You have probably heard of the “fight or flight” response, this is our body’s defence mechanism
against threats and stress, called the sympathetic nervous system. This response is necessary
when we are in threatening situation and is what is responsible for the stories you hear about a
mother who lifts a car of her child or the man who fights off a grizzly bear in the woods, it’s also
what is responsible for the butterflies in your stomach before a big presentation.
The fight or flight response is a high dose of adrenaline that allows us to do “super” human
actions and perform under stress. During times of sympathetic nervous system activation, your
body reacts in ways to support survival; the eyes dilate to allow more light in, the lungs and
blood vessels dilate to circulate adrenaline faster and heart rate quickens. At the same time, the
digestive system slows and reproductive function is inhibited to shunt resources away from these
areas to promote survival. Once the threat has been neutralized, your body’s nervous system
ideally returns to homeostasis (status quo) which the help of the parasympathetic nervous system
(also called the “rest & digest” or “feed & breed” system).
Unfortunately in today’s society, we often experience times of stress and have a fight or flight
response without a threat, therefore there is no way to neutralize the threat and many people end
up living in a state of sympathetic upregulation. Stress also triggers cortisol to be released which
if not regulated can negatively affect the body including sleep, digestion and reproduction,
sometimes triggering more stress, adrenaline and cortisol and the vicious cycle continues.
There is some great research supporting use of the breath to increase parasympathetic response
(remember, “rest & digest”) and downregulate the sympathetic nervous system.
Practice makes Progress:
In Episode 4 of our 8 part series, Andrea Plitz Physiotherapist and Yoga Teacher will guide you through 3 different breathing practices to decrease stress and bring more balance and calm to any situation.
- Alternating Nostril Breathing: A long time yogi favourite, this breath is balancing for the nervous system and brain, as well as mildly challenging, creating more resilience and capacity.
- Square Breathing: Helps to balance both sides of the brain and balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems.
- Prolonged Exhalation: Helps to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, downregulating the flight/ fight/ freeze response.
Written by Andrea Plitz, Physiotherapist and Yoga Teacher. Andrea has a clinical focus in women’s health including applied pelvic health, complex orthopedics and concussion rehab. She currently lives and works in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Disclaimer – Everything shared is for informative purposes only. It is not intended for assessment, diagnosis or treatment purposes. If you feel there needs to be further investigation, please seek out a qualified health care professional for a proper assessment.