The vagus breath: Help yourself to relax and let go of negative thinking

The vagus breath:

To stimulate the para-sympathetic nervous system and help yourself to relax and let go of negative thinking.

It has been said that we typically have 60,000 thoughts or more a day and that most of these thoughts are negative. But do you know why it seems so hard to actually change our negative thoughts?

It all comes down to physiology, or the inner workings of your body. The body becomes addicted to its own neuro-chemicals that are released when thinking them.

Negative thinking stimulates the “fight or flight” response in the body which stimulates the release of adrenaline and cortisol. This release of these hormones keeps our brains and bodies sharper because they are receiving a “hit” of these addictive neuro-chemicals.

As with any addiction, more and more of the substance is required to satisfy the craving. In order to keep the levels of adrenaline and cortisol up, we actively seek out negative thoughts or things to be aggravated or upset by or experiences with which to be offended.

Negative thinking increases stress. Stress is what happens when you feel like you don’t have the capacity to cope with what is going on. It is also what you feel when you are doing things you don’t want to be doing or you feel you don’t have the power to say no.

If, at the back of your mind, you have a tape running all day saying “I can’t do this. I am no good at this. I am stupid, etc” you are constantly activating the release of cortisol and adrenaline. You are constantly signalling stress to your body.

What do you do about these automatic patterns and the resultant stress? The first step to changing these patterns is awareness. You can’t change anything until you are aware of it. So, be mindful of your reactions to people and situations and notice how that feels in your body. Are your reactions increasing your feelings and sensations of agitation? Or are they increasing your feelings of peace? In other words, pay attention to your automatic patterns that are activating your fight or flight response. Do this from a sense of curiosity. (You don’t want to increase your fight or flight response from beating yourself up for having automatic patterns by the way).

As you become aware of your reactions, you can activate the vagus nerve which works with the autonomic nervous system (both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems). This is the longest nerve in the body. This nerve starts in the brain and ends at the top of the belly button. It connects the mind to the body.

To activate the vagus nerve, put your focus on the bodily sensations (rather than the triggering event). Relax your shoulders, relax your jaw muscles and relax your tongue. Allow a deep belly inhale to the count of four. Exhale through your mouth whilst making a pleasurable sound to the count of six. The pleasurable sound should start with a “ha” sound, not an “ah” sound. The “ha” sound stimulates the vagus nerve. The “ah” sound doesn’t. Do five or more breaths at a time.

It is this joyful and pleasurable sound that activates the vagus nerve. It gives the message of peace to the mind and body. The power of this breath comes through the pleasurable sound.

To train your brain to release pleasurable hormones take 60-70 of these breaths throughout the day (or more). As you continue to take these vagus breaths each day, you will be gaining better control over your negative thinking.

If you are somewhere where making the sound out loud would feel silly, you can make the sound silently in your head and have the same result. Whether you do the pleasurable sound out loud or in your head, it is important to make the sound.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Betchworth RH3 & Reigate RH2
Written by Linda M Newbold, MA (Psych), UKCP Reg'd, EMDR Accr, Adv Cert Couples Cllng
Betchworth RH3 & Reigate RH2

Whilst I work with most issues, I specialise in trauma therapy. I teach this technique, amongst others, to help people calm themselves. If anyone would like the full seven page version of this article, please contact me through my profile, and I will email you a copy...

Linda Newbold
UKCP Reg'd
MA (Psychotherapy & Healing)
EMDR (Accred Pract)

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