It’s a simple thing right? Just breathe. We don’t ever have to think about it, because our bodies make it happen subconsciously, but what about when we become conscious of our breath? How does this affect our health? Let’s focus in on how breathing can influence our level of stress.

I read this quote and it inspired this post:

“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.” ― Thích Nhất Hạnh

To give you a quick snap shot of the nervous system so you see where and how this all fits in, the system has three main parts: the sympathetic, parasympathetic and enteric nervous system, that each play their own role in the body.

The sympathetic nervous system is what kicks our bodies into flight or fight mode, aka running away from grave danger! It responds when we feel things like stress or danger for example and starts sending signals around the body to charge up adrenaline and our stress hormone, cortisol. Which is good in danger, but bad if you are sitting at a desk with those hormones rushing through your body.

The parasympathetic nervous system helps our body rest and digest; we like this nervous system very much and want to spend as much time with it as possible. This part of our nervous system calms us and helps us do things like absorb the energy and nutrition from our food and environment so we can thrive.

The enteric is like a messenger system, it drives the communication between our brain and gut (more reasons to look after your digestive system right? Which I truly believe to be the cornerstone of health and immunity).

If we take a look at how our lives have evolved with expectations of work, commitments, the pace at which we move through our day, technology, dietary choices and other life stressors, I think it’s probably fairly reasonable to say that many of us have started to develop a pretty solid relationship with our sympathetic nervous systems. We’re charging flight or fight hard because we are under the pump. Our bodies have some serious adrenaline and cortisol flowing and while it’s ok to have a little hit of these sometimes, the reality is that chronic stress is causing these hormones and neurotransmitters to be released more than they need to be.

Have a think about what happens to your heart rate and breathing when there is stress. The breath becomes shorter and quicker. We don’t fully expand our lungs and feel our breath right into the depths of our belly. When we have shallow breathe we are saying to our body that we are in danger – that the forces of our sympathetic nervous system are ready for fight or flight instead of rest and digest.

And then we stop and breathe and this sensation changes right? Deep breathing calms things down, our bodies click out of sympathetic zone, there’s not that intense charge of adrenaline and we operate better.

When we breathe well and focus on incorporating deep breathing into life there are a plethora of benefits. We are oxygenating our brain so that we have clarity, our muscles perform well and move well through our day, our digestive system relaxes and is able to absorb nutrients to nourish our body. The simple process of deeply inhaling and exhaling reduces stress so our bodies aren’t exhausted and can truly function at their peak. This is why yoga, breathing exercises and meditation are so valuable in managing stress, health and life in general.

Your turn now. And the way I like to hand this over is to encourage you to make a plan to breathe more. This may sound ridiculous but that’s the best way to do things with our health. Old habits take time to break, and being organised about how to introduce new habits is the best step forward until those new habits become the norm. So when it comes to breathing make a meeting with yourself to check in at regular intervals throughout the day for some big deep breaths. This might be first thing upon rising just for a few minutes to start your day, as you boil the kettle for a cup of tea, when the 3pm slump hits and then before you go to bed. It’s honestly that easy, and it’s something worth committing to. As you do, be conscious of the rise and fall of your belly and your posture.

Let your body release the stress and inhale the calm.