top of page

Using the breath to calm fight or flight, fast!

Want to know the fastest way, to tap into our nervous system and shut off the stress respone? Something much more powerful than the Vagus Nerve?

Ever hear about the Phrenic Nerve?

Move over Vagus Nerve there is a new superhero in town.

Over the years I was taught that I needed to just take a deeply inhaled breath and hold it. "Big long breath in" was the mantra.

We used this type of breathing to reduce anxiety, fear or as a way to gracefully get an overchatty massage client to be quiet, relax and "let go".

According to Dr Andrew Huberman, Neuroscientist at Stanford University we need to do the opposite of the big long breath in.

He explains that when we inhale deeply, our diaphragm moves down creating more room for the heart to expand. This slows the blood flow and the little SA Node in the heart tattletails to the brain whats going on in the heart. The brain responds by telling the heart to speed up.

I don't know about you, but when I am in flight or fight mode, anxiety or panic, my heart is racing pretty fast. A rapidly beating heart does not help to calm things down in the brain.

Dr. Huberman talks about the "physiological sigh" discovered in the 1930's (why has it taken this long to get the word out?).

He explains that when we are in stress mode, we can't control the mind with the mind. This is challenging for people with ADHD, Anxiety Disorder, PTSD, Depression etc. The problem that caused anxiety and the fight or flight response usually started or resides in the mind to begin with.

But we have a super power in that the Brain through the Phrenic Nerve can control the Diaphragm and do what is called the "Physiological Sigh".

Sounds like a new dance move!

Dr. Huberman explains that we must breath, like after we have had a good hard ugly cry. You know the one where you are taking a couple of those short breathes in. Sniff Sniff Sigh!

Thats the secret, 2 short strong breathes in with a long exhale, exhale must be longer than the inhale.

When you exhale the diaphragm moves up and squishes the heart making the blood to flow more quickly. The SA Node again rats out the heart to the brain and the brain tells the heart to slow down.

When you are stressed the little avelor sacs in the lungs can collapse, so the two short breaths in open up the flattened sacs and let out trapped carbon dioxide.

Having an increase of CO2 in our blood can also make us feel anxious.

So for a fast, free, can be done anywhere tool to bring us out of stress and anxiety, do 2 short inhales through the nose with a long exhale out the mouth.

I practice this technique when needed and I am calm in under 2 minutes, and my brain can begin to think rationally. The ability to have a directed mind is key to those struggling with mental health issues. The ability to control our thoughts and emotions and have a "directed mind" is possible through practice, like strengthing our muscles through exercise.

Below is the link to the amazing podcast for those brain nerds that want to explore the science in greater detail.

Tara Wood L.M.T.

Andrew Huberman Podcast explains Phrenic Nerve breathing indepth

2 views0 comments
bottom of page