Voo Breathing: A Quick Guide to Managing Anxiety

By Heather Bach MA, CCC
Director, Bach Counselling Group

Have you ever heard of Voo Breathing?

Neither had I, until I came across Dr. Peter Levine’s Voo Breathing. Dr. Levine is a world-renowned industry leader in the study and treatment of trauma. The idea is that we do some deep belly breathing, focus our attention on our breath and in a deep fog horn voice exhale with the word, “voooooo”. It feels slightly strange at first but I promise it is an effective way to induce feelings of calm. This can be extremely helpful for anyone experiencing a deregulated state including trauma survivors who have a hard time feeling relaxed and calm; especially after triggers or reminders of their trauma. So why does this “voo breathing” work? Let me explain the science behind it all!… My favorite part

Here’s the science part……

Breathing is one of the most powerful trauma recovery resources we have at the tip of our tongue… literally! When we take a slow breath in through our nose and exhale out through our mouths we are stimulating both the sympathetic (fight and flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous systems. This is important for trauma survivors because they can frequently feel “on edge” or in a constant state of sympathetic hyperarousal (expecting something bad to happen). So breathing can give your brain and body a much needed change to the body and certainly a much needed break from distress.

Well, Peter Levine came up with a way to stimulate our “rest and digest”, parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), even further! He shares quite eloquently about the PNS being stimulated by activating the vagal nerve in his book “In and Unspoken Voice ” that deals with trauma being stuck in the body. Long story short, stimulating the vagus nerve is a very effective way to induce feelings of calm & really activate the PNS. Breathing in and out while stimulating the vagus nerve creates a beautiful recipe for cultivating feelings of calm.

Let’s go through how to mix breathing while stimulating the vagus nerve step by step…

How Instructions for VOO Breathing

  1. Find a quiet place.
    Find a place to sit where you won’t be disturbed, where you can rest. Place your feet on the floor and close your eyes if you feel safe, or if you choose to keep your eyes open, keep a low fixed gaze.
  2. Notice your breath.
    Begin to settle your attention with your breath. Notice the sensations of each breath cycle as it comes in and out. Just notice. Don’t change anything, simply observe.
  3. Take a deep breath IN.
    Now, begin to allow yourself to take a deep slow breath in through your nose and fill your belly with air. Side note: Be sure you are truly breathing into your belly and not your chest. You will know you are belly breathing if you breathe in your belly expands and your shoulders don’t keep moving up and down while you breathe.
  4. Breathe out with “VOO.”
    On the out breath, allow yourself to make a deep fog horn sound with the word “voo”, for three counts (or as long as you can comfortably exhale, the longer the better). Allow the sound to vibrate and resonate in your chest, arms, and even legs. Notice and feel the deep vibrations the “voo” sound provides.
  5. Repeat the breath cycles.
    Continue cycles for 3-5 minutes or as long as you are engaged with the breath cycles. We know that 3-5 minutes of breathing can actually change your oxygen levels in your blood and begin to stimulate positive changes in your neurochemistry!
  6. Bring your focus back to the room.
    Begin to bring awareness to your body, maybe twisting your wrists or ankles. When you are ready, open your eyes and return to the room.

How do you feel now? I always tell clients to make sure they are learning a new coping skill before they really need them. Just like we learn to swim when we are calm and not drowning, it is important to learn new coping skills while you are calm and not panicking.

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