Weight loss can come in unexpected places: your thoughts and breath. No, I'm not talking about the rapid breaths associated with high-intensity exercise; I’m talking about that OM-like breath linked with yoga and the sigh of gratitude.
Such acts turn down the stress thermostat in your body, the sympathetic nervous system, and crank up the calming knob, the parasympathetic branch.
Theses two branches of the autonomic nervous system (sympathetic and parasympathetic) regulate many visceral functions, such as breathing rate, and gastrointestinal function and can even tune down the inflammatory response as well. Much like a thermostat in your house, you can turn up the heat or turn it down based on environmental conditions.
— Maine Assoc of NDs (@MaineAssocOfNDs) November 26, 2014
In much the same way that the AC and heat cannot be simultaneously activated in you your house, the PNS and SNS are similarly mutually exclusive processes. When your giving a presentation to 500 participants, running from a predator or your boss is putting pressure on your work performance, your body allocates nervous system energy to increase heart rate and pump blood to the brain, at the expense of digesting your breakfast.
Slow Down Your Breath, Rev Up Your Metabolic Engine
The easiest way to hack your body’s stress response is through controlled breath and happy thoughts. After all, breath is the only autonomic function we can voluntarily control. Yogic-breathing blunts the stress response, increasing the activity of the PNS, by way of our sought after friend, the vagal nerve. But that is not all. Researchers have demonstrated that Yogic-breathing (slowing down breath to around 4 breaths per minute) increases the calming neurotransmitter GABA and heart rate variability (HRV).
The vagal nerve is the anatomical structure which gives the PNS it’s horsepower. Since the vagal nerve is deep in viscera, we have to measure it’s output indirectly, through the beat-to-beat of our heart (AKA heart rate variability (HRV)). High heart rate variability is suggestive of high vagal nerve tone, good gut function and a blunted stress response.
In contrast, reduced heart rate variability (HRV) is linked with inflammation (elevated c-reactive protein and white blood cells), metabolic dysfunction, cardiovascular disease, and an overall stress response.
Scientists have demonstrated through many human studies that increased parasympathetic nervous system tone is essential for preventing inflammation and metabolic health. Moreover, healthy PNS tone has been shown to block inflammation from the gut, which is linked to obesity, insulin resistance, and heart disease. In sum, high HRV primes the body to have a more robust fat-fighting metabolism through multiple mechanisms ranging from improved insulin sensitivity, increased digestive capacity, and sending anti-inflammatory messages throughout the body.
Learn Top Tips to Increase Heart Hate Variability (HRV), Parasympathetic Tone
- ‘Om’ breathing: Ujjayi breath, ‘OMing and Coherent Breathing and Resonant Breathing that is commonly practiced through yoga is arguably the best. Many studies now show how effective yoga is at increasing parasympathetic tone, HRV and combating stress. Try hatha yoga 1-2 days per week. It may change your life forever.
- HeartMath: this is a $150 device that measures your HRV. I personally have experienced great results with this because it gives me direct feedback about my HRV. I recommend 10 minutes in the AM and 10 minutes before bed. (Psst…..Try not to skip days!)
- Transcendental Meditation (TM): I admittedly have very limited experience with TM, but the positive data is astounding. I would suggest starting with HeartMath first, and diving into TM once you master.
- Laugh, Think Happy Thoughts: studies have shown that feelings of gratitude, thanks and help increase PNS activity. Slow down and smell the roses, be present and send love thoughts to people your care about
- Spend Time with Family and Pets: scientists have shown that spending time with children and pets can helps to increase PNS and HRV as well. If you live alone, get a pet!
Summary and Conclusion:
Strive daily to practice mindful-based strategies to increase your heart rate variability. HRV is a barometer of a healthy stress response, robust metabolism and reduced whole-body inflammation.