Day 10: A Simple Breathing Technique to Calm the Central Nervous System
Welcome to Day 10 of 21 Days on the Mountain. We’re halfway through our 21-day series to learn how to create space and calm in our hectic lives through developing the Pause Habit.
Those of you who have been following from Day 1 might now be starting to feel a greater sense of calm. Taking a moment, or several moments each day, to pause, focus and breathe, has a powerful effect on our physiology – helping to bring our central nervous system into balance and increasing our capacity for a more Balanced Awareness of our own perspective, others’ perspective and the needs of the situation.
So join me in today’s video, where we continue to practice the three steps of pause, focus and breathe, regulating our heart rate and autonomic nervous system, strengthening our immune system and gently releasing the tension and stress that can harm our health.
Hello and welcome to 21 Days On The Mountain, a chance for us to pause together for a few minutes. And as I pause at the beginning of this video I can hear a very distinctive bird call just behind me which you may have heard. And I’m standing at or just above the highest hamlet in Sixt Fer-a-Cheval. We’re at about 1,100 meters here.
I’m looking out at yet another beautiful view. You can probably see the mountain behind me here – is part of a beautiful cirque of mountains known as the Le Cirque du Fer a Cheval, where the village Sixt Fer-a-Cheval takes its name from. And it’s the most incredible Nature Reserve, an amphitheatre of mountains bordering Switzerland, which at the moment we’re not able to go to, since we need to keep quite close to our home. And here at the moment I’m about 20 minutes from there. But at least we can admire it from afar, and we’re blessed to be able to do that.
So Day 10, midway point in our 21-day series of videos on the mountain, and I’m wondering, those of you who have been following this every day, whether you’re noticing anything at all about the way that watching this video and taking a moment, or taking ten moments, every day, may or may not be impacting how you respond to other situations and people during the day? Now I’m not looking for that to happen, but I’m just wondering if you’ve noticed anything and I just want to leave you with that question. If you take your mind back to how you felt ten days ago or so, and how you feel now, what are you noticing?
So what people often tell me with the pause practice, and what I experience myself, is a greater sense of calm when I’ve done it. So taking even ten minutes, frankly taking even one minute, of conscious breathing and focusing, changes our physiology. So the feeling of calm that we have after the practice, after the conscious shifting of focus inside, and a period of conscious breathing, what that’s doing is it’s regulating our nervous system. When we breathe evenly in and out, we might breathe in for three, out for three, or whatever, when we regulate that in an even pattern it brings our autonomic nervous system into balance. As we breathe in, we’re activating the sympathetic arm of our nervous system and as we breathe out we’re activating the parasympathetic arm. So when we do that evenly, we’re keeping those two arms of our nervous system in balance.
And what then happens at a physiological level is that other systems in our body synch, if you like, to that. So when I talk about other systems I mean our heart rate, or more precisely, the beat-to-beat changes in our heart.
So when we’re stressed, the beat-to-beat changes in our heart, otherwise known as our heart rate variability, might be quite chaotic like that (clapping hands).. But when we’re calmer, when we feel calmer, when we’ve brought, if you like, within ourselves a sense of calm, which breathing regularly can certainly help, we start gradually to enable our heart rate variability to be more rhythmic.
And what that does is it sends signals to our brain, which our brain receives, which reach our prefrontal cortex, this part here which is the thinking-judgment-decision- making perspective part of our brain – the third brain, the most developed part of our brain if you like, that other mammals don’t have in the way that we do. Because those signals that come from our heart are rhythmic and regular, and if you like, kind of get through to that part of our brain. In simple terms, it actually helps us to see and think more clearly. Having a regulated, balanced, autonomic nervous system also helps our hormonal system and our immune system.
So conscious breathing, you know practising conscious breathing, is not overrated. It’s possibly the single most important thing we can do, to help ourselves, at no cost, feel better. Now I want to add here that I’m no neuroscientist, I’m no doctor, have no medical training, so any of you out there who know an awful lot more about this than I do, please forgive me for my simple interpretation of what I’ve understood is happening at this level, when we start to feel calmer. It helps me make sense of it if I can find some kind of pattern, and I hope in feeding that back to you, that it might in some way help as well. And of course there are plenty of sites that you can look up online, or in books that will give you way more information than I just have. But that is, if you like, my simplistic interpretation of what’s going on at a physiological level, when we pause and focus our awareness inside, and breathe consciously.
So you know, when I started this series, I think it was the second video that we made, I shared with you my five principles of forming a habit. And the first one was why. Get really clear on why you want to pause. Why it’s helpful to have a pause practice. So now I want to put it to you, why wouldn’t you? If you know that by simply pausing and breathing evenly in and out, you can do that much for your well-being, and for your thinking power, and your ability to see things as they are, and to feel calmer and more present – why wouldn’t you?
So I’ll leave you with that thought, and you might like to take that thought into our two minutes of silence today. I will. And can I remind you of the three steps, that those of you who’ve been following the whole of this series will know well by now, but perhaps some of you may just be tuning in for the first time today.
So let’s look at the three steps. So the three steps of pausing; number one, press an internal pause button somewhere – I normally press it about here, obviously metaphorically. Number two, bring your awareness as best you can into this space between your sternum and your navel, known as the solar plexus. And what this does, as I’ve said a few times now, is it supercharges your practice. If you find it hard to focus inside, shift your focus to an external object of some kind that enables you to concentrate, because what matters is that you shift your focus and you spend a couple of minutes concentrating.
And the third step is to breathe, consciously. Breathing consciously in through your nose or your mouth, following your breath, noticing where it arrives in the body, allowing it to be there for a few seconds if you can, and then gently and smoothly releasing your breath, as if you were letting go.
I’m going to close my eyes, as I always do because it helps me to concentrate. I invite you to do the same. Shifting your focus into your solar plexus, consciously breathe in, and out, at your own pace, in your own rhythm, in whatever way feels best and most helpful and most compassionate to your body, as we move into our two-minute silence.
And when you’re ready, on your next breath, gently open your eyes.
So I hope you enjoyed this moment of calm and that your day ahead has many more such moments. And if there are moments when you feel less calm, remember you can always pause.
Thank you for joining me today, and I look forward to seeing you tomorrow.