When you encounter a situation that invokes your flight-or-flight (stress) response, your body automatically goes into overdrive to help keep a sufficient supply of glucose and oxygen to the brain to make quick decisions for survival. Your breathing becomes rapid, shallow, noisy and irregular and deprives your system of up to 30% of your available oxygen.
Nature assumed that after the genuine threat had passed, a person returned to a naturally relaxed state. Those were the good old days! Many people walk around today perpetually breathing shallow from 1 lobe of their lungs for decades. We have 3 lobes in our lungs, and when we fully ventilate all three lobes through continual deep breathing, we get that extra 30% of oxygen back. This is the way we are supposed to breathe all the time.
Dr. Andrew Weil, one of the leading physicians in the U.S., explains in this 2 minute 41 second video:
Now, let’s try a breathing technique that is an easy way to jump-start your relaxation response.
Close your eyes and put your hand on your stomach. Now, breathe in slowly, taking a deep breath, and push your stomach out all the way. Then, use your abdominal muscles to pull your stomach in all the way back as far as you can, and let all of the air out of your lungs. You may notice that, even though it feels like you have more lung power when you inhale, actually there is more strength in your lungs during the exhalation.
That’s it! That’s all you need for this technique. Slowly breathe in, pushing your stomach out, and then exhale, squeezing the air out of your lungs. Continue to do this for two minutes.
One dramatic effect of this exercise is how it slows down a racing mind. This is the way your body is meant to breathe all the time, except when you need to act in a crisis. It is the single best thing you can do at work to become more productive when are feeling stressed.
Think of the last time you were on vacation and forgot what day of the week it was! That trip to your favorite place, where everything seemed perfect. When you are in an idyllic situation like that, and your unconscious feels safe and loved, then your breathing automatically becomes deep, quiet, slow and regular. You breathe from your diaphragm and shazam–you feel relaxed.
Remember, you can engage your relaxation response by breathing this way any time. Try it for 2 minutes and you will be amazed.
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