Deep breathing relieves stress and anxiety due to its physiological effect on the nervous system. Breathing slowly and mindfully activates the hypothalamus, connected to the pituitary gland in the brain, to send out neurohormones that inhibit stress-producing hormones and trigger a relaxation response in the body. The hypothalamus links the nervous system to the endocrine system, which secretes the hormones that regulate all activities throughout the body.
The adrenal glands, located on top of both kidneys, interact with the hypothalamus and pituitary glands. The adrenal medulla, the inner portion of the adrenal gland, secretes hormones that control how a person copes with stress. Epinephrine, also called adrenaline, and norepinephrine, called noradrenaline, secreted by the adrenal medulla, increase heart rate and blood pressure, preparing the body for the fight-or-flight response.
Fight or Flight
When under stress or anxiety, the body reacts with the fight-or-flight response. This response prepares the body for anticipated conflict or danger by propelling it into a heightened state of alertness or readiness. This natural response keeps the body out of harm’s way.
Autonomic Nervous System
The autonomic nervous system consists of the sympathetic nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system and the enteric nervous system. The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems regulate how the body deals with stress. During a perceived stressful or dangerous situation, the sympathetic nervous system goes into fight or flight, triggering the adrenal glands to secrete the hormones that increase blood pressure and heart rate.
The parasympathetic nervous system works in conjunction with the sympathetic nervous system, triggering the body to secrete hormones to decrease blood pressure and heart rate, inducing a relaxation response. Breathing deeply and mindfully helps stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system to trigger this response.
Enteric Nervous System
The enteric nervous system also plays a role in how the body responds to stress. This complex system of neurotransmitters, neurons and proteins–located in the tissue of the esophagus, small intestine, colon and stomach–regulates digestive activity. Sometimes called the brain in the gut, the enteric nervous system sends messages between the digestive system and the brain, much like the central nervous system does with the body. The body experiences intestinal distress when faced with stressful situations due to the enteric nervous system. Digestive disorders such as colitis and irritable bowel syndrome stem from this system.
Breathing mindfully takes practice. When under stress, people often breathe in a shallow manner, not using full lung capacity. To breathe fully, sit up straight and place your hands on your belly, directly above your belly button. Let the fingertips of both hands touch lightly. Exhale fully through your mouth. Breathe in deeply through your nose and into your belly, so that your fingertips spread an inch apart. Let your belly fill with air. Hold your breath for two to five counts, and then exhale slowly through your nose. Match the length of the inhale with the length of the exhale. Continue breathing in this manner for five to ten minutes.
12 benefits of alternate nostril breathing:
1: Revitalizes you:
A few rounds of alternate nostril breathing is a quick pick me up if you are feeling flat, tired or even stressed. It provides your body with a much needed dose of extra energy.
2: Improves brain function:
When you mind is dull – concentration and clarity is poor. Alternate nostril breathing brings equal amounts of oxygen to both sides of the brain for improved brain function. Five minutes of alternate nostril breathing before an exam or interview is a great way to access your whole brain for improved performance. Remember the brain loses hydration first so drink water as well.
3: Cleanses your lungs:
A daily five minute practice morning and night of alternate nostril breathing is great way to remove stale air and impurities from the bottom of your lungs.
4: Calms an agitated mind:
I’m prone to worrying. A few minutes of focused alternate nostril breathing is helpful (for me) in calming my “over thinking” and “over-doing” mind.
The ancient yogis believe that if you can regulate your breath, then you can control your mind.
5: Merges the left “thinking” brain and right “feeling brain:
Alternate nostril breathing optimizes both sides of your brain so you can access your whole brain, and all the benefits that go with it.
Try it out next time you need to drive your car. Cover your left nostril with your thumb and breathe only through your right nostril for one minute. This should keep you more alert when driving.
6: Encourage a calmer emotional state:
In times of emotional distress and upset, a few rounds of mindful nostril breathing will soften the intensity of over reactive emotional states. The longer you practice, the more stable your thinking, and the calmer your emotions will become.
7: Improves sleep:
If you can’t sleep at night lay on your right hand side, gently close your right nostril with your right thumb and breath through your left nostril. This will activate your parasympathetic nervous system which will calm you down and slow your heart rate. Left nostril breathing is cooling, calming and nourishing for your whole being.
8: Great preparation for meditation:
Alternate nostril breathing is a simple little trick that can be practiced for a few minutes before you begin your meditation practice. It’s a very easy way to help you find your meditation groove.
9: Soothes your nervous system:
By focusing on your breath and deepening it, your brain will register this message and trigger the parasympathetic nervous system. You have effectively switched your nervous system from a stressed response, into a relaxation response. Single left nostril breathing (by closing your right nostril) will direct the flow of oxygen and energy to the right hemisphere of your brain, allowing once again, for the parasympathetic nervous system to be switched on. Gosh, your breath and nose is very clever.
10: Regulates the cooling and warming cycles of the body:
Left nostril is feminine, nurturing, calm, receiving and cooling. Right nostril is masculine, heat, competitive, doing, active and force. Favouring one nostril more than the other can effect the heat or coolness of your body.
11: Clears and boosts your energy channels:
Slightly forced alternate nostril breathing improves and directs the flow of energy throughout your body – preventing sluggishness. It oxygenates your blood and allows the energy (prana) in your body to be strong and flowing.
12: Enhances rest and relaxation:
A restless mind cannot relax. Alternate nostril breathing melts away an imbalances between the right and left hemisphere of your brain and calms your thinking. This is perfect for helping you access rest and relaxation far more efficiently.
Source – Livestrong