Breathing for Stress, Relaxation & Hormonal Balance

Welcome to the second of our three-part series on BREATHING. Part 1 imparts initial information which may help in comprehending this posting. It explains the significance of our diaphragmatic functioning and its effect on the “canister,” leading to core stability. A seemingly effortless act, innate breathing must be viewed as the foundation upon which all movement patterns and other associated global functions are built. These include standing, walking, squatting, running, swimming, etc. In reverse mode, our bodies also require times of inactivity and relaxation.

Through either conscious or reflexive demands, breathing creates a change in physiology … some with unwanted results. An example of this is the common fight-or-flight syndrome. When sensing danger, we morph into an auto-pilot breathing strategy of mouth-and-upper-chest breathing, this pattern well-linked to an increase in respiratory and cardiac rates, hyper-awareness and elevated startle responses. Our bodies and minds are solely reliant upon survival instincts, rendered incapable of grasping overall health, wellness and serenity. Travel with us now to the complete opposite end of this spectrum, where we seek relaxation and stress reduction. Believe it or not, our bodies and minds have the ability to alter the mechanics of each breath, choosing instead nose over mouth breathing and its cyclical depth and duration. This effort [choice] produces tremendous physiological benefits.

Additionally, by manipulating the variables of how long you breathe in [“inhale”], hold your breath and then slowly breathe out [“exhale”], one modifies oxygen, carbon dioxide and hormonal levels in the brain. These techniques actually produce the desired and required states of greater decompression and lesser tension.

Learn, Practice, Repeat & Improve: Let us introduce you to a breathing exercise known as the 4-6-8 for Stress Reduction & Relaxation. Sitting, standing or lying down are optional. In the video below, we are purposely demonstrating 4-6-8 in a prone position so as to emphasize the breathing sequences essential to core training, development and stabilization.

  • Begin by lying on your back with head, middle and pelvis correctly supported. [See our Alternative Abs Class notes.]
  • Next breathe deeply and completely: in and out, in and out, in and out.
  • When comfortable with this basic repetition, upon exhalation, gently push the ribs into lower position and hold. To eventually attain essential hormonal balance, incorporation of these specific breathing mechanics must be employed.
  • Now exhale completely through your mouth, slightly closed, as if blowing out birthday candles.
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four (4).
  • Hold your breath for a six (6) count.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a “whoosh “sound to a count of eight (8).
  • This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three (3) more times for a total of four (4) breaths.

Note that you always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue does not move. Some of you may recognize this two-phased pattern: Exhalation is twice as long as inhalation. Timing absolutes for each breathing movement are inconsequential; it’s the ratio of 4:6:8 which enhance the beneficial results. For those with some weak breathing muscles or incoordination, feel free to experiment using 2-4-6. With discipline, focus and consistency, you too can exercise your way into the ultimate goal: lengthening the breathing phases of inhaling, holding and exhaling. Relaxation then overcomes stress and re-establishes hormonal parity.

World-renowned Andrew Weil, MD, espouses: “… this exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. Unlike tranquilizing drugs, which are often effective when you first take them but then lose their power over time, this exercise is subtle when you first try it, but gains in power with repetition and practice. Do it at least twice a day. You cannot do it too frequently. Do not do more than four breaths at one time for the first month of practice. Later, if you wish, you can extend it to eight breaths. If you feel a little lightheaded when you first breathe this way, do not be concerned; it will pass.”

For our UCSS patients who are serious about improving their health, quality of life and longevity, we teach and then strongly recommend that you practice until routinized these easy and corrective exercises. Soon you will noticeably appreciate how this training integrates into your everyday activities. Part 3 of 3 is being prepared as we “speak.” Continue to follow along; your body and mind will thank you!


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