The relaxing breath (TRB) is a powerful relaxation tool and a beneficial
technique I teach all my clients and each of them has reported positive
change in mood and ‘feeling better’ after implementing its use. Each
hypnosis session I conduct starts and incorporates the practice of the
relaxing breath with anchoring, which I will talk about in the upcoming
The relaxing breath has direct physiological input to the central nervous
system which then sends out information that directs the functioning of the rest of the body and in this article I attempt to give a simple overview of the physiology of the process, specifically the activation of the Vagus nerve and its role in relaxation and interruption of the stress response.
So, what exactly is the physiological role of the breath? The autonomic
nervous system is made up of two ‘opposing’ systems that work in tandem to maintain balance in our bodies, right down to the cellular level. These systems are called the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for our stress response
and it’s also referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ response.The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for ‘rest and repose’. The Vagus nerve is the single most important nerve in the body and originates in the brainstem. It has nerve endings quite literally, all over the place. By stimulating these nerve endings you can obtain a desired physiological change.
By taking abdominal breaths, the Vagus nerve endings in the abdominal
wall and diaphragm are stimulated. Signals are relayed back to the brain
and activate changes in nervous system output resulting in decreases in
heart rate and blood pressure, regulation of the immune response,
production of melatonin (sleep), serotonin (mood) and activation of stem
cells. Vagal stimulation has also been shown to effectively decrease
depression and seizure frequency. Evidence from animal studies suggests that Vagus nerve stimulation may facilitate ‘neural plasticity’. Combining the relaxing breath technique with hypnosis produces a powerful and successful outcome. The relaxing breath (deep diaphragmatic breathing) facilitates oxygen flow into the body. Increased oxygen in the cells relieves physical muscle tension and results in the release of endorphins (natural morphine).
While practicing deep belly breathing, the anchor used is the pinching of
the thumb and index finger of the client’s hand. Ivan Pavlov’s work
demonstrated that a physiological response, not just a feeling, or memory can be produced through conditioning. For example, while practicing deep belly breathing, the person uses the relaxing breath (unconditioned stimulus) and introduces a neutral stimulus (kinesthetic anchor, pinching of finger and thumb) to the unconditioned response (relaxation response).
After a period of conditioning (or practice) the neutral stimulus will produce the same effect as the unconditioned stimulus (deep relaxing breath). Or more simply put, the anchor triggers the relaxation response.
As a way to demonstrate to my clients the control they have over the way they feel I give them the post-hypnotic suggestion (it can be practiced also at home while doing self hypnosis) that “anytime you are ready to enter hypnosis, pinch your thumb and finger together, take three relaxing breaths, and quickly go into a deep, relaxed state of hypnosis.” The beneficial results are spectacular!
Counsellor & Psychotherapist