Breathing and the Vagus Nerve: Diminishing Anxiety
Updated: Aug 8, 2022
The modern lifestyle is one of hurrying, stress, and diminishing down time. Add to that a diet of processed GMO foods, chemical exposure, and lack of exercise, and you have a perfect seedbed for growth of chronic disease.
Our bodies have an amazing ability to heal themselves under the right conditions. Certainly avoiding toxins, eating right, and exercise are foundations for good health. However, if in the process of our busyness we have developed dysfunctional breathing, our bodies and minds will not function as designed, and we may just remain in a sympathetic state. Proper stimulation of the vagus nerve is accomplished in many ways, with functional breathing being one of them.
The diaphragm, a large dome shaped muscle between the thoracic and abdominal cavities, is our primary breathing muscle. As it is stimulated by the phrenic nerve to contract, it drops, creating a negative pressure on the thoracic cavity, which causes air to rush in and equalize the pressure gradient.
When we are in a sympathetic state (fight or flight), our accessory muscles react temporarily to increase breathing until the condition has passed. Many people with chronic hyperventilation syndrome (CHVS) utilize the accessory muscles routinely, which causes an imbalance , mentally and physically.
Learning to breathe, using the diaphragm only, through the nose only, will restore breathing to a functional state, and stimulate the vagus nerve to put us in a parasympathetic state. Resonance breathing is an optimal way to achieve this, by controlling the breath with a 5 second shallow, nasal inhalation / 5 second relaxed exhalation. All of this is done using the diaphragm only. To ensure proper technique, standing sideways in front of a mirror, with shirt lifted to expose the abdomen, and gently placing a hand on it, you will see it gently rise with the inhalation, and fall with the exhalation.
Practicing this technique for several 15 minute sessions daily will help stimulate the vagus nerve, and produce calmness.