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The (very) basic science of healthy breathing.

The vagus nerve is the longest and most complicated nerve in the body, responsible for lots of important functions, and especially breathing.

If you get to know your vagus nerve, and how to trigger it properly, it can make huge changes in your breathing and your health.

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So how can something as simple as breathing be so central to mental and brain health?

Well, it’s all about exciting your vagus nerve. The vagus nerve, a name that came from the word Vagrant for the way it just seems to meander everywhere in the body, is the central part of what’s known as the parasympathetic nervous system, something that’s key to telling your body to calm down, chill out, everything’s OK.

The other side of the coin, the nemesis in some ways, is the sympathetic nervous system, which controls our fight or flight responses, our adrenal reactions to threats and dangers.

When the sympathetic nervous system is triggered, we tend to breathe quick and shallow. That’s supposed to tell the brain to kick a variety of other reactions into gear to get us the heck away from that bull and over that high fence.

The parasympathetic side of the house tells the brain, it’s OK,you somehow miraculously scaled that high fence, the bull is no longer a danger, everything is safe, you can calm down.

The vagus nerve is constantly listening to the way that we breathe, and then sending that message to the brain. If our breathing is good, healthy, well-managed, it’s sending good messages to the brain. If our breath is unhealthy, short and shallow, rapid, it’s sending a negative message to the brain.

So in using breathing for mental and emotional, and even physical benefit, it’s the out breath, the exhale, that has all the value. That’s the golden part of the breath. But obviously it can’t work to its maximum without a good inhale first.

And that’s why managing your breathing is so central to managing your stress, and how you respond to stressful things around you or stressful thoughts in your head. Simply by breathing properly, you’re reassuring the brain that you’re not that stressed or stressed at all.