by Caroline Crotty

Anyone who knows me is aware that at every opportunity, I recommend learning how to control our breath and breathing. I even go so far as to suggest that when you learn that skill, it is life-changing.

Our typical, everyday breathing takes place without us ever having to pay attention to it, it happens automatically rather like our heart beating or our pupil size changing. Breathing might be something we do not pay attention to or think about. However, it is possible to bring our conscious attention, or focus, to our breath and to slow it down. This in turn, positively impacts our heart rate.

Diaphragmatic breathing is something we hear about but might not fully understand. A diaphragm (pronounced dye-ah-fram) is the dome-shaped muscle involved in breathing and other bodily processes from posture to vomiting! Several nerves pass through the diaphragm so what happens with our diaphragm can be experienced elsewhere including in our brains.

We know our breathing is affected by our thoughts, emotions, behaviours and by stress. When we are stressed or get a fright, our breathing changes and our pupils dilate. Our bodies react to the stressor, our neurons are activated and our bodies react. That fight / flight response is a left-over from our predecessors when predators were a reality. Predators are not a concern for us now! Whether it is getting an injection or giving a presentation or there’s an approaching tiger – our neurons fire in the same way as they did for our hunter-gatherer ancestors sending a plethora of chemicals and hormones into our system.

Nowadays to cope when stressed we might be tempted to eat high carbohydrate foods or consume food in general but this is not the most appropriate solution – having something that we could do in the moment is a more helpful stress-reducing tool! And what might that be? Well, the answer is BREATHING!

Breathing is the way forward! It’s a stress-busting technique that we can do any time, anywhere and no one needs to know we are doing it! Prof Andrew Huberman, Neurobiologist at Stanford University is working to try to figure out breathing patterns and stress. He and his team of researchers examined the benefits of what they refer to as physiological sighs.

Remember when you were young and cried so hard that you did a double-intake of breath in the aftermath of the crying (or maybe even while crying)? That’s a stress relieving technique and we didn’t even know! Dogs often do it when sleeping – take a double-intake of breath.

Huberman found that breathing in a double-inhale through the nose, followed by an extended exhale through the mouth has an active part to play in our stress response. This is something we could do at any time.

The science behind this physiological sigh – the double inhale through the nose causes alveoli within our lungs to open allowing oxygen in, in turn allowing us to offload carbon dioxide in our long-exhaled sigh out.

Any time you inhale and exhale slowly with focus you are doing yourself a favour! You don’t need to allow long periods of time, just every so often throughout your day will be of great benefit.

Enjoy November! xxx