Feeling anxious? Overwhelmed? Tired of being told to “take a deep breath” as a panacea for stress? Or that there are “ten easy steps” to an “anxiety free life”?
Calm isn’t something you can turn off and on.
Or is it?
While taking a deep breath may not be the ultimate instant stress buster it’s made out to be, we do know that it does seem to do something. Activating that deeper breath seems to “re-set” us somehow. Yet it also can physically stress us even more.
In some people, just the act of “taking a deep breath” is impossible. In some people, like those with asthma; deep breathing is guaranteed to set off a number of negative responses.
The act of “controlling” breathing even for just one minute can be so powerful that it can also stimulate a symptomatic response. There is something your breathing can do to sabotage your health immediately. It stands to reason then, that the opposite is also possible. This is the basis of KP Buteyko’s incredible discovery… We can make our symptoms worse by breathing in a dysfunctional way….or we can improve breathing function and directly influence our health to improve. But this is easier said than done.
Having experienced any traumatic loss of breathing is usually so intense it remains etched on the subconscious, triggering reactive responses that are so powerful and so acute that many people cannot relate their symptoms to any disorder with their breathing. By the time they are aware of their breathing playing any role in their health is when they cannot breathe. By then, the cascade of symptoms is virtually uncontrollable. But recognizing when breathing is becoming disordered, so that you can consciously reduce the cascade of negative responses, is able to make a huge difference in managing, preventing and reducing symptomatic responses to stressors.
Breathing, memory and reactive responses are all wired together. When this is understood on an individual level; we can learn to separate the subconscious stimulation of old traumatic memory, reduce the over reaction, and better control the symptomatic responses.
There is a way to do this through changing the way you inhale and exhale.
Nasal breathing is a “catalyst” for increasing parasympathetic nervous system responses. We hear and read a lot about the “Fight or Flight” activation of Sympathetic nervous system through continual “negative” stimulus causing stress, but not very much about the “Rest and Digest” activation of the Parasympathetic nervous system.
Without this activation, we cannot stop stress happening and we cannot heal. Digestion requires relaxation, healing requires rest.
Stress is a reaction to stressors and chronic stress is when the body cannot cope with the onslaught. It is telling that diseases of chronic stress have to do with the inability to digest, to heal, to relax blood vessels enough for good circulation and to have effective sleep. In short: Rest and Digest. We are unable to do either effectively when breathing is still in flight or fight mode. Your internal cue to relax comes from your reducing and relaxing breathing.
When we get acutely stressed, breathing more air – usually via the mouth and using upper chest and neck muscles – is a normal acute response.
When we are starting to calm from that acute stressor, breathing immediately changes and slows, becomes lower and more regular, and slowly resumes nasal air intake. Until breathing is back on track; stress levels are still on high alert. Your breathing being “back to normal” is the cue for your stress levels to be “back to normal”.
When we become chronically stressed, chronic overbreathing is also a chronic response. Chronic over breathing is also known as hyperventilation and it has a set of known symptoms. Changing breathing is something that everyone can do to help themselves become calm and to think rationally.
So try this Buteyko Calming Breathing Normalization Technique:
Sit comfortably with both feet on the floor and your palms resting on your knees.
Relax your shoulders and ensure your mouth is closed, your back teeth are touching lightly and your tongue is relaxed, snugly fitted into the roof of your mouth.
Breathe in through your nose for a few seconds, until the air starts to reach above your sternum and into your upper chest ….and before it can become a larger breath;
Exhale gently through your nose for a few seconds, never forcing out air, then observe a tiny, gentle, natural pause of just about one second, before continuing to breathe nasally, lightly and gently, inhale, exhale, pause. Do this for around four to five breath cycles and keep your tongue in the roof of your mouth.
Now how do you feel? Calming is something you can do for yourself; without medication; where ever you are; when ever you need to. It takes only thirty to forty seconds to initiate the Rest and Digest function. If you’ll allow it! Most of us never consider bringing breathing to “normal” after a stressful event, we take it for granted that breathing is automatic. Sometimes, our “automatic settings” need re-calibrating every now and then. Give yourself permission to observe breathing for an entire MINUTE to initiate calm. You’ve earned it ❤
©2020 Melody Mitchell Buteyko South Africa