The science behind Deep Breathing and how it works

Wondering why we teach Deep Breathing as a method of reducing your stress? Let us tell you the science behind how it works…

The exercise we teach is based on the Papworth breathing technique which is used in hospitals to reduce patient stress. But how does it work?

We all know the old classic ‘Deep Breaths and count to 10’ but how many of us are aware that there’s a scientific reason why this actually works? Deep breathing, done right, kicks off a chemical reaction in your body that moves it from stressed to calm.

You see, when you’re relaxed, your breathing is long and slow, irregular and more often than not, your out-breaths will be longer than your in-breaths.

The clever part is, your body can be tricked into this relaxed state by imitating the breathing patterns you would have if you were already relaxed. It’s like, ‘fake it until you make it’.

This is all the clever work of the Vagus nerve, which runs all the way through your body from the base of your brain. This nerve wanders all over the body, connecting itself to all major organs like the heart, stomach and diaphragm. Hence its name, ‘The Wandering Nerve’.

The Vagus nerve is key to sending messages of peace and relaxation swiftly through the body. These help your body understand when to sleep, digest food, and also helps with learning and memory – it’s a very clever nerve.

When you breathe deeply and not just into the top third of our lungs (which adults do), your diaphragm pulls on the Vagus nerve. This normally only happens when you’re not stressed, so creates the message ‘I’m feeling relaxed’. It’s on hearing this message that the Vagus nerve duly does its job and sends it on to all your organs, moving your body into a state of calm.

This message encourages the release of Oxytocin into your system, which is very important as it’s the hormone that combats cortisol and adrenaline (your stress hormones). This then slows your heart, restarts your digestive system, and makes you feel relaxed.

The fact that you can trick your body to put itself into a state of calm, and reduce your stress just using your breathing, is pretty impressive.

So now you know the science, why don’t we take a look at how to put the Deep Breathing technique into practice? Read our article “What is Deep Breathing and how do I do it?” for some handy advice on how to do this correctly and effectively.