The Autonomic Nervous System is a branch of the human Nervous System that regulates mechanisms within the body that don’t require conscious thought (e.g heart rate, blood pressure, digestion etc). It can be broken into two parts; the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic NervousSsystems.
The Sympathetic Nervous System is often referred to as fight, flight, or freeze. The SNS is responsible for our actions during stressful or tense situations; these being to flee from danger, fight, or shut down until the overwhelming circumstance is over. This system is designed for short term use.
The Parasympathetic Nervous System is commonly referred to as rest, recover & heal. Our bodies are designed to spend most time in this state in order to achieve homeostasis.
Our bodies cannot differentiate between mental / emotional and physical stress. Stress is stress. If your body spends more time in a sympathetic state it will not have a chance to recover from a training session. It will start to break down. If it spends equal time in Sympathetic and Parasympathetic it will stay the same (e.g you will most likely plateau in your training). If it spends more time in a Parasympathetic state it will have he chance to recover, rebuild & allow you to get stronger and fitter.
Unlike animals, who can switch between Sympathetic and Parasympathetic fairly easily (one minute they could be going nato at a stranger at the gate, next minute asleep in their bed), it takes us a little longer to transition between the two (think about a stressful situation where you felt really worked up, and how long it took you to fully get over it and feel entirely calm and relaxed). If you are stressed out at work then head to the gym and smash out an intense training session you have most likely spent the majority of your day in a Sympathetic state. Therefore it is crucial to prioritise techniques to allow the body to activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System and achieve homeostasis.
The breath can serve as a powerful connection to this part of our body. “Down Regulation” is a breathing method that takes the body from a state of more Sympathetic tone to more Parasympathetic tone. This is done in an effort to maximise rest, healing, and integration of learned information. This is best done anytime you are feeling stressed, after training or prior to sleep. We include this type of breathing in our cool downs at Reebok CrossFit 09.
“Apnea Breathing” Variation #1: Based off 1:4:2
Inhale for 2 sec
Hold for 8 sec
Exhale for 4 sec
It should be slightly challenging so when this timing gets easy try:
#2 = 3sec In, 12sec Hold, 6sec Exhale
#3 = 4sec In, 16sec Hold, 6sec Exhale
#4 = 5sec In, 20sec Hold, 10sec Exhale
I have been using this type of breathing combined with meditation throughout the day whenever I feel anxious, and have already noticed a massive improvement in my energy levels, focus & concentration, sleep, decreased muscle soreness as well as a calmer mental state. Give it a go and let me know how you get on!