Your autonomic nervous system is responsible for blood pressure and heart rate, the two systems that are affected when you are under stress. When your flight-or-flight response takes over, aka your sympathetic nervous system, your breathing might become more shallow, your heart starts to beat more quickly, and your adrenal glands work hard to pump out adrenaline and cortisol to get you through the challenge.
In order for your parasympathetic nervous system to kick in and send your body the green light to relax, you need to slow your breathing and take control of your thoughts. Research shows that even simple breathing, or pranayama techniques, can activate the PNS relaxation response. This, in turn, boosts your immune system (which is suppressed during those stressful moments), improve lung capacity, improve mood and help you think more clearly.
Calm With Yoga describes an ancient breathing technique, Box Breathing, as a way to centre and soothe the over-active monkey mind.
“Box Breathing is a modern name for an ancient pranayama (yogic breathing) technique called Sama Vritti. “Sama” means “calm” and “quiet” in Sanskrit. “Vritti” means “mental chatter” or “fluctuations of the mind.” The mind experiences more fluctuations or mental chatter during high-stress moments.”
Try this box breathing technique when you need some grounding and feel the need to hit the reset button. Find a comfortable seat with both feet flat on the floor, or try this when lying in bed:
- Begin by exhaling all the air from your lungs
- Take a slow inhale through your nose for a count of 4
- Hold the breath in at the top of the inhale for a count of 4
- Exhale slowly through your mouth for a count of 4
- Pause at the bottom for a count of 4
During this process, you will feel your heart rate begin to slow, your adrenaline and cortisol levels return to normal, and your thoughts will become more clear.