In this post:
- the biggest myth about better breathing exposed.
- how to use your breathing to reduce the stress response.
- how to use your breathing to trigger the relaxation response.
- how to most effectively control your breathing
Hey welcome to my first livestream. Nick Ortego here I’m gonna talk about how to reduce stress and anxiety during
stressful times. So when we’re talking about stress I think it’s important to delineate between stressors and the stress response in our bodies. So stressful events, things that we perceive as threats, or or perceive as a negative occurrence, a lot of times there’s not much we can do about that what we can do
is change how the body responds the stress response and the body whenever it’s chronic consistent is usually unhealthy it usually leads to poor thinking and less than optimal decisions
but there’s something we can do about it. The most powerful non-drug method of taking the stress response down in the body, of dampening the cortisol response, cortisol response being what
the body does when we’re having the stress response. That’s so important because cortisol, when it’s running too high all the time, can weaken the immune system. It’s definitely important. Youdon’t want to have zero cortisol. That would not be beneficial. You wouldn’t be able to get up in the morning without a cortisol spike. It’s usually what helps you get up in the morning but if cortisol is running high all the time. You can get into a state of depletion where some people would call it adrenal fatigue, or the more likely explanation of it is that it’s cortisol resistance. If your cortisol is running high all the time it can lead to a state of chronic
fatigue. So how do you take that cortisol level down? The most powerful way that we have is through control of the breathing.
So a lot of people if I’m standing in front of a crowd and I say “take a deep breath”, what most people do is they take
this massive chest and thoracic and clavicular breath. And you can see what happened there. As I expanded the ribcage and I lifted the clavicles and my abdomen came in. That’s not a deep breath. That’s a big breath but it’s a shallow breath because when the rib cage expands and the belly comes in. I’m not pulling
the air into the lower parts of the lungs where gas exchange can happen more readily. So a deep breath is not necessarily the biggest breath you can take. A deep breath is where you inhale and rib cage and the collar bones remain pretty still but the
abdomen the lower abdomen expand like that. So on the inhale the lower abdomen should be expanding and on the exhale it
should be coming back in. And the abdomen is expanding in all directions front and side.
So that’s the first aspect of taking a nice deep breath. Slowing down the breath is key to dampening the stress response.
And the best way to slow down the breath the aspect of the breath where you can control and have the most acute control
over the breath have the most effective change in your breathing pattern is the exhalation. So if you want to slow your breathing down. Don’t try to breathe more air in at the end of the inhale. The best most effective way is to empty a little bit
more air out at the end of the exhale. That looks kind of like this. There’s a breath in exhale is coming out and then at the end just let a little more out abdomen will come in. If you can gradually slow down your exhalations, each breath, meaning each successive exhalation you let it last a
little bit longer, you’re gonna slow down your breathing.
And you’re gonna shift your body over time away from the stress response. When the stress response is in high gear, it takes brain activity away from the parts of the brain that we use for executive function and better decision-making. When the stress response
is kicked up it’s kind of like survival mode and it ramps up the more primitive reactive parts of the brain, what some people call the reptilian brain. And that’s perfectly good response we need that response sometimes we need that response in any situation where running away our fighting is necessary or helpful or beneficial. But if you ever find yourself in a situation where running away or fighting is not helpful or beneficial, and you feel the stress response–heart rate;s going up muscle tension’s going up–that response is not helping you in any way. It’s not helping
you think more clearly, it’s actually taking away from your capacity to think rationally, reasonably, and clearly. When you notice that happening, the thing to do is breathe through your nose. When you’re breathing through the nose it’s a smaller opening. So it’s gonna slow down the breath. And each exhale try to let it lengthen out a little bit. If you can let your exhales last seven seconds or longer you’re going to shift your physiological response away from the stress response and into the relaxation response. You’ll have a clear head and be able to make the best
decisions possible. There are a lot of breathing methods you could use. There are methods where you count them you count
the inhale and you count the exhale you do a second count. So for example box breathing would be a method where you inhale for a four count, pause for a four count, exhale for a four count, and pause for a four count. Repeat that cycle. That’ll slow down your breathing. Another method that’s useful is inhaling for a
four count, having a seven count pause, and an eight count exhale, and repeating that cycle. But all you really need to do
is slow down the exhales and slow down your breathing. Another aspect of better breathing is not to think of moving more
air. It’s actually about moving only the amount of air necessary to function because if you hyperventilate you’re
gonna bring your co2 levels down. So if I take big slow breaths, let’s say I’m doing a four count box breathing and my breaths are really big, bigger than they need to be and I’m moving more air than necessary I’m taking the co2 level in my blood down. And if I do that eventually gonna become accustomed to a low co2
level and I’m gonna need to over breathe in order to keep my co2. levels low. Rising co2 in the blood is the main trigger that gives you the urge to breathe in your respiratory center in the brain. You want to get a high co2 tolerance so that you can operate while
the co2 is rising in your blood and not feel that strong urge to breathe more to take the co2 level down. The urge we get
to breathe when we hold our breath has nothing to do with lack of oxygen, has everything to do with a rise in co2. So you want to be able to handle a rise in co2 without feeling a strong urge to
breathe more because the more you can get your co2 level elevated the more effectively and efficiently oxygen transfer will happen between the blood and your brain and muscles. So the more you can get accustomed to having a high co2 level which means you only breathe the amount of volume necessary, barely
the amount of volume necessary. Better breathing is not bigger breathing. Better breathing is not breathing more air in
and out per minute. Better breathing is breathing only the amount of air that you need to deliver oxygen and the higher you can let your co2 level rise and be comfortable with it, the more effectively oxygen is gonna dissociate from the hemoglobin molecule on your red blood cells and get into your muscles and into
your brain cells where it can do what it’s needed to do in your body. And that’s another big key and in controlling your
stress level with your breathing, practicing very slight breathing, meaning if I’m at rest my breath should be so slight and subtle that it’s barely noticeable by someone that’s watching. A
good way you can practice that is to tune into the sensation of the air moving in and out of your nose while you’re breathing and try to let the sensation of the air moving in and out of your nose be so slight and subtle that you have to really try to notice it.
Practicing that as often as possible shifts your breathing to the point where you’re doing it the most effectively and
efficiently. You’re keeping it as slow as you can get it but still delivering the oxygen that you need to run your body’s
operations but not so slight that you go low on oxygen. And that really is a key and that is probably the most overlooked aspect of better breathing. Many people who are into the breath work try to move a lot of air. And there are methods that you use like the wim hof breathing method and breath of fire from yoga. But
those are not meant to be you’re all-the-time chronic breathing pattern. Those are meant to trigger your body to have a
stress response in order to make it stronger so when you’re doing wim hof breathing method or Breath of Fire which is kind of like the wim HOF breathing method is huge inhales and the Breath of Fire is powerful pulsatile exhales, those breathing methods have their place. But what they’re designed to do is take your co2 level down so oxygen delivery to the tissues is actually less effective and that short term stressor makes your body
more resilient. But you don’t want to be breathing like that all the time. The best breathing pattern, most optimal breathing pattern, is not to move the most air. The only time that’s the most effective pattern is when you’re in an all-out sprint and co2 is building up so
fast that you just need to get it out and there are methods like that that you can use during high-intensity exercise.
During low intensity cardio and during your resting periods you definitely want to breathe as much as necessary but only as much as necessary.
So in summary keys to reducing stress with your breathing: breathe through the nose
- Allow your breath to be as slow as you can make it.
2. Control your breathing pattern by controlling the exhalations
so make your breathing pattern as slow
as you can but letting your exhalations
last a little longer.
3. Also, and this is probably the most overlooked one, is to
breathe only the amount of air necessary meaning you’re playing with that edge where you feel like you want to breathe
a little bit more but not breathing more letting your co2 levels rise as much as tolerable. Allowing oxygen transfer to happen much better between your blood and your working cells particularly the brain and your muscle cells.
So give that a try let me know if you have any questions or comments below and let me know if you like more live streams thank you.
Nick Ortego is a health coach specializing in biohacking for runners. He integrates modern methods with the ancient wisdom of yoga to help runners get the most out of every aspect of life. He is the owner of N 2 Action, a wellness studio in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, offering personal training, health coaching, yoga, and fascial stretch therapy.
Also find more on the Nick Ortego Fitness YouTube Channel