Restorative power of deep breathing and meditation
By Catherine Hamilton and Karen Tidsall
Crisis, uncertainty and fear all trigger our limbic system which is involved in many of our emotions and motivations, particularly those that are related to survival such as fear and anger.
When triggered, we move into survival mode, and our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is activated. We respond instinctively in fight, flight or freeze behaviours. Our immune system is compromised when we are in survival mode. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) controls homeostasis, puts the body at rest and is responsible for the body’s “rest, digest and healing” function. A simple belly breathing exercise can switch off the SNS and switch on the PNS, so is perhaps the most effective thing to do throughout the day.
The 3 Part Belly Breath Exercise
- To begin the three-part breath – Find a comfortable position, either seated or lying down. You may want to do a light stretch so you can thoroughly relax while settling into your position.
- Begin with a belly-breath – Draw air down into the belly, allowing it to expand. This brings air deeper into the lungs through the proper use of the diaphragm muscle. Continue breathing into the belly until you are relaxed and feel comfortable where you are at. Belly-breath for a few minutes. This gives time for your diaphragm to lengthen and stretch.
- Allow the breath to progress into the ribs – For the next step of this method, continue breathing into the belly. At this point though, you are going to allow the air to fill a larger area of the lungs. Pulling the air in, let your rib cage expand and your lungs fill.
- Continue with a progressive, full exhalation – As you exhale, slowly let the ribs come back to normal position before exhaling all the air from deep within the lungs. Be sure to release all the air from the lungs, as this will make your inhale come more naturally.
- Draw the air deep, while expanding the upper body as well – At this point in the breath work, you should be comfortable drawing air deep into the lower lungs, allowing the air to continue to expand higher into the torso. Now you will draw a progressive breath. Inhale deep into the lungs with the belly-breath, then allow the air to expand the ribs, and finally raise the chest area.
- Proceed with another progressive, full exhalation – Begin by letting your chest fall, then brining the ribs back to the normal state. Continue exhaling by releasing the air from the bottom of your lungs. This is the final part of the three-part breath. Continue as you feel comfortable – That concludes the three-part breath. I recommend continuing with a few more full breaths, until you feel your focus entirely on your breathing. This will help get you into the proper state for yoga or meditation.
A quick way to remember this is Breathe in for 5, Hold for 7, Breathe out for 5, Repeat.
Why not try out some of these meditations, designed to switch on the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
Tara Brach breathing meditation
Strengthening your immune system meditation