Dont Hold Your Breath!

Practicing relaxation breathing techniques three minutes three times per day is a really good way to control stress.

What is Stress?

Stress is a response in the body to stimuli. Our hearts beat faster and our bodies become ready to run away or fight. It is natural response wired into our physiology to keep us alive in life threatening situations. But most of us experience this response more than necessary. The stress response triggers a cascade hormonal changes in our bodies. These changes can cause many health problems if activated too often.

Just to be clear, stress as defined here is not the life situations that get us “stressed out”. If reducing stress depends on being able to control every aspect of life that triggers the stress response, then we are out of luck. But what we can change is how we respond to stress-inducing situations. With practice we can control the stress response so that it is reserved for life threatening situations.


What is special about breathing?  It is the only physiological process that is fully under unconscious and automatic control, that we can also change and control voluntarily. This makes it a gateway to the autonomic (automatic) nervous system. This part of the nervous system has two branches. The sympathetic branch triggers the stress response and the parasympathetic branch triggers the relaxation response. Balance between these to is necessary for optimal health.

Generally, to promote the relaxation response we should breathe slower, steadier, and deeper. The most effective way to control the breath is to control the exhale portion. Our muscles that control exhaling are much stronger than the inhaling muscles. We can control the breathing with greater ease by controlling the exhale. Also, breathing techniques become more effective the more often we practice them. Try the breathing technique below:

Breathing: The Master Key to Self Healing, Andrew Weil, MD
The Relaxation Response, Herbert Benson, MD

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Author: Nick Ortego is the owner of N 2 Action, a wellness studio in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, offering personal training, health coaching, yoga, and assisted stretching.