After spending time building the business, I haven’t been posting many blogs (well zero actually) But, I have been planning them! Over the next twelve months I want to share knowledge and skills to promote better mental health and I thought where better to start than talking about something we do up to 23,000 times a day!
We breathe on average between 17,000-23,000 times a day. This involuntary life sustaining function is controlled via the medulla in the brainstem. However, whilst it is involuntary and our amazing brains keep us ticking, we do have control over our breath. This is only a good thing, because the majority of us are breathing incorrectly, or at least ineffectively.
Stop and think about how you are breathing right now. Are you breathing into the top part of your lungs, rather than deep down into the largest part that expands the ribcage and raises the belly? This is very common. The result of this type of breathing is that we need many more breathes each day than if we were breathing deeply. Other side effects of shallow breathing are shoulder and neck pain, increased cortisol (stress hormone) and often unbeknown to us, we are triggering our fight-flight-freeze response. Our body thinks we are in threat.
How can we manage this stress response? Not surprising, we need to breathe effectively.
But what is effective breathing?
Evidence tells us that breathing deeply into the belly, expanding the rib cage and engaging the diaphragm can promote better mental and physical health and the Vagus Nerve has a lot to do with it.
THE VAGUS NERVE
The ‘wandering’ parasympathetic nerve that runs around a large part of our body, deep into our gut can be triggered by effective breathing. This is known as our ‘rest and relax’ response. Historically, we thought that breathing into our belly getting enough oxygen was enough, and whilst it’s a pretty good start; if we want to enhance our physical and mental wellness, we want to enhance what is called our Vagal tone. We do this by extending our outbreath. Evidence tells us that having a longer outbreath activates our parasympathetic nervous system, engaging our Vagus nerve and having incredible health benefits. We can improve digestion, reduce our heart rate, increase our respiratory function and even reduce tingling in our extremities.
IMPROVING OUR VAGAL TONE
A technique that you may or may not have heard of in relation to mindfulness, meditation and breathing is the 4-7-8 technique. This technique is an approved military technique and is backed up by a largely body of research as a way to improve sleep and reduce anxiety and depression. Dr Andrew Weil from Harvard is a leading advocate of the technique and states it is a ‘natural tranquilliser for the body’
How to breathe using the 4-7-8 technique
- Exhale completely thorough your mouth, then place the tip of your tongue to the back of your top teeth
- Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, breathing deeply into your lungs expanding the ribcage and raising the belly.
- Hold that breath for a count of 7
- Exhale through your mouth slowly for the count of eight seconds expelling all of our breath.