You know that moment at the end of a long day when you've come home from work, you get to sit down in a comfortable chair, and let yourself relax? You take a long breath, a sigh of relief, lingering into your exhale.
This lingering breath at the point of letting go is no coincidence. The breath and the nervous system are intimately intertwined. We know that deep diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (a system that allows for rest and overall healing). In contrast, the fight or flight response of the sympathetic system becomes engaged in a highly charged situation. And in today's world, it seems we're asked to be "switched on" more than we get to switch off. This means that the sympathetic nervous system remains at a heightened level of alertness for longer and longer periods of time. Stress hormones like cortisol continually flood the body. And we see mental health issues like anxiety and depression on the rise.
An anxious mind = anxious body. A cyclical pattern of stress becomes the new norm: anxious thoughts trigger a spike in the nervous system, shallow breath, release of more stress hormones, decreased heart rate variability* (see below), less sleep, and an overall sense of less resilience until everything seems to get on your nerves, right?
All this begs the question - when do we get to reset? And how do we reset?
Here's your breath. Have you met it yet?
Try this 5 minute meditation to befriend your breath (in any position that's comfortable for you).
This simple exercise, done once a day, or even several times a day (whenever you catch yourself feeling tense, stressed out, or out of physical and emotional alignment in some way), is a very powerful way of resetting the nervous system. Your breath is like a doorway into the energetic system of the body - it's prana, so attending to breath is a direct way of working with the energy of the body. All that's required is that you take an interest in it - spend time with your breath as you would a friend over a five minute coffee break.
What we pay attention to grows, so start attending to your breath by meeting all the sensations it creates within. This allows you to step out of the cycle of switched on, anxious thinking/anxious body into your natural baseline of ease and well-being.
Let me know how it goes!
*Heart rate variability (HRV) is the measure of variation between heart beat intervals. A greater HRV is associated with increased vagal nerve tone and overall emotional/psychological resilience and adaptability in life.