Okay, it’s not that wild.
There are tons of studies about the benefits of deep breathing, and one of my favorite perks is how it helps you create a flexible nervous system.
Wait. What is a flexible nervous system?
Sounds fancy, right? But a flexible nervous system is really just one that lets you self-regulate by transitioning from a sympathetic state to a parasympathetic state so you can create safety in your mind and your body—on demand.
Let’s say you decided to be calm and not go straight to losing your shit with your kids. Totally admirable, by the way. But maybe your kid is really pressing your buttons today. They’ve asked what’s for dinner 57 times when they can clearly see you’re making a giant pot of spaghetti and you forget your resolution to be calm dammit.
With a flexible nervous system, you notice that you’re feeling heated. You hit “pause” and choose to breathe on purpose, interrupting yourself (and those thoughts of “My kid is such a jerk”) and creating the space for a new reaction or a new choice.
A flexible nervous system helps you slow down, increase awareness of yourself, your thoughts, your attitudes, and your behaviors.
How do we interrupt our sympathetic nervous system state and create a parasympathetic state?
Get ready because this answer will completely blow your mind.
We breathe. On purpose. 🤯
Here’s the thing: Most of us are holding our breath more than we think. Our breathing is erratic and shallow. It’s not natural. And it’s actually exacerbating the sympathetic nervous system, the one where you’re in “fight or flight.”
When you breathe on purpose, you intentionally change the range, depth, and pattern of how you’re breathing. You activate the parasympathetic nervous system, the quiet “rest and digest” one.
A very important note: You can’t access the benefits of deep breathing if you’re engaging in chest breathing—you know, the kind of super quick, shallow breaths you take when you’re feeling anxiety, fear, or panic. (Like when your kid won’t stop kicking the back of your seat and you’re trying to navigate rush-hour traffic.)
That’s because your sympathetic nervous system lives in the upper lung. If we keep on taking little sips of air, we’ll get stuck there.
But, if we want to regulate our parasympathetic nervous system, we have to breathe in and out through our nose and practice deep belly breathing so we push that oxygen all the way down to our lower lungs and activate the calm, peace, and ease we’re looking for.
Here are 5 breathing techniques to practice breathing on purpose:
- Alternate-nostril breathing: Close your right nostril with your thumb. Inhale through your left nostril. Close the left nostril with your ring finger. Open your right nostril and exhale. Inhale through your right nostril. Close the right nostril, open the left, and exhale.
- Belly breathing: Breathe in through your nose deeply. Let the air fill your belly. Feel your belly expand. Exhale and feel your belly contract.
- Resonance breathing: Slow down your breathing. Breathe in for 5, breathe out for 5 (or any other number of equal in and out breaths). Aim for 5 to 6 breaths per minute.
- Pursed-lip breathing: Breathe in for 2. Purse or pucker your lips. Breathe out through pursed lips for 4.
- Box breathing: Breathe in through your nose for 4. Hold the breath at the top for 4. Exhale through your nose for 4. Sit at the bottom of the breath and hold for 4.
For each of these breathing patterns, I always suggest closing your eyes, placing your hand on your heart, and practicing at least 3 loops to really access the healing power of calm in one magical minute
Breathe judgment, comparison, and competition out of your safe space using your chest or your abdomen
- Silencing obsessive thinking
- Calming you down
- Alleviating anxiety
- Creating space
- Cultivating clarity
- Getting you out of your head and in to your heart
- Facilitating healing in your body
- Supporting you in rewiring how you think
- Providing increased energy
- Accessing boundless creativity.
- Promoting an overall feeling of lightness and gratitude
- Affecting how you approach life and interact with others
- Aligning you with your higher self and receiving divine downloads
- Decreasing feelings of stress and overwhelm
- Working wonders in behavior change and habit shifting
- Promoting brain growth.
Bottom line: Breathe on purpose. It will be the gateway to everything you say you want.
And I want to acknowledge that when you start to practice and access the power of just breathing, that’s when you take your power back from fear. That’s when you can show up confidently, visibly unabashedly using your voice and lead.