We often hear the advice that we need to slow down and pay attention to how we breathe. It’s advice that stems from the traditions of meditation and yoga, which have been significant influences on therapies to do with stress and anxiety. The reason why this advice is so popular is that it’s right.
Breathing is a vital component of our continued survival, meaning much of the process is automatic. However, when we choose to breathe, consciously dictating our rhythm of inhalation and exhalation, something profound occurs in the brain. Regions associated with emotional responses and awareness begin to activate, giving us a powerful opportunity to connect on a deeper level with our own bodies.
In today’s blog, we'll be exploring how deep, conscious breathing affects the brain and how this change in the relationship between the mind and body can be harnessed for the betterment of both.
The Fear Region
Much of the science focusing on the relationship between breathing and the brain comes down to the behavior of one specific region – the amygdala.
The Amygdala is a small region of the brain that resides close to the brain stem. This region is principally concerned with feelings of fear, memory, and decision-making. The area exists in pairs known as the amygdalae that reside in each hemisphere.
The amygdala is profoundly connected to the nervous system due to its proximity to the brain stem, making it highly sensitive to stimulation from outside sources. As a result, an over-active amygdala can quickly occur due to over-stimulation.
Breathing For the Brain
One of the key areas affected by deep breathing practices is a region known as the Vagus Nerve. This region is crucial to engaging the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which control stress and rest responses respectively. In addition, deep breathing can aid with long-term anxiety issues by providing stimuli to the amygdalae, providing relief from fear-induced stress responses.
Diaphragmatic Breathing Practice
The key to effective deep breathing is to positively engage your vagus nerve, the best way to do that is to begin breathing using your diaphragm. Your diaphragm is the large muscle at the base of your lungs and is a vital part of the machinery for breathing.
Diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, creates negative pressure in the space in the lining of your lungs - the pleural cavity. When put in this state, your body increases blood flow to the heart, thus decreasing your heart rate and creating a calming sensation in your body.
It goes as follows:
- Begin by focusing your breathing through your belly rather than your chest. To aid yourself, place your hand on your belly to feel the rise and flow more easily.
- Take a deep breath and hold it for a few seconds before exhaling.
- Keep this up for 5-10 minutes, or until you’re ready to sleep.
For more information regarding how to manage your breathing for a more effective lifestyle, visit our other blogs here at The Exhale to get the latest tips and tricks. For free guided breathing exercises that you can take anywhere, try out the Breathwrk app here.
And remember: Breathe Better, Live Better.