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These days it is common–particularly with the rise of popularity of yoga in the US–to be told to breathe and become calm. But what kind of breathing helps us settle our nerves? According to Robert Litman, founder of The Breathable Body and teacher of the Buteyko Breathing Technique, nose breathing helps keep our nerves calm while mouth breathing activates the sympathetic nervous system, the part of the nervous system that brings us into the flight-or-fight response. Even if some us are not walking around breathing through our mouth, many of us speak by inhaling through our mouth between words or breathe through our mouth in our sleep (you can count me in on that one). Litman calls this “hidden hyperventilation,” which not only triggers our flight-or-fight response, but causes imbalances in the carbon dioxide and oxygen gases in our bloodstream. This imbalance leads to oxygen-deficiency in our brains, instigating distress in our nervous system and feelings of anxiety.  But this cycle doesn’t have to happen and with practice you can change your pattern of breathing.

Bringing my attention to my breath or deepening my breath used to be very uncomfortable with me. I would bump into a restricted sensation in my lungs and distress and fear would often arise. As you can imagine, this made me not so eager to investigate my breathing. However, over the years of growing in my perceptual connection to ground and spatial support–as well as shedding some of the old layers of distress in my internal body–I can play and explore with my breath easily and comfortably. In the video below, Litman emphasizes the importance of softening your legs and feeling the support of ground through your sit-bones and feet. Our breath, after all, is essential to our being alive. It can be quite profound to change our breathing pattern and it is always good to feel as much safety and support as possible.

In the video below, Litman clearly explains the benefits of nose breathing and offers two simple breathing practices: one for clearing nasal congestion and the other for calming anxiety and distress. I did the anxiety-calming exercise and it was remarkable who much calmer and settled I felt. If you’d like to try it, go to the 27:53 mark. Breathe and enjoy!