Newest Relaxation Breathing Strategies

September 18, 2015 | By

by Dr. Bert Pitts

Remember #10 in the “21 Ways To Manage Your Stress” on the left, where I gave you that secret about the really great massage therapy practice in our building? Well, I was talking to Shannon Preston the other day (OK, yes, during a wonderful massage) and she told me about a workshop she had just attended, where they taught the “unusual” method of breathing in 4 counts, and out 7 counts (as in #5 above). Why unusual? Traditional directions regarding relaxation breathing are to “measure” in and out the same amount of air, in other words, to breathe in and out the same number of counts (thus completely emptying the lungs). However, the newest physiological theories support exhaling more counts than inhaling, requiring one to slow the pace of exhalation, and hence to spend more time exhaling than inhaling. So what is so good about exhaling, that one would choose to spend as much time as possible there?

Exhaling stimulates parasympathetic brain activity. Our parasympathetic nervous system is all about helping us relax and rest. Unlike its “stressed” cousin (e.g. the sympathetic nervous system, in charge of helping us “fight or flee”), our cool, “laid back,” easy-going parasympathetic friend always says, “CHILL, DUDE.” Take a load off (and it literally does), primarily our heart and vascular system, specifically by LOWERING BLOOD PRESSURE. WOW. Now that is a good reason to spend as much time as possible exhaling when we want to relax by breathing! As we relax, our body is able to metabolize and eventually lower the level of the stress hormone, cortisol. (With chronic stress, the level of cortisol rises quickly, and it takes awhile for us to bring it back down.)

Shannon said that in the same conference, speaking of sympathetic versus parasympathetic activity, the speaker talked about how we live in a very “sympathetic” country. What an interesting thought! (and how true). Bar none, we Americans are the most stressed out (and isolated) people on the Planet Earth, and having the best health care does not help us avoid some of the world’s worst health! (Sad but true.) There was a ShrinkRap article about that once, if you want to read or re-read it. (Go to, follow link to Our Library, push bar to display article categories, follow link to Anxiety and Stress, follow link to “Leading the Free World in Stress and Isolation.”) So what a deal…we just need to breathe! (You bet, in 4 counts, out 7.) In other words, show a little parasympathy, America!

Filed in: Anxiety & Stress, Library

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