Breathing Stress Away

By Edwina Green, Corporate Nutritionist

The single most important thing you’ll do today,… and everyday.

We take it for granted and you would think that practice makes perfect, but many of us do it badly. I am talking about breathing. When was the last time you took a series of long, slow, deep and conscious breaths?

Most of us have been mesmerised by watching a baby breathing; their little bellies rising and falling. Their breath is centred around their diaphragm expanding and contracting. How often do you breathe from your belly? In order to breathe well we need to engage our diaphragm to draw oxygen into our lungs and squeeze out carbon dioxide.

Try a little experiment:

Sit comfortably in your chair. Back straight, shoulders relaxed and both feet on the floor. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. Take notice of how each hand moves while you breathe. Concentrate on your breath and breathe gently in and out through the nose.  Which hand is moving the most? The one on your chest or the one on your abdomen?

If your upper hand is moving more then your breathing is shallow and more restricted than it could be and you would benefit from some slow, conscious breaths which fill and move your abdomen.

Introducing the vagus nerve

The vagus nerve is the longest of our cranial nerves, running from our brainstem to our abdomen by way of the esophagus (throat), heart and lungs. The vagus nerve forms part of our involuntary nervous system and commands the body’s unconscious functions, such as keeping the heart rate constant, digesting food and breathing.

The vagus nerve is also related to the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for rest, digestion and reproductive function.  While the vagus nerve helps to regulate our involuntary breath, it is stimulated by slow, deep, conscious breathing and is one way in which we can actively engage our parasympathetic (‘rest and digest’) nervous system.

Health benefits of engaging our ‘rest and digest’ nervous system

You may have heard that stress induces our fight or flight response. This is regulated by our sympathetic nervous system. Its balancing mechanism is the para-sympathetic nervous system; it requires us to slow down and relax. It might sound simple, but in our modern society with its need for constant attention, we find this increasingly difficult.

Take a moment to consider all those things that can be negatively impacted by stress: energy levels? quality of sleep? clarity of thinking? ability to concentrate? These are all things which can be improved if we engage with our parasympathetic nervous system; a system which can be stimulated by the way we breathe!   I don’t know about you, but that catches my breath!

Simple breathing exercise (anyone can do)

This GIF* has gone viral with good reason!  Just double click in the grey box on the left and it should open up in a new tab, then let it work its magic. It helps us to breathe longer and deeper and therefore stimulate our vagus nerve and activate your para sympathetic nervous system.

If you still don’t believe me, I challenge you to follow the GIF for 2 minutes and not feel calmer and more relaxed.

At Superwellness, our seminars and programmes provide employers and employees with inspiring yet practical nutrition and lifestyle advice. We can help you plan your employee wellbeing programme and tailor make plans to suit you and your company’s needs, including stress management techniques which can be undertaken in the workplace. Please contact us for further information about our nutrition seminars and workplace wellbeing programmes.

* We tried to find the originator of the GIF in order to acknowledge their work, however, as is sometimes the case with viral items, we were unable to find the source.

Edwina Green, Associate and Registered Nutritional Therapist

Edwina is a firm believer in natural health and the transformative benefits that good nutrition can bring. Before making the career move to naturopathic nutrition, she ran her own company working in the City of London. She is fully aware of the challenges of trying to follow a healthy diet and lifestyle, while juggling full time work and ensuring quality time with family and friends.  She is passionate about helping people take practical steps to manage their own health and teaching them to dissect the varied and often conflicting information that we receive via the media.

Edwina is currently studying for an MSc in Personal Nutrition and is specifically interested in the connection between our genes and our health.  In particular, the field of nutrigenomics where the food we eat can positively influence our genes, reducing the risk of disease.


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