Your breath as a remote control Copy

Are you ready for more 🤩? You can read below or listen to this track: 

Let’s get started with taking a breath: 

Exhale stale air out. Then inhale through your nose. Hold it here for a brief second. And then super slow motion – exhale back out again. Keep a steady and calm breath as we walk together. 

Breathe as if you are unimpressed – light, slow and deep. Breathe in and out through your nose. 

Breathe this way now and try to breathe that way also when physical intensity increases. This will also help you to train your CO2 tolerance – remember we talked about how by increasing your CO2 Tolerance you will also increase your stress tolerance. 

But for now let us focus on the question:

How can I use my breath to influence my state? 

We learned that your autonomic nervous system regulates a lot of processes that translate into certain physical and mental states you are in.  You also learned that you can use your breath to influence or switch between those states. 


Now the question remaining is how? 

For a moment think back to the different branches of your autonomic nervous system. We already looked at the two major distinctions – the parasympathetic and sympathetic branches of your autonomic nervous system, or “rest and digest” and  “fight or flight”. 

But according to research from behavioral neuroscientist, Stephen W. Porges and his polyvagal theory there is a third type of nervous system response – basically an adapted response of the parasympathetic nervous system and this is called the freeze mode 

So let us take a moment to look again at all the 3 states and also the type of emotional states we are in. For me it clicked many times when I looked at those emotions related to certain states and it will be super helpful for you to also look at the colorful slide of the polyvagal theory that I added to this talk. 

Three Nervous System States

  1. First, our “fight and flight” response is our survival strategy, a response from the sympathetic nervous system. If you were going to run from a tiger, for example, you want this response to save your life. When we have a fight response, we can have anger, rage, irritation, and frustration. If we are having a flight response, we can have anxiety, worry, fear, and panic. Physiologically, our blood pressure, heart rate, and adrenaline increase and it decreases digestion, pain threshold, and immune responses.
  2. Second, our “rest and digest” is a response of the parasympathetic system, also known as a ventral vagal state. It is our state of safety and homeostasis. If we are in our ventral vagal state, we are grounded, mindful, joyful, curious, empathetic, and compassionate. This is the state of social engagement, where we are connected to ourselves and the world. Physiologically, digestion, resistance to infection, circulation, immune responses, and our ability to connect is improved.

Lastly and now comes the additional response of the freeze state. 

This is a hybrid state of activation and calming that plays a role in our ability to socially engage (or not) and can also be called  “freeze” or emergency  state. This is our dorsal vagal state, which is our most primitive pattern. It means that we are completely shut down, we can feel hopeless and feel like there’s no way out. We tend to feel depressed, conserve energy, dissociate, feel overwhelmed, and feel like we can’t move forward. Physiologically, our fuel storage and insulin activity increases and our pain thresholds increase.
To give you 2 examples : It can have the symptoms of a burnout or a suicide.

Please take a look at the working documents to get an overview on how those states look – I am sure you will notice your own patterns. 

I also added a simplified overview of the polyvagal theory which translates the different states of the autonomic nervous system into animals – hopefully it becomes a bit easier to remember this way. 

It  shows the fight or flight state as the tiger. The freeze state as the gazelle and the rest & digest state as the turtle. You will also see the “Stay & Play” State which is also our state of flow. A state where we have a sharp mind but calm body. This state I call the Tiger & Turtle state. So, now you also know the story behind the name 🙂 in case you wanted to know. 

Now let’s get back to the image of the remote control – the remote control of your breath. Depending on how you use your breath you will be able to influence your autonomic nervous system. 

Imagine you can use this remote control to switch between different channels . Remember we talked about the different ways you can breathe in the most healthy and most functional way? 

It is actually pretty simple: 

The more you want to switch into an activated state of fight or flight the more you should be breathing through your mouth and the faster you should be breathing. 

This is also called up regulation. Using your breath to get yourself into a sympathetic state. Feel free to also have a look again at the overview of the different states here. 

If you are looking to calm down and downregulate you want to breathe as slow as possible and you want to breathe through your nose. 

These are the two extremes but then there are a couple of variations in between. You could for instance inhale through the nose but exhale through the mouth or vice versa. Also, the more you breathe in a forced form the more this will lead to a sympathetic activation. 


Please have a look at the working document “Learn to influence your state – part 2” to get an overview on the different channels of using your remote control. 

And then of course let’s try it out to use the breath in different ways for up- or downregulation. Oftentimes in the breathwork sessions I am also combining both upregulation and downregulation to get different effects and benefits or train your CO2 tolerance.  

Please download the work documents to preview them.

References:

Dana, D., & Porges, S. W. (2018). The polyvagal theory in therapy: Engaging the rhythm of regulation. W.W. Norton & Company.

Porges, S. W., Porges, S. W., & Porges, S. W. (2011). The polyvagal theory: Neurophysiological foundations of emotions, attachment, communication, and self-regulation. First Edition ; the pocket guide to the polyvagal theory: The transformative power of feeling safe. first edition. W.W. Norton & Company.