We are all familiar with the sigh. It feels so good to let one slide when you are thinking about something heavy or exerting energy or simply just because you’re feeling it. But what is that “it”?
Unless you’re a yogi, you might not have thought that much about sighing. But you’ll start to notice it happens about once every five minutes. If you have a spouse who is an audible sigher, take a lesson and learn, rather than rolling your eyes.
Sighing is that “long, deep audible breath expressing sadness, relief, or tiredness.” Research has shown there’s a lot more to sighing than communicating a body state. “The sigh is an exhale with 2 to 5 times the volume of a regular one,” explains Alan Dolan, founder of Breathguru. “On a purely physiological level, the purpose of a sigh is adjusting a drop in oxygen levels. Sort of an autocorrection mechanism for our respiratory systems.”
When walking in the common spaces at JSL, you can hear the audible sighs of residents and staff enjoying themselves or thinking aloud, or shlepping down the halls hurrying to a class. A good sigh is medicine for the soul. After a great laugh or an emotional cry, a sigh just feels like the next step. Often the sigh itself can bring on laughter. Breathing behavior is influenced by emotional states. If you notice your breathing is part of your sensory state, you can use it as a tool and control it. It’s greatly affected by negative (panic, anxiety, and pain) and positive (pleasure, love, and relief) emotions. Breath control is control of the life force within us and we have the power to control our breathing.
Focus on breathing to withstand extreme conditions to help tackle stress and anxiety. “If you have enough oxygen, you can consciously control the breath. You control your breathing from the cortex, but you also control your cortex from the breathing,” says Dolan. The benefits for the mind as well as the body have been documented.
“When we truly let go with a sigh, as reflected in our lengthened exhale, our parasympathetic nervous system is activated, telling the body it’s safe to relax. Subsequent physiological changes occur, such as slowing down of the heartbeat and lowering of blood pressure.”
Evidence suggests a sigh can be one of relief, hence the well-known phrase. Sighing expresses comfort. It’s so much more than oxygen levels, it’s an important monitor of the state of your entire body.
Richie Bostock aka The Breath Guy says: “If we already have a natural reflex built into us that helps us reset physically, mentally, and emotionally, they why don’t we use it on purpose?” He shares the following exercise:
In a seated position or lying down, slowly inhale through your nose, expanding your belly and your chest.
When you get to the top of your exhale, sigh out though the mouth, without pause. No effort or control is required. This bigger than normal exhale will mean that as soon as you relax all your breathing muscles and open your mouth, the exhale will naturally escape with gusto. Really let it fall out of you.
Use it as an opportunity to let go of other things. Let go of your muscles, let go of your joints, let go of any worries or thoughts that are making you upset or angry. Repeat as many times as required.
When exhaling, you can experiment with different mouth shapes to see which brings you the most pleasure. For example, a “Haaaaa” sigh might feel different than a “Poooo” sigh, which might in turn feel different from a “Shhhhhhh” sigh. https://www.thebreathguy.com/
So, do you find yourself sighing more? Let’s use our breath to bring us peace of mind. During Shabbos, let’s turn our sighs into moments of relaxation and let us sigh together in gratitude for our gifts.