Deep and rhythmic diaphragmatic breathing helps to calm your thoughts, slow down your heart rate, and regulate your autonomic nervous system.
When you’re focusing on something that requires your full and undivided attention, focused patterned breathing helps you direct what your mind is paying attention to and focus on that thing without any distractions. When a situation arises that your nervous system would deem stressful, threatful or dangerous, deep breathing helps you to control the physiological and mental response, preventing you from getting frazzled or becoming reactive and explosive. At a practical and physical level, diaphragmatic breathing enhances lung capacity, strengthens your immune system, and regulates your neuroendocrine system.
Consciously connected breathing is the most effective and quickest way to get out of the head and into the body, especially when you are in a mobilised alert state, stress response, heightened in the nervous system. Dropping down into the body, connecting with the breath, diaphragm and pelvic floor, helps you to out-loop rumination and spiralling thoughts. It breaks up the thought process as your focus is brought onto the breath, focusing fully on the rhythm of the inhale and exhale, the inflation and deflation, the rise and fall of the belly
It’s the best somatic tool to implement when in an emotional trigger.
In an emotional trigger, the survival brain and fight-flight danger response is switched online in the ANS, body and neural pathway. This happens out of our conscious awareness. Meaning, we can’t control it; it’s our in built survival response
The breath exposes a neural process whereby afferent vagal neurons send signals from the main organs up to the CNS telling the brain to calm down, that it’s safe to be in the body. This switches the alarm bell off and smoke detector in the Amygdala (a gland that activates our sympathetic response to stress and threat) and allows the logical brain to switch back on. When we move into a mobilised state, blood and oxygen rushes away from the prefrontal cortex and moves to the limbic system, our emotional brain. This is why we “can’t think straight” when in a trigger or heightened state. This is a natural biological and physiological response to stress.
Through coherent breathing we can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, our anti-inflammatory response. Inducing this interrupts the sympathetic flow and counteracts the stress response. Activating the PNS induces a chief neural transmitter known as Acetylcholine, where the body begins to secrete hormones like oxytocin, prolactin, serotonin, melatonin. These hormones are our calming and pleasurable hormones. They’re down regulators, and make us feel connected, sleepy, calm, safe. Through the breath, we can assist the NS and body to move back into a “green zone” where it feels grounded and centred, formerly known as a Ventral Vagal state.
Deep breathing in which the diaphragm contracts on the inhale and relaxes on the exhale stimulates the Vagus Nerve as it’s branches innervates the respiratory system. This activates the relaxation response of the parasympathetic nervous system. This is also known as the rest and digest system, or the green zone on the nervous system ladder. The Vagus Nerve provides the parasympathetic supply for ALL of the organs of the thorax and abdomen and the quickest way to activate it, is through conscious breathing. When parasympathetic is activated the body has the tools and resources it needs to discharge sympathetic energy that has been activated from the pain response, where the body can regulate itself. When the PNS is online, and the neurotransmitter acetylcholine is released, the body is secreting neural hormones (as mentioned above) which contract smooth muscles, dilates the blood vessels, increase bodily secretions, slows the heart rate down, regulates the respiratory system and breathing rate, and lowers the blood pressure
Other neuroscientific proven benefits of breathwork:
- Alternating nasal breathing throughout the day is one of the simplest and most effective ways to improve mental and physical health
- Deep breathing activates the bodies built-in healing mechanisms for immune system health, oxygen uptake and navigating the energies that give rise to stress (chest centred) and anxiety (tummy centred)
- Extending your breath hold and exhalation until you feel a gag response is a powerful tool for managing the stress response in the nervous system
- Deeper, connected breathing makes the blood more alkaline changing the body’s PH. This inhibits the frontal lobe and disinhibits the amygdala. This is the gland that activates our fight-flight response in the ANS
- Breathing directly impacts heart rate variability (HRV). This refers to the space between our heart beats (in miliseconds). It reflects the balance in our autonomic nervous system. HRV is a sign of your sensitivity to stress and anxiety. Greater variability between heart beats equals greater stress resilience.
- Slow rhythmic breathing improves our baroreceptor sensitivity. These are the neurons of your heart. As a result, it helps to decrease blood pressure.
- Deep diaphragm breathing increases our bodies ability to transport oxygen to our cells and brain.
- In terms of neuroplasticity, meaning reorganising information in the body’s neuromatix and firing up new neural circuits, we can change the information in our neural network simply by changing how we breathe
- Breathing is posture: the pelvic and thoracic diaphragm exchange the contents of the abdomen with each breath.
- Low back pain, shoulder and neck pain are common when the nervous system is dysregulated and dysfunctional breathing is present. Stress response causes the body to become rigid and contracted, everything tightens up, and usually forms nodules (biochemical waste such as built up calcium) in the fascia all across the somatic system. Here lies many trigger points (where pain energy builds up) to work with. The state of our nervous system directly informs the shape and posture we are in.
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