Breathe away stress

We've all experienced when our bodies or minds, or both, irrationally overreact to a situation.

What's going on? Why is this happening? What can I do to change it?

The stress response


All animals developed the ability to react instantly to their environment: approach or withdraw.


In its most extreme form, this translates to attack or escape. In its more nuanced form, it might be a curious sniff toward or a retreat away from questionable-smelling food.


It's these extreme forms of approach or withdraw that immediately activate within us to keep us alive and safe. After all, the brain knows we won't meet any needs for development if we've been eaten by a bear.


Nowadays, there aren't many bears chasing us - not for most of us, at least. Still, this "security system" in the brain activates these coarse responses to 21st century problems.



The brain and the body


This stress response, driven by the ancient security centres of the brain, causes a cascade of changes within the rest of the brain and the whole of the body.


A flow of neuro-circuitry is activated, triggering the release of hormones into the body to ready us to take physical action.


This response is great if we're about to get hit by a car while crossing the road, but less helpful when we're unable to connect to the WiFi or having a difficult conversation with one of our teenaged children. This is because these challenges require detailed problem solving skills rather than automatic response.


There is no such threat. The ancient security centres have misread the situation.

The ability to problem solve with within an understanding of detail and context is a powerfully developed human faculty. However, the security centres shut this down in order to be most efficient in taking quick action for us to be safe. In other words, avoiding overthinking in favour of acting quickly.


Fine if I'm in the middle of a road about to be hit by a car, but in most modern situations, we're not in that type of danger. There is no such threat. The ancient security centres in the brain have misread the situation and have responded unhelpfully by trying to protect us.


So what to do?


Once we've fostered an awareness of this unwanted emotional arousal, we can practice a skill that has developed over millions of years and practiced by humans for thousands. Science now helps us to understand that one particular breathing protocol best controls this unwanted security response: 7/11 breathing.

The Yogis of the Indian subcontinent recognised this breathing protocol 6,000 years ago.

It turns out that the Yogis of the Indian subcontinent recognised this breathing protocol 6,000 years ago, with many practicing yogis using it ever since. Now, in the 21st century, business leaders, politicians and even Navy seals use it to manage emotions and take control of unwanted physical responses. While we can't directly control our racing heartbeat, we can control our breathing, which in turn, slows down our heart rate.

Neuroscientists have discovered that when we breathe out for longer than we breathe in, we activate pathways in the brain that calm the security centres of the brain and body.

How does it work?


breath

7/11 breathing doesn't involve you going to a convenience store and buying crisps or Slush Puppies.


The 7/11 protocol merely denotes the breath "in" being shorter (a count of 7) than the breath "out" (a count of 11).


Neuroscientists have discovered that when we breathe out for longer than we breathe in, we activate certain pathways responsible for sighing.


This particular neural circuitry calms our over-alert security centres , allowing our uniquely human powers to be poised for considering the right response to the challenges at hand.


How to do it


With relaxed shoulders, start off by breathing in to your tummy. Your tummy should expand while you breathe in. Then when you breathe out, your tummy can squeeze in toward the spine. squeezing out all the air. (For some, this may be counter-intuitive to how you might have been taught to breathe.)


Then, breathe in for a count of 3 and breathe out for a count of 5.


When that's comfortable, breathe in for a count of 5, breathe out for a count of 8.


When that's comfortable, breathe in for a count of 6, breathe out for a count of 9.


When that's comfortable, breathe in for a count of 7, breathe out for a count of 10.


When that's comfortable, breathe in for a count of 7, breathe out for a count of 11.


Continue as long as you like...


Taking time to master this breathing skill last thing at night is a good idea, as it also supports your sleep. Not just you going to sleep, but also increasing the quality of sleep you're likely to have.


Once you've mastered this breathing, it's possible to use it if ever you feel anxious or stressed throughout the day to calm the security centres of the brain.


I use this breathing protocol all the time with my clients - and not just teaching it to them, but practicing it myself to keep calm and to be better able to support them.


When we are calm, we bring our higher brain functions online to problem solve more effectively - including how to meet our needs. When our needs are met in balance, we can thrive with a life that works.