On this episode of the Anti-Aging Hacks podcast, I discuss Sympathetic and Parasympathetic nervous systems, and the importance of breathing properly.
In this podcast I discuss:
1. The Sympathetic (Fight or Flight) and Parasympathetic (Rest and Digest) nervous system
2. Why proper breathing is so important for reducing stress, blood pressure, and improving sleep
3. I will teach you a few simple ways to breathe for instant results.
I want to talk to you about the importance of breathwork or deep breathing in our lives. It seems today that we have forgotten how to breathe, in this world of stresses, toxins, pollution, and imaginary threats we are running high on cortisol and therefore in a state of heightened alertness.
One of the most important links between your body and mind is breathing. All the ancient civilizations realized this which is why meditation, yoga, tai chi, and many others have used breath as a central component of their practice.
But Many of us have become shallow chest breathers, inhaling through our mouth, holding our breath and taking in less air, and I am as guilty as the next person. For years and years I had a high stress job where as soon as you wake up and check your email (pro-tip: you should never do that), but checking your email right away kicks off a cortisol release right from the get go. So you are not starting your day with being centered, and deciding how you want to show up in the world, but now you have become a slave to the demands being placed on you. This state of stress led me to breathe shallow for years hunched over a chair with my face buried in my laptop. The stress was not helping and causing me to breathe shallow as we will learn in a second, and the posture of me being hunched over didn’t even allow me the space to expand my belly or practice deep using the diaphram.
Here are few of the breaths we talk about:
1. Belly Breathing
2. Box Breathing
3. Alternate Nostril Breathing
4. Breath of Fire
5. Tony Robbins version of Breath of Fire
Sympathetic Nervous System
The sympathetic nervous system makes up part of the autonomic nervous system, which is the automatic nervous system and you don’t need to direct it. Without you consciously directing it, the autonomic nervous system regulates important bodily functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, pupil dilation, body temperature, sweating and digestion, according to the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education.
The sympathetic nervous system directs the body’s rapid response to dangerous or stressful situations. This system is an excitatory system and gets your body revved up like an Italian sports car (or a Tesla if you prefer to save the environment). It’s also called the fight or flight system. The system allows animals to make quick internal adjustments and react without having to think about it.
Just imagine what happens if you are crossing the street and you look to the side and you see a car coming at you at a high speed. What happens: Racing heart, knots in stomach, strong feelings of fear, you get mobilized for action – either fighting or running. Your heart rate increases, sending extra blood to the muscles. Your breathing quickens, delivering fresh oxygen to the brain, and an infusion of glucose is shot into the bloodstream for a quick energy boost.
Your breath gets short and fast, your pupils dilate, your body makes you lighter so you have energy to run which is why people pee their pants. Your non-critical systems stop functioning like digestion, immune system and reproductive system. No point trying to have babies when you are running from an axe murderer. Cortisol typically shows up 10 minutes later when the threat or stress persists and can keep your body in the sympathetic state . You start breathing Short and shallow, and this encourages you to stay in the sympathetic state.
Parasympathetic Nervous System
The sympathetic nervous system doesn’t destress the body once the danger has passed. So the distracted person realized they are coming to an intersection and they slam on their brakes, or the axe murderer is just someone in a halloween costume. Another component of the autonomic nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system, works to calm the body down, according to published research.
To counter the fight-or-flight response that your body just experienced, this system encourages the body to “rest and digest.” Blood pressure, breathing rate and hormone flow return to normal levels as the body settles into homeostasis, or equilibrium, pupils go back to normal, if you’ve already peed your pants too bad its time to go and change your clothes. These two system work in balance, and during the hard charging hours when you need a 1000% focus and need to put out fires at work or handle crying kids its ok to be in sympathetic state, but you want to get into parasympathetic often to balance your body out.
Due to stress, we are in sympathetic response all day long. As soon as we wake up, emails, kids, phone calls, getting ready for work, what to wear, house isnt clean…builds up the stress.
What is one of the fastest ways to get out of sympathetic and into parasympathetic. It’s your breath, completely in your control. You don’t need to do yoga or a full meditation session, or any other activity that is going to require you to go somewhere. You can just do this from your chair, right in the middle of your day.
Why does breath matter? – Mindfulness practices have realized for thousands of years that focusing on the breath calms down your body, it slows down your monkey brain allowing you to go within and feel your body. It has a number of benefits that affect your entire body. It’s the basis for almost all meditation or relaxation techniques, which can lower your stress levels, reduce your blood pressure, and regulate other important bodily processes. Diaphragmatic breathing, on the other hand, can lower blood pressure, reduce heart rate, relax muscles, decrease stress, and increase energy levels Let’s take a quick look at your breath:
As you are sitting or standing right now, take a normal breath. I want you to notice in particular what parts of your body move when you breathe.
1. Does your chest go up and down?
2. Do your shoulders go up and down?
3. What happens to your belly?
If your shoulders are moving, or your chest is moving – going up or down or in and out – then likely you are doing it wrong. This leads to the first of a few breathing techniques I am going to talk about. Let’s get started with the first one.
1. Belly Breathing: This one is the simplest. All you need to do to get started is to sit upright, don’t lean back against your chair, just sit at the edge of your chair and keep your upper body upright in a straight line as if a string was going through it and it was being pulled up. Or you can sit on the floor and cross your legs in front of you. And just breathe, focus on the breath as it goes in. Think of the life force energy you are bringing into your body. Make sure your belly fills up like a balloon on every inhale, and empties out on every exhale. Your chest and shoulders should not move.
2. Box Breathing: Use this to calm down in a state of stress, and use it before bed to fall asleep quicker. It also has a great effect in calming your mind and putting you into parasympathetic mode or the rest or digest mode. How to do:
3. Alternate nostril breathing: In the Kundalini tradition, this form of breathing, also known as “Nadi Shodhana Pranayama” is a potent stress-reducing tactic. Begin by pressing your thumb on your right nostril and breathe out gently through your left nostril. Next, breathe in through the left nostril gently, and press the left nostril closed with a different finger. Remove your thumb from the right nostril and breathe out through the right nostril. Next, breathe through the right nostril, close the nostril, and then exhale from the left.
So those are 3 breaths that you should do often to relax your body, destress, reduce blood pressure and heart rate, fall asleep fast, and avoid long term diseases. I could go on and on about the importance of breathing.
Let’s get into a couple of breaths you can do to get into sympathetic or alert mode.
4. Breath of Fire: Sit up on the ground and sit straight with your leg crossed and hands on knees. Then take short sharp breaths through your nose. This will feel and sound like a dog panting. Breathe into the belly and on the exhale push the air out of the belly. This is done pretty fast.
5. Tony Robbins version of the Breath of Fire: Sit on a chair upright with feet planted on the floor. This will be similar to Breath of Fire, except you raise your fists high above your head on the inhale, and pump your elbows down on the exhale till they are parallel with the floor.
These are just some techniques I have been using to gain more control over my body, deepen my focus, prevent diseases and stay cool, calm and collected instead of stressful and always responding to a fire.
Would love to hear how you do it. Please leave your comments or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org Your breath should go into your belly.