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James Gordon: A Relaxation Exercise

April is National Stress Awareness Month! Here’s a self-improvement technique to reduce stress.

[UPBEAT MUSIC] – I like to begin with a– with basics. And what’s most basic in our lives is breathing. We take our first breath. And we say, oh, the baby’s here, it’s breathing. And then we expire. We die with our last breath. So the body is so and all of our life here on earth is absolutely intimately connected with breath. And since breath is always with us, I mean, you can’t not breathe. 

Try holding your breath. You do it for a minute or two. But after that, you gotta breathe. Breath is the most easily available tool that we have for changing the way we think and feel, for improving our biology, for sharpening our mind, for elevating our spirit. 

So I work with a very simple technique. It’s called– has a very esoteric name of soft belly. And it’s so beautifully simple. And what’s involved is sitting comfortably in a chair. Anyone who’s watching can do this as well. Sit comfortably in a chair. And allow your breathing to deepen. 

And perhaps, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, which may be a little unfamiliar to some people, but it turns out it’s just about the most relaxing way to breathe. And allow your belly to be soft. And if you feel comfortable, close your eyes because that shuts out external distractions. Let your belly be soft. 

If the belly is soft, more oxygen goes to the bottom of the lungs. You get better oxygen exchange. And oxygen is basic fuel for our brains. If the belly is soft, it activates the vagus nerve, which comes up from the abdomen through the chest, back to the brain. The vagus nerve is the primary nerve that counteracts the fight or flight and stress response. 

In our bodies, we have what’s called the autonomic nervous system. And there are two branches to it. There’s the sympathetic nervous system, which is fight or flight. So when we’re in trouble or we’re anxious, our blood pressure goes up. We breathe fast and shallowly, heart rate goes up, muscles get tense, blood flows away from our hands to the big muscles so we can fight or run away. 

And then balancing that, there’s the parasympathetic nervous system, which creates relaxation. And the vagus nerve is the central part of the parasympathetic nervous system. And by breathing deeply, by letting the belly be soft, you activate the vagus nerve. 

So breathing deeply, also if you relax your belly, if the belly is soft, all the other muscles in the body begin to relax as well. So breathe deeply. Perhaps say to yourself soft as you breathe in and belly as you breathe out. If thoughts come, let them come. Let them go. Gently bring your mind back to soft belly. If you do that for three to five minutes three to five times a day, you can make a shift in your whole life. 


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