It can be challenging these days, with the world in chaos, to stop worrisome thoughts. Meditation is often recommended as a good response.
There's another, less well-known tool set to relax the telltale physical signs of the fear state -- a racing or pounding heart; heavy, fast breathing; and restlessness. It involves focusing on your breathing pattern and shifting it to a lower gear.
The mechanism is a physical hack, to intentionally move the nervous system from its sympathetic fight-or-flight state to the parasympathetic rest-and-relax state.
Our respiratory control center is located in our reptilian brain -- the oldest, least complex but essential part of our three-part brain that includes the mammalian upgrade and then the human cerebral cortex. So many of our bodily functions that keep us alive -- from digestion to circulation -- happen on autopilot, but breathing can flexibly occur either consciously or unconsciously.
While our breathing reflects incoming stimuli, we also have the power to self-manage ourselves with it. For instance, fast breathing like the yogic fire breath can stimulate and invigorate us, and slow, gentle breathing can calm and relax us.
How can we use breathing as a constructive, de-escalation tool when fear is present but we are physically safe?
Some of the imagery we teach children can be very powerful for adults too:
In the last couple years, scientists have recognized that breathing like this can help "tone" the condition of the vagus nerve, a cranial nerve that controls the heart, lungs and digestive tract and sends information to the brain.
The quality of our thinking is directly influenced by our breathing state. Over-breathing -- breathing more air than required for the needs of the moment -- is stress breathing and reduces delivery of Oxygen.
Here's how: Mouth breathing, which is typically how over-breathing happens, signals the body to tighten all the muscles in order to fight or flee a situation. If it's not a physical emergency though, allowing less Oxygenated blood to the brain by constricting tissue around the arteries, is not a plus. When that happens, the brain can literally go haywire with self-generated, out-of-context thoughts. "The brain, by regulating breathing, controls its own excitability," found researchers Balestrino and Somjen in 1988.
Breathing less at those moments, through advance training and practice, can be a skillful action.
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Breathing Retraining Center LLC’s educational products, courses and coaching are designed to improve breathing skills for people whose issues may be related to habits that have the potential to be improved, as a self-care/wellness activity. Breathing difficulty may be a warning sign of a life-threatening heart or lung condition, infection or other illness. Always check with your doctor about your own situation.The Buteyko Breathing Technique and other breathing-retraining strategies we teach are an alternative approach and are not the practice of medicine, psychology or a form of psychotherapy, nor are they a substitute for seeking medical or psychological advice from an appropriate professional health-care provider. We want to make the important distinction between using the Buteyko Breathing Technique and other breathing-retraining strategies for health and well-being and the practice of medicine, psychology or any other licensed health-care profession.Breathing classes, coaching and other services from Breathing Retraining Center LLC are offered by teachers who are not licensed by the State of California as physicians or other healing-arts practitioners unless so noted. We offer alternative non-medical/non-psychological techniques and our services are considered to be alternative or complementary to the healing arts that are licensed by the State of California.
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