The Practice with Daphne Lyon Podcast Season 1 Episode 1

Explore the transformative potential of mindfulness in bringing us back to our empowered state during stress and anxiety. Demystify the intricacies of the stress response and learn about the crucial role of the relaxation response in restoring balance. Engage in a practical 4-7-8 breath exercise to interrupt the stress loop, regulate the nervous system, and empower yourself to face any moment with confidence.


The beauty of mindfulness is that it brings us home to our body, our most empowered state of being. And often, I find in myself and my students that we don’t voluntarily always want to be embodied because it’s uncomfortable, painful, tense, uneasy, and overwhelming.

If we are experiencing stress or anxiety, being present in the body is usually the last place we want to be. When our stress response gets activated, it often feels like our body and mind get hijacked. We feel a diverse array of sensations, thoughts, and emotions, both familiar and unfamiliar. We may experience painful emotions or get hooked in a trance or a certain story that’s not always positive.

Especially if you’re a person who’s not feeling well, it can be challenging to tune into your emotional state in these moments of stress and anxiety when our inner critic dominates, our fear and worry center of the brain takes over, and our body physiologically reacts in its fight-flight mode.

In times of stress and anxiety, it can often be the most uncomfortable to be present in the body, and yet it is our most empowered place to be.


So how do we meet ourselves where we are, as is, no matter what?

Through non-judgmental awareness and learning how to regulate our nervous system so that we feel grounded and confident no matter what experience comes our way. Together, we will learn how our body reacts to stress and anxiety and a simple mindfulness breathing practice that will interrupt the stress response and bring us back home to our bodies, our most empowered state of being so that we can meet ourselves where we are in each moment with compassion.

However you feel in this moment is okay.

It’s our body’s most natural way of protecting us the best way it knows how. I want to say this again because not only is this the first step in meeting ourselves where we are in each moment with non-judgmental awareness, but it also shifts our perspective from a disempowered victim to an empowered channel.

Say it with me: “However I feel in this moment is okay. It’s my body’s most natural way of protecting me the best way it knows how.”


Let’s look into why our body reacts the way it does when it comes to stress and anxiety.

When we activate the stress response, we start the fight-flight part of the nervous system. That’s our sympathetic nervous system, which occurs because there’s this part of the brain called the amygdala.

I call the amygdala the guard dog because it takes in all the sensory information around us and tells the body if there’s a threat or non-threat. If it’s a non-threat, the floodgates open, and we are connected to our whole brain and body and go on through our day. If it’s a threat, the amygdala activates the sympathetic nervous system, the fight-flight, and the stress response goes into full force. In action, the amygdala, our fear and worry center of the brain, shuts us off from our prefrontal cortex, where our executive function, such as focus, learning, critical thinking, and decision-making, resides.


We lose access to our whole brain and being. The stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline are released into the bloodstream, increasing our heart rate to get energy and fuel to our extremities so that we can fight or fight while suppressing blood flow to our vital organs.

Our blood pressure increases as our blood thickens to clot in case of wounding. Glucose floods our body, supplying immediate energy to our large muscles. Our breath becomes constricted, breathing shallow and faster to get more oxygen into the bloodstream.

Our pupils dilate to narrow our focus. We get sweaty to keep ourselves cool, our muscles tense, and sometimes tremble in preparation for action. Our immune system suppresses, and digestion slows or ceases, causing things like dry mouth so that all our energy and focus is on getting to safety.


What’s interesting about the stress response is the body doesn’t know the difference between a thought and an actual threatening event. And so our body will react to an imagined scenario or story we tell ourselves or negative thoughts or projections. If we worry about the future or past events, we can often activate this very stress response. Our body feels like it’s getting hijacked, our mind begins to race, and we end up in this stress loop very quickly.

Even though a thought can trigger the stress response, the activation of the sympathetic nervous system is faster than thought because it resides in the oldest part of the brain, the limbic system, the heart of emotions and memories.

The stress response is so valuable. We need it to survive. It’s what brought us here to this very moment. The stress response, the sympathetic nervous system, is our body protecting us the best way it knows how. The sympathetic nervous system is not so much of an on-off switch, but I like to think of it as a dimmer. We need the sympathetic nervous system to interact with our external world – just not leading us through it, not be the one in charge.

Our autonomic nervous system, where the sympathetic nervous system is housed, has another piece to it. Like the light dimmer, or you can think of it as a scale or seesaw, the opposite of the stress response is the relaxation response.


The relaxation response is called the parasympathetic nervous system or rest and digest. When the relaxation response gets activated, we feel grounded, calm, centered, and aligned, and we gain access to our whole brain and body.

The parasympathetic nervous system also protects us, ensuring we feel safe and secure in a more soothing manner. When the relaxation response is dominant and in charge, we can meet where we are in each moment and handle whatever comes our way confidently.


The more we can understand what’s occurring in our body, how stress response gets activated, what triggers us, and what reactions our body jumps to, the more we can meet where we are no matter what.

When we tune in to these signals with non-judgmental awareness, we become more aware of the language of our body and strengthen our ability to care for ourselves. This awareness creates a pause, an interruption where we can choose to turn in and empower ourselves.


So, I want to share this simple mindfulness breath practice called 4-7-8. This mindfulness tool will activate the relaxation response so we may come back home to our most empowered state of being and gain the strength and confidence to handle whatever is occurring in the moment.

The 4-7-8 breath activates the vagus nerve, which is the heart and commander of the relaxation response, because of the longer exhale (that’s the count of eight). When your exhale is even just a few counts longer than your inhale, the vagus nerve running from the neck down to the diaphragm sends a signal to your brain to activate and turn up the parasympathetic nervous system and turn down the sympathetic nervous system, allowing access to our whole brain and body so we may meet ourselves as we are.


Let’s practice together. Start by meeting yourself where you are in this moment with non-judgmental awareness. Notice how you feel in the body. Become aware of any thoughts of the mind. Any sensations present no judgments.

This practice is an inhale for a count of four, hold the breath for a count of seven, and exhale out the mouth for a count of eight. We will repeat the practice just three times together.

  • Start by taking a deep breath in and exhale out the mouth.
  • Inhale in through the nose for a count of four, feeling the breath move into the body.
  • Hold the breath at the top of the inhale for a count of seven, feeling the breath being held in the body.
  • Exhale open the mouth and blow that breath out, feel the belly, squeeze to the spine, sense the breath leaving the body.
  • Inhale again in through the nose for two, three, four.
  • Hold the breath for two, three, four, five, six, seven.
  • Exhale out the mouth, blow it out, let it all go for five, six, seven, eight.
  • Last one, inhale two, three, four.
  • Hold the breath two, three, four, five, six, seven.
  • Exhale out the mouth, blow it all out, let it all go for five, six, seven, eight.
  • Return to your natural rhythm of breath and notice how you feel here in this moment, meeting yourself where you are as is. Notice any differences from the moment you started to now with this non-judgmental awareness.


Now, the relaxation response is activated.

We’ve created a pause and cultivated space between our experience and our reaction so that we may regulate our nervous system, ground ourselves, and respond to whatever thought, sensation, or outer experience in our most empowered state of being.

Use this mindfulness practice when you become aware that your stress response is activated. Remember, meet yourself where you are as is: “This is my body protecting me the best way it knows how.” Create a pause with the 4-7-8 breath, activating the relaxation response and gaining access to your whole brain and being.

As You Are