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Flip the switch on stress and pain.

“Calm down!”, “Just relax!” and “Take a breath!” can be really annoying and impossible instructions to someone who is in distress. (I wrote about distress here.) But what if it was this simple? What if you could flip the switch on stress and pain and trigger a cascade of calming effects on your body? What if you could do something easy that could immediately begin to reduce your stress, pain and physical symptoms?

Deep-paced breathing

You can. It’s called Deep-paced breathing. And you don’t have to be a yogi to master it. It’s quite easy.

The Vagus nerve (“stress-switch”) regulates breathing rate

First, a little physiology…

Our Autonomic nervous system regulates our physiological responses to stress. It does this by activating either of two complimentary systems: The Sympathetic nervous system (that generally gears us up to fight or flee); or the Parasympathetic nervous system (that generally calms us down and keeps us restful).

So, the Parasympathetic nervous system is the one we want to activate to calm us and relieve pain. This system is primarily controlled by the Vagus nerve. This cranial nerve transmits signals from the brain to many organs in the body (including the heart, lungs and stomach).

This Vagus nerve is like a “stress switch”. Stimulating it is how we switch from the sympathetic (stress response) to the parasympathetic system and calm down. How do we flip that switch?

Flip the switch!

Flip the switch!

Yes, we could do this through thinking calm thoughts and sending a message down the nerve from the brain to our body. But Deep-paced breathing provides another, sometimes easier, way. (Which is really helpful when you’re so stressed or pained that you can’t think straight!)

“Deep” refers to breathing abdominally rather than from the chest. “Paced” to the slowing of the breathing rate to aim for 6 breaths per minute (the typical rate is 12-20).

Since I teach Deep-paced breathing to my clients, I’ve seen a lot of incorrect techniques!

Here’s how to do it right…

How to do Deep-paced breathing

  • Find a distraction-free and comfortable space.
  • Stand or sit up straight with your hands resting lightly on your belly/abdomen. (Your hands will help make you conscious of your belly moving out)
  • Inhale through your nose to the count of 5. (You should feel your belly expand out under your hands and not just your chest rising.)
  • Hold the breath for the count of 2.
  • Exhale through your mouth as slowly as you can, for as long as you can. (Pursing your lips so that you have to push the air through them can help you focus on exhaling slowly)
  • Repeat a few times.

Deep-paced breathing can take some practice! Persevere with it. The effects are almost immediate and sustained.  

Other benefits of Deep-paced breathing

Apart from pain-reduction and relaxation, stimulating the Vagus nerve also facilitates:

  • Lowered heart rate and blood pressure
  • Decreased systemic inflammation
  • Neurogenesis (the ability of your brain to grow and develop new nerve cells)
  • Other body cell regeneration/healing
Don’t stop breathing…

Do it daily!

Deep-paced breathing combines well with meditation, progressive relaxation or stretching exercises. Do it at regular intervals throughout the day (it’s great before bedtime!) or when you need to flip the switch on stress and pain.

Let me know how this helps you! (Leave a comment)

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