Some notes on breathing

Body Project Blog ~ Where Thought is the Active Ingredient, by Elyse Shafarman

The Three Breathing Spaces exercise encourages calm:

  1. Breath into your Lower Space (Pelvic floor and lower belly), make a Shhhh sound on exhale, 5 – 10 times.
  2. Breathe into your Middle Space (Solar plexus, lower ribs front and back), make a Sssss sound on exhale, 5 – 10 times.
  3. Breathe into your Upper Space (Upper chest, including armpits and above collar bone), make a Hu sound on exhale, 5 – 10 times..

Any extended exhale will automatically calm you down by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, or PNS – think “P” for peace. Just one minute of 6-count exhalations is all you needs for a quick stress reset.

Anxiety automatically causes breath holding or short fast breathing, and stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, or SNS – think “S” for stress.

Normal human functioning requires a balance between the PNS and SNS. When anxious or in pain, we tend to get too much SNS activity, which can be bad for health.

However, not all stress is bad for you. If you mentally interpret your quick breath and fast beating heart as your body preparing for high stakes activity (fighting, fleeing, or public speaking), you will not experience negative effects from SNS activation, and you will calm down faster. For more info on this watch: How to Make Stress Your Friend. An excellent book on the physiology of stress is “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcer’s” by Robert Sapolsky.

Here are some videos that show the action of the diaphragm, ribs and lungs in integrated breathing. These images show how much inner movement is involved in breathing. You can remind yourself to allow free breath by visualizing these images. Or for fun, try imagining that you are a sleeping baby or sleeping cat. Notice how breathing expands and moves your whole body – when you allow it!

3 D View of the Diaphragm

Lungs: Move well and avoid injury

Diaphragm movement

Pelvic Floor

Pelvic Floor and Diphragm



2 replies
  1. Marion Miller says:

    Words cam be misleading. The body areas, up, down,middle should be a available to accommodate any kind of movement required but you do not “breathe” air into anything but the lungs. For good coordination the whole body moves together as a unity. Nice cat image.
    Your Vagus nerve can negotiate between the SNS and PNS but it sets the variability rhythm if not forced or habitually traumatized. A beautifully subtle and complex system we ha e yet to understand. Allowing is a hard key to find and use.

  2. Elyse Shafarman says:

    Hi Marion, thanks for your comments. I totally agree with you. This blog was meant to be very simple way to get people to start exploring breath. I sacrificed accuracy for accessibility. Most adults understand that “breathing into your toes” is a metaphor, not a literal function. Using metaphors to explore embodiment is an easy place to begin. Lovely comments on the Vagus nerve, and it’s true, Trauma changes everything. For anyone interested din the effects of Trauma, I highly recommend reading: “Your Body Keeps The Score” by Bessel Van Der Kolk.

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