Mindfulness techniques are an integral part of the treatment plan for many of our clients. Every one of us can benefit from the calming effects of these practices and the scientific community is paying more attention to the beneficial impact of mindfulness on our well-being. This theoretical review is one example of how neuroscience is exploring the underlying mechanism between controlled breathing and improved health, mental health, and cognition.
Deep breathing increases the activity of the vegas nerve which is part of our parasympathetic nervous system. The vegas nerve also helps to control the activity of many internal organs. Stimulating the vegas nerve results in our heart rate slowing down and becoming more regular. It also lowers our blood pressure and relaxes our muscles. There is even neurobiological feedback to the brain, increasing feelings of peacefulness.
Of all the mindfulness and breathing exercises we practice, the 4-7-8 breathing technique is one of our favorites for promoting improved mental and physical health. The key factor is the ratio of the long/extended out-breath in comparison to the in-breath. Slow respiration rates with extended exhalation can activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Doing this type of breathing combats the fight-or-flight response triggered by stressful events and is a form of respiratory biofeedback to create a relaxation response in the body. This video is a very helpful tool for kids and adults alike to learn to practice the 4-7-8 breath. As with any coping strategy, keep in mind that the more time you spend practicing it outside of challenging situations, the more likely it is that the technique will be a useful tool during moments of stress and heightened emotions.