When we do timed breathing exercises that make our exhale even a few counts longer than our inhale, the vagus nerve signals the brain to turn up our parasympathetic nervous system (relax mode) and to turn down our sympathetic nervous system(fight or flight). This means that by putting our awareness on lengthening our exhale we can signal to our body that we do not need to be in fight or flight mode and we can initiate the transition into rest and healing mode. With a long exhale we tell our whole being that it is safe to rest a moment, it is time to digest now, there is time to repair what needs attention within us. Interestingly, because breath modulates the nervous system, it is also a way for us to influence the other automatic, involuntary bodily functions. By setting the parasympathetic tone we slow our heart rate, lower our blood pressure, dilate our blood vessels and turn on our digestion. Just choosing to attend to our breath with intentional exhales allows us to shift our whole body into a restorative mode.
Bringing awareness to our exhale is giving us a lesson in the value of relaxation and surrender. The exhale is about letting go and clearing out. Physically, when we exhale we release the metabolites, the toxins, and the used up air. The exhale is clearing out space, giving us the ability to receive during our inspiration.
Timed Breathing Exercise
Let yourself get quiet and still for a moment during your day. Direct your attention to your breath and just notice, without trying to control or change, the flow of air that is coming and going in your body. Then, invite yourself to breathe out longer than you normally do. You may notice that this is followed by an effortless, expansive in-breath that is deeper than those that preceded. You can also spend a few moments doing an exercise of counted breathing. Breathe in for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7 and then exhale for a count of 8. Doing this a few times will accomplish the shift into parasympathetic mode discussed above.
Enjoy giving yourself this nourishing gift and know that it can have a cascade of healing benefits for your body, mind and spirit.
Blog post by Ally Wilson.