In my last article, I wrote about how we can calm and soothe the nervous system, respond more effectively to the stressors in our lives and manage our emotional states with our breathing. More specifically, I mentioned that the vagus nerve plays a principal role in the process of reaching in to the state of calm, cool and collected. We can stimulate the vagus nerve to communicate to the brain to signal the body’s systems to calibrate to the state of “rest and digest” through the practice of abdominal breathing. Here are some additional suggestions and strategies to consider:
Bring your awareness to your breathing patterns throughout the day.
When at rest or sitting at your desk, do you breathe primarily in the chest area or do you feel the breath movement in the abdomen as well? If you put one hand on the abdomen and the other on the chest, which hand moves first as you inhale? Ideally, the hand on the abdomen should shift first at the onset of the inhale. Set up a reminder system such as stickers strategically placed or an alarm on your phone to trigger the habit of checking in. When you are prompted, pause and take 2-3 deep abdominal breaths.
Notice your posture.
Breathing is most efficient with neutral positioning of the pelvis and the ribcage aligned directly above with the spine in neutral as well. There is much more information and nuances to explore on this subject alone. For the sake of brevity here, do your best not to slouch or tilt your pelvis too much toward the extreme of one direction or the other (anteriorly or posteriorly). If you are unsure about your posture, seek out an evaluation from a professional. It’s quite informative and worth the investment for your overall health and well-being.
Shape your Breath.
Practice modulating your breath pattern to create an equality of length of the inhale and exhale. Count using whatever method works best for you to breathe in for X counts and exhale for X counts. When at rest (such as when you are preparing to settle in for the night), gradually begin to extend the exhale longer than the inhale by 1, 2, or 4 counts.
The vibration in the throat region created by humming stimulates the vagus nerve. Try inhaling to fill the lungs to capacity and then humming a continuous sound for the duration of the exhale.
Get on the Coregeous Ball!
Rolling out the abdomen with this pliable ball not only cultivates a resiliency of the abdominal wall tissues to help increase breath capacity, but the massage of the internal organs activates the vagus nerve as well.
Keep in mind that changing or improving breath patterns and developing healthy vagal tone is a practice and requires commitment and consistency. We are all a work in progress. And we can begin (or continue) with the very next breath.