Breath is life. We all know that. But how much knowledge do we have about the quality of our breathing and the impact it has on our sense of energy, inner peace and wellbeing?
In the past two days I have shared two techniques; the relaxation response and visualization, which help our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) to counter stress. Today I will share the power of breathing and the way it impacts our mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.
Our breath has numerous functions. For example to allow oxygen to energize our body and remove toxins as we breathe out carbon dioxide. If our breath is shallow, our lungs cannot do their job and as a result will lack oxygen and we do not eliminate sufficiently toxins and waste products from the body.
Most of us do not pay much attention to our breath – as it works on automatic. Even though our breath operates without us actively having to control it, we still have a huge opportunity to influence the quality of our breathing.
Our breath is regulated by our autonomic nervous system (ANS) – which has two main divisions, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) that regulates our fight-and-flight response, and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) that operate to help our body to rest and digest.
A baby naturally breathes diaphragmatic, meaning into the belly. When we breathe correctly, our lungs inflate to the extent that the diaphragm expand and pushes down into our stomach. This has many positive functions, one of them is to stimulates the Vagus nerve, which runs inside our abdomen, and that contributes greatly to activate the PNS.
When we feel tense, afraid, anxious, angry or stressed, our breathing changes to meet the ‘perceived’ challenges of life. We often tighten our stomach muscles and allow for only thoracic breathing – meaning only in the chest. This shortened breath activates our SNS and prepares us to fight or flight. After years of living with an activated SNS, we loose our ability to relax, due to that we no longer naturally breathe diaphragmatically. Nervousness, anxiety, inner stress, worry, high blood pressure, digestive problems, cardiovascular disease, fatigue etc. caused by inadequate breathing.
We can heal our body and mind by returning back to breathing properly. First by becoming aware of how we breathe and then learn to control and deepen the breath when we need it. By learning some simple exercises, we can aid and support the PNS. There are various forms of yoga and meditation that focuses on breathing that can be very helpful in re-learning how to breathe properly.
I will later share with you some of the breathing exercises that I engage in and that has helped me to feel at peace.