You've probably heard of "fight or flight" - that instinctual response that prepares us to either face a danger head-on or run away from it. Our bodies are incredibly adaptable and can change gear depending on the situation. This ability to adjust our physiological and emotional states is what we call self-regulation.
But self-regulation is not just about controlling our emotions - it's about our bodies being able to recognize what level of activation we need in any given moment. Whether it's during a high-stakes competition or winding down for sleep, self-regulation helps us perform at our best.
So, how exactly does this work?
The breath is one of the few places where our autonomic nervous system (the one that controls unconscious functions like heart rate and digestion) and somatic nervous system (the one that controls voluntary movements like breathing) intersect. This means that we can control our autonomic nervous system through our breath.
One way to measure the activation of the autonomic nervous system is through a metric called Heart Rate Variability (HRV). HRV measures physiological and psychological stress and reflects the activity of the autonomic nervous system.
The autonomic nervous system is divided into two branches: the sympathetic nervous system, also known as the "fight or flight" mechanism, and the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the "relaxation response".
The sympathetic nervous system drives our physiological activation and is responsible for the increased energy level we experience in stressful or challenging situations. But when this response becomes dominant and stays high for an extended period of time, it can lead to chronic stress, fatigue, and difficulty relaxing. This is where the parasympathetic nervous system comes in - it regulates the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and helps bring balance back to our bodies.
One breathing technique that has been proven to be effective in increasing resilience to stress and improving self-regulation is called resonance breathing.
Resonance breathing is a specific breathing frequency that optimizes the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system and improves our ability to handle stress. It strengthens the "brake" of the parasympathetic nervous system, allowing it to more effectively lower sympathetic activation and restore balance.
Practicing resonance breathing regularly can help you strengthen the parasympathetic nervous system, increase your heart rate variability (HRV), and strengthen your ability to self-regulate, handle stress, and manage your emotions.
So the next time you face a challenging situation, try taking a few deep breaths and see how it helps you switch gears smoothly.