Recovering Resilience by Resetting the Nervous System

Recovering Resilience by Resetting the Nervous System

As we learned in this interview with Deb Dana, a deliberate sigh can help re-set the nervous system.  Here’s an exercise from Resilience in using a sigh to return the nervous system to a state that is calm, present, positive, and resilient.

Exercise: A Deliberate Sigh Resets Your Nervous System

You breathe all the time. To breathe is to be alive. Every inhalation activates the sympathetic branch of your nervous system just a little bit (or a lot, when you overreact to something and hyperventilate. Every exhalation activates the parasympathetic branch just a little bit (or a lot, when you feel scared to death and faint. You can learn to use this rhythm of breathing in and breathing out (a deep sigh) to cultivate more calm in the body and access a deeper sense of well-being.

1. Breathe naturally, gently, for five to ten breaths. Pay attention to the sensations of breathing in (notice the cool air in your nostrils or throat and the gentle expansion of your belly and chest and breathing out (notice warmer air flowing out and the relaxation of your belly and chest. Remember the practical power of “little and often.” Pause and repeat this practice many times a day.

2. If you wish, you can say these phrases from the Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh silently to yourself as you breathe: “Breathing in, I am home. Breathing out, I smile.”

3. Let your body deeply sigh: take a breath in, then let the breath flow out slowly and deeply, releasing tension from your body. You can even make a soft low sound as you exhale.  Ahhhhh. A deep sigh (or several sighs) is the body’s natural way to reset the nervous system.

4. You can practice pairing any moment of tension, even a frightening one, with a deliberate sigh to shift the physiology of your nervous system into a relieved and more relaxed state. This pairing of tense and relaxed states, when the relaxed state is stronger, shifts the physiology of your body-brain and allows you to be more calm, even in tense moments.

Find the complete Conversations on Practices for Recovering Resilience Series here.