Mindset and physiology work in a synergistic way. However, any sense of inspiration or motivation that changes your perspective does so because it changes the state of your body. You can use thoughts and perspectives to interpret the nature of your experience, but sources of interpretation appear differently depending your physiological state.
This is why you can feel motivated in one hour and disillusion in the next. But if you have a tool that allows you to change your physiology, you can rely on it to pivot into desired states. This way you’ll be able to conjure the states that make the results you want easier to get.
The best lever for accessing dispositions that facilitate your goals? Slow exhales.
According to the polyvagal theory, the autonomic system is made of the ventral vagal, sympathetic, and dorsal vagal circuits. Conceived by psycho-physiological researcher Dr. Stephen Porges, polyvagal theory suggests that evolution conferred an organizing principle that allows human beings to identify the neural circuits that promote social behavior. Our feeling safe depends on the detection of specific cues, such as vocal prosody, facial expressiveness, and eye contact. Intriguingly, polyvagal theory suggests that the pursuit of safety forms the basis of a successful life.
So, what makes slow exhales good pathways into states we desire?
The ventral vagal circuit is the phylogenetically most recent human development, so it gives us access to states like relaxation, creativity, and focus. Slow exhales calm us down by sending an inhibitory signal, called the vagal break, to the heart’s pacemaker, slowing heart rate.
So how can you slow down your exhales? Of course, you can narrow your focus on your breathing, insuring that you inhale at a comparatively slower rate to your exhales. In his article in Psychology Today, Christopher Bergland suggests a ratio of 4:8, with four-second inhales and eight second exhales. There’s also a simpler and more fun step you can take: sing!
Singing also demands slower exhales comparative to inhales. If you find pleasure in singing, it may in fact be an artifact of your moving into a physiological state that supports social engagement, safety, and calm. Porges goes onto say that playing musical instruments, chanting, and pranayama yoga are all tools for accessing vagal-mediated calm states.
While you can’t always conjure a change in mood with thoughts and perspectives alone, good ideas in conjunction with physiological states that support relaxation let you transform your state on cue.
In this sense, you can anchor your resourceful mindsets to activities that honor your nervous system. Together you can use them to travel beyond challenging dispositions and maintain a foundational level of ease.