Breathwork to Regulate your Nervous System By Shay Barry

Breathwork to Regulate Your Nervous System by Shay Barry, Intimacy, Relationship, and Breathwork Coach

In our world today it’s easy to become overwhelmed or find ourselves in a state of stress. We’re constantly being bombarded with emails, texts, calls, ads, and notifications. Our nervous systems are frequently in ‘fight or flight’ mode. This leads to feeling anxious, stressed, drained and tense. When our nervous system becomes dysregulated, it can have a massive impact on our health and wellness. There are a few ways to help regulate your nervous system, like yoga, exercise and meditation. Today I’m going to talk about the benefits of breathwork.

But first, let’s take a deeper look at the Nervous System:
The Main Causes of Nervous System Dysregulation:
  1. Constant Stress 
  2. Lifestyle habits
  3. Trauma3
  4. Health Conditions
  5. Childhood Experiences
  6. Genetics 
The Main Signs of Nervous System Dysregulation:
  1. Anxiety and panic attacks
  2. Chronic stress and irritability
  3. Insomnia or sleep disturbances
  4. Fatigue and lack of energy
  5. Digestive issues like constipation, diarrhea, bloating
  6. Headaches and migraines
  7. Muscle tension and tightness
  8. Heart palpitations or irregular heartbeat
  9. Difficulty concentrating or brain fog
  10. Mood swings and emotional reactivity
Understanding the Nervous System

Your nervous system acts as the command center in your body, playing a role in everything you do. Within this complex system lies the autonomic nervous system, which plays a vital role in regulating your emotional state and wellbeing. 

The autonomic nervous system has two parts: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.

The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the “fight-or-flight” response that helps us deal with threats or stressful situations. When activated, it increases heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. While this response is useful in true emergencies, being in this state too often can lead to anxiety, depression, and heart issues.

The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the “rest-and-digest” response that helps our bodies relax, heal, and restore themselves. When this system is active, our bodies can conserve energy, regulate digestion, and recover.

Ideally, our nervous systems should move between the sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system, allowing us to respond to situations appropriately while staying balanced overall. However, modern life often keeps us in the sympathetic state too much, leaving us feeling overwhelmed and disconnected.

The Science behind Breathwork

Breathwork allows us to influence the autonomic nervous system and our emotional states through different breathing patterns. Certain breaths can calm the sympathetic nervous system and activate the parasympathetic nervous system, helping us achieve greater balance.

Research shows that slow, deep breathing activates the vagus nerve, which is part of the parasympathetic nervous system. The vagus nerve connects the brain to many organs like the heart, lungs, and gut. Stimulating this nerve through breathwork triggers the relaxation response, reducing stress, lowering heart rate and blood pressure, and promoting calmness.

Breathwork Techniques

Here are some breathwork exercises to help regulate your nervous system:

Belly Breathing

This involves breathing deeply into your belly instead of shallowly into your chest. Belly breathing stimulates the vagus nerve and activates the parasympathetic nervous system for relaxation.

How to do it:

  1. Lie down or sit up straight. Put one hand on your belly and one on your chest.
  2. Inhale slowly through your nose, feeling your belly expand out. Your belly hand should rise more than your chest hand.
  3. Exhale slowly, feeling your belly gently fall inward.
  4. Repeat for several breaths, focusing on your belly rising and falling.
4-7-8 Breathing

This technique, also called the “relaxing breath,” helps calm your mind and body by elongating the exhale to activate the parasympathetic nervous system.

How to do it:

  1. Exhale completely through your mouth.
  2. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a count of 4.
  3. Hold your breath for a count of 7.
  4. Exhale through your mouth to a count of 8.
  5. Repeat for several breath cycles.
Alternate Nostril Breathing

This ancient yoga practice is said to balance the brain’s left and right sides, promoting a sense of calm focus. You’ll be breathing through one nostril at a time.

How to do it:

  1. Sit up straight.
  2. Use your right thumb to gently close your right nostril.
  3. Inhale through your left nostril.
  4. Release your right nostril, and use your ring finger to close your left nostril.
  5. Exhale through your right nostril.
  6. Inhale through your right nostril.
  7. Switch – exhale left, inhale left.
  8. Continue alternating nostrils for several breaths.
Box Breathing

This shifts your nervous system from “fight-or-flight” to “rest-and-digest” mode. It’s used by military, first responders and athletes.

How to do it:

  1. Exhale completely through your mouth, getting all air out.
  2. Inhale slowly through your nose to a count of 4.
  3. Hold your breath for a count of 4.
  4. Exhale slowly through your mouth for a count of 4.
  5. Hold your breath again for 4 counts.
  6. Repeat this cycle, visualizing the shape of a box.
Using Breathwork Daily

While breathwork exercises provide instant stress relief, the real benefits come from regular practice. Making it a daily habit helps build greater balance, resilience, and control over your emotions.

Tips for using breathwork:

  • Set aside a few minutes each day to practice, like first thing in the morning or before bed.
  • Combine breathwork with other healthy routines like meditation or yoga.
  • Use breathwork techniques in stressful moments, before important events, or when you can’t sleep.
Long-Term Benefits

In addition to immediate calm, consistent breathwork offers long-term well-being benefits:

  • Improved ability to regulate and bounce back from difficult emotions
  • Better focus, decision-making and problem-solving
  • Lower blood pressure, better digestion and sleep
  • Decreased anxiety and depression symptoms

Our modern, phone-obsessed lives often leave our nervous systems stuck in overdrive. Breathwork is a simple yet powerful way to shift from stress mode into a more balanced, resilient state. With daily practice, you can use your breath to consciously regulate your nervous system for improved overall health and emotional control.

Start exploring these breathwork techniques to cultivate more calm, presence and inner peace – one deep breath at a time.


Connect with Shay Barry for a free consultation to explore intimacy, relationships, and breathwork:

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Take the first step towards inner peace and emotional control. Start your journey with Shay Barry today.