I thought that you might like to know a bit more about what happens when you do the mindful breathing technique.

Before you do the breathing technique, give yourself a rating from 0 – 10 (where ‘0’ is completely relaxed, and ’10’ is panicked). Then, do the breathing exercise for at least a minute, then give yourself a rating again. There will usually be a small shift, and it can be in either direction because exercises like this can be uncomfortable for some of us at first.

What causes this shift and what happens in the body when we do this exercise?

Dr Stephen Porges described how our nervous systems have three parts to them, the sympathetic (which mobilises us for action, and also instigates the fight/flight response when danger is perceived); and then the parasympathetic which governs both our feeling of connection and safety, and also our ‘shutdown’ response when overwhelmed or trapped. The parasympathetic has two branches: ventral vagal (connection, soothing, engagement), and dorsal vagal (freeze, shutdown, protection). 

Our nervous systems go on quite a journey through each day, from feeling activated and mobilised for action to feeling engaged and connected, to feeling relaxed and content. But events can happen in a day that take us into a highly activated state (another driver tailgating you for example), and this activated state will be felt by us in our bodies and in our thoughts.

When we mindfully breathe slowly we pause this activated sympathetic nervous system activity to remind our nervous systems that we are safe, there is no danger that needs attending to right now. This helps to activate the ventral vagal parasympathetic part of the nervous system – the part that calms us down So this is why we can start to feel calmer when we do slow breathing. But depending on how alert/activated/annoyed/frightened we are, it might take a while to help us to actually feel ‘calm’.

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