Optimising the Nervous System with 1:2 Breathing
Think of a time when you have been under pressure to finish a task at work. You feel tension in your shoulders, neck and jaw. Your breathing becomes shallow. You can't think with clarity and focus and you make silly mistakes. Under pressure you don't create your best work and the sense of anxiety in your body feels terrible. This is the perfect time to introduce breathing techniques to change the state of your nervous system so that you can think and feel calmer, and work more effectively.
In the previous post Optimising The Nervous System To Increase Productivity and Decrease Stress we introduced a meditation and restorative yoga pose to balance the nervous system. This specifically targeted the balance between the sympathetic nervous system (fight-flight-freeze system) and the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest system).
Today we'll be introducing specific breathwork to deepen these effects. These strategies can immediately and directly change your emotional state when you're feeling stressed or anxious. They are a form of training that will have a positive impact on how you think and feel well after you have completed them.
Breathing and the Nervous System
The breath is one of the most powerful resources we have for changing our nervous system. It's always with us, we can practice breathing techniques at work and at home - we are only ever one breath away to reconnecting with it to return to a state of calm and clarity. It has an immediate and direct effect to our nervous system and how we feel and think and brings us into the present moment.
Shallow breathing causes us to be in a hyper-alert stressed state. This rapid shallow breathing hinders our response to challenging emotions and stress. Oxygen is decreased to the brain and tissues and the blood vessels constrict. Even without any stressful event occurring this rapid and shallow breathing (which most people do) can lead to feelings of stress and worry. It is often seen with anxiety and depression.
On the other hand, slow deep breathing improves our bodies response to stress. It improves oxygenation of the tissues and aids digestion. Under stress just breathing slow and deep through the nose can reduce stress and anxiety, balance the nervous system and quiet the mind.
Nasal 1:2 Breathing
The techniques in today's audio support the parasympathetic nervous system and activate what is commonly known as the “relaxation response,” reducing stress and its effects on your body and mind. As a result, when challenged or difficult times arise, your mind becomes more focused and still. This can have a profound impact if it can prevent you downward spiralling into negative thoughts and feelings that affect you and also those around you.
One of the quickest and easiest ways to regulate the breathing is to breathe in and out through your nose. Nasal breathing is deeper than mouth breathing as the exhale is naturally longer. This lowers the heart rate, which calms the nervous system. This alone helps to stress less and to decrease feelings of fear, anxiety and worry.
To take this a step further the exhalation can be lengthened further. 1:2 breathing is an effective tool to optimise your nervous system. The practice involves first of all gradually slowing the breathing and then extending the exhalation to be two times the length of the inhalation.
1:2 breathing can have an enormous impact in times of stress where we may get carried away with our thoughts and feelings. It can be used:
- To help you fall asleep quicker (this is particularly helpful if you suffer from insomnia)
- To be a less emotionally reactive parent or partner
- In a highly charged situation such as an argument
- When under pressure to meet a deadline
Adopting a formal practice of 1:2 breathing can alter the brain through neuroplasticity: changing the way our brains work, so that our thoughts, feelings, behaviours and actions change. It's the cornerstone to reaching your true potential.
Starting with five minutes initially as you build over time you'll be training the parasympathetic nervous system and hence training the parts of our brain that lead to increased clarity, emtoional regulation, concentration and effective thinking. This make it a powerful antidote to anxiety.
Throughout the day it can be introduced when thoughts go into overdrive. I know when I'm under pressure I start thinking 'there's not enough time.' These beliefs influence our thoughts and choices and being in this chronic state of stress not only affects our wellness but also our future actions and habits.
Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.
Today's practice is in three parts. It focuses first on breath awareness - this alone is an effective meditation technique and can be used alone if you don't feel ready to progress yet.
Part two is 1:1 breathing, where both the inhalation and exhalation are deepened and matched.
Part three is 1:2 breathing and the exhalation is two times the length of the exhalation. You may choose simply to make the exhalation partly longer than the inhalation and will still get many benefits.
You will notice a difference in how you feel with daily practice. Five minutes will lead to an improvement in the nervous system, but for better results step it up to 15 minutes. Want to feel and think the best you can? Why not consider attending a retreat in 2017 and rewire the way your brain works. This retreat includes 7 days of movement, mindfulness and meditation at the Floating Leaf Eco-Luxury Resort.