It’s a universal technique to calm ourselves. It does more than that, but I’m going to write about the western practice and what it does.
First, here’s a little biology. We have two nervous systems that regulate our anxiety versus calm states. One is the sympathetic system, which quickly activates when we feel threatened. It’s the fight-flight-freeze response.
When we sense danger, our brain sends out signals and our body responds by doing things like increasing our heartrate and tensing our muscles for action.
In other words, we’re in a state of high alert, ready to do one of the following – flight, fight or freeze.
When the danger passes or we stop believing we need to defend ourselves, the second system, our parasympathetic system, takes over. This system slowly returns us to a state of rest or digest.
What does our breathing have to do with this? It gives us some control over the return-to-calm state.
When we’re in the fight-flight-freeze mode, our breathing gets more shallow and faster. Our inhale takes longer than our exhale. This matters because inhaling stimulates the sympathetic fight-flight-freeze system that we want to get out of. Exhalation stimulates the rest-digest system that we want to take over.
How can we encourage our rest and digest response? You guessed it – start lengthening our exhale. And now you know why that calms us and helps to lessen pain.
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