the wings. Still, it is possible to calm the mind with breathing. This means that such techniques work, and we can take them into service.
Breathing technique to calm the nerves
The benefits of breathing control have been known for many years. But the scientific justification for this appeared not so long ago. In 2016, scientists accidentally discovered a neural circuit in the brain stem that links respiration and control of brain activity. How exactly this happens remains to be seen, but the fact that this connection has been found is already a big step forward.
Let’s See How Calming Exercise Affects Our Condition
- Deep breathing helps to avoid spikes in blood pressure. Research shows that slowing down your breathing increases baroreflex sensitivity, a mechanism that regulates blood pressure through your heart rate. In the long term, such breathing techniques can reduce the risk of stroke and cerebral aneurysm, relieve the load on the blood vessels.
- The counting of breaths and breaths affects the neural oscillations of the brain. This is especially noticeable in the area that is associated with emotions. Participants in one experiment were asked to count their breaths in and out over several minutes. At the same time, their brain activity was monitored using an EEG. The results showed that areas associated with emotion, memory, and awareness produced a more organized pattern.
- The breathing rhythm activates areas of the brain that are responsible for memory. Researchers believe that inhalation through the nose induces greater electrical activity in the amygdala, the emotional epicenter of the brain, and is associated with greater activity in the hippocampus, the seat of memory.
- Deep breathing strengthens the immune system. Sounds somewhat speculative, but don’t underestimate this potential effect. It is about the relaxation response. Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson actively promoted this term back in the 70s and even wrote a book about this phenomenon. According to the theory of the American researcher, deep controlled breathing triggers a parasympathetic response and can also improve the resistance of the immune system. Experiments have found more efficient insulin secretion and improved blood sugar regulation.
In order to start practicing calming breathing, you need to take a few preliminary steps:
- before class, do joint gymnastics, light yoga practice or several circles of Surya Namaskar at a calm pace;
- Find a quiet, calm place where you will not be distracted;
- sit cross-legged, if necessary, place a bolster or folded blanket under the buttocks to keep your back straight;
- devote 15–20 minutes to the practice for maximum effect.
Relaxing breathing techniques
What are some effective soothing breathing techniques that can be used without prior preparation? Let’s consider the most basic and safe ones.
Why focus on exhalation? The fact is that a deep breath can not always bring comfort, since it is associated with the sympathetic nervous system. But exhalation activates the parasympathetic nervous system and affects the body’s ability to relax and calm down.
Instead of taking a deep breath, breathe out slowly and fully. Push the air out of your lungs, and then inhale without focusing on this process. Try breathing out a little longer for 2-3 minutes. By the way, this technique can be performed while sitting, lying down or standing.
This practice uses the diaphragm, which improves the functioning of the internal organs and actively supplies them with oxygen. If you are just starting to practice diaphragmatic breathing, lie on the floor for comfort, place one hand on your stomach, the other on your chest. Try to move your belly more, not your chest. Breathe in and out through your nose. When you have mastered breathing with your stomach while lying down, you can move to a sitting position with crossed legs. Practice this relaxation breathing every day for 10 minutes.
Concentrating on breathing
What we think about during breathing exercises directly affects our calmness. Try not to think about current affairs, do not plan. Bring your attention to your body. How do you feel when you breathe in and out? Walk your mind through the body. You may find tension or discomfort that previously eluded you. Focus on how your belly moves up and down as you breathe.
Several soothing breathing techniques have been widely used in yoga for thousands of years.
Mention of breathing exercises – pranayama can be found in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Shiva Samhita, Gheranda Samhita and in later works.
Moreover, breathing practices were used not only to calm down and improve physical condition, but also for spiritual growth and development.
This is alternating breathing through the right and left nostrils. Sometimes this pranayama is called Anuloma Viloma. This is a very effective breathing technique for calming the nervous system. It is based on the balancing of the right and left energy channels (pingala and ida), as a result of which the necessary balance of thoughts and feelings is achieved.
To do this, sit with your back straight and exhale first. Close the right nostril with the thumb of your right hand and inhale slowly with the left nostril. Then close the left nostril with the ring finger of your right hand, release your thumb and exhale through the right nostril. Repeat inhalation with the right nostril, pinch it with your index finger and exhale through the left nostril. A complete breathing cycle involves inhaling and exhaling through both nostrils. Do up to ten cycles and notice how your body reacts. When done correctly, you can feel the relaxation of the mind and body.
This technique is sometimes performed during hatha yoga practice. This breathing through the closed glottis promotes activation of the parasympathetic nervous system and calms the mind.
In a sitting position, inhale evenly through both nostrils. Hold your breath for a second, and then close the glottis a little, as if you are about to whisper something, and exhale slowly through both nostrils. As you exhale, you should feel the air passing through the palate and hear a slight hissing sound. Repeat ujjayi 20 times.
This breathing technique is used not only as a sedative, but also as a meditative one. The essence of the implementation lies in the fact that the practitioner inhales with both nostrils, equal in duration to the exhalation. The trained practitioners can lengthen the inhalation and exhalation at their discretion, adding 1 second on inhalation and exhalation. This type of breathing can be performed from a few minutes to several hours.
Light breathing exercises have no contraindications if done correctly. However, there are some precautions to take. Common contraindications include:
- high blood pressure;
- heart disease;
- bronchial asthma in the acute stage;
- nose bleed;
- recent head injury;
- feeling unwell.
Yoga for breathing and calming the nerves
A calming breathing technique is not the only way to relieve stress.
Imagine that the very practice of Hatha Yoga can lead to peace! When performing asanas, it is important to understand how they work, how they stimulate the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
How to control breathing with yoga? Add anti-stress breathing techniques!
- Ujjayi breathing can be incorporated into a calming practice.
- Do several cycles of diaphragmatic breathing.
- Supplement the practice with pranayama for stretching the breath.
- Before performing inverted asanas, it is useful to perform several cycles of Nadi Shodhana to balance the energy structure of the body.
Breathing is one of the basic functions of the body. Every cell in the body needs oxygen, so regular practice of controlled breathing can reduce the effects of stress on the body and improve overall physical and mental health.
The stress breathing technique can not only relieve stress, but also help digestion, improve sleep, rejuvenate the body and, in general, change the worldview.