Self-Regulation and the Breath


It’s with us the moment we emerge and remains with us until our last moments.

What I find remarkable about Breath, is how it’s universal. All living beings, creatures, and expressions experience an inward and outward flow.
From trees that breathe in the carbon dioxide humans breathe out, it seems even our planet breaths in rhythms and waves as we do.
More than simply a biological function for humans, breath can be utilized and directed towards something called Regulation.
Regulation is often defined as the ability or capacity be in control of ourselves, including our physiology, mental, and emotional state.
Taking one step back and viewing this within the context of a larger framework, Regulation is an aspect of how we relate and manage our autonomic nervous system.
This system is most often connected to our sense of ok’ness in the present moment, what we’re able to handle, and how we relate to what’s happening to our animal bodies in any present moment.
Most commonly, our experience of this system is spoken to as falling in between “Fight / Flight” or Hyperarousal, “Fawn / Fold” or Hypoarousal, or “Freeze” being a split of both.
Perhaps the simplest way of viewing Regulation is as the ability to calm ourselves down (from Hyperarousal) when we’re upset, cheer ourselves up when we’re down (in Hypoarousal), and to bring ourselves back into what is called the “Window of Tolerance.”

(Simplified image of the Window of Tolerance framework)

One of the most approachable ways to self-regulate our nervous systems is through the breath. We all can recognize how when we are stressed our breath is short and fast, while it can be almost non-existent when we are in depressed states.

What’s important is how we can actually hack our nervous systems by how we breathe. If I’m in my Window of Tolerance, I can create stress and unease in my body by simply breathing short and fast. Conversely, if I slow my breathing or even stop, my body and energetics decline along with it (until it freaks out and swings over to feeling over-stressed).

Feel free to test this out. Take note of your mental and emotional state at this moment, and in the next, start breathing fast and short for 10-20 seconds or so. Most likely, you’ll feel more agitated and less steady than you did when before you started breathing quickly.

This is why creating a habit of checking in with the state and quality of our breath is so important. Not as a way to make our bodies wrong for its response to whatever is happening or however we are in that moment, but rather as a way to actively engage with our sense of well-being.

When we feel a bit tense and notice our breathing feels a bit restricted, take a long deep breath. When we feel a bit blah and see our breath or vitality is a bit lacking, take a long deep breath.

Yes, long, deep breaths are the answer to most of life’s challenges and situations!

The reason is, long breaths naturally bring our body and energetics back into the Window of Tolerance. Sometimes it takes more than one, but what I’ve found is how, when we remember or are reminded, three deep breaths can quickly shift our relationship to any situation.


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