Breathe is so much more than just inhaling and exhaling, than bringing in oxygen and removing carbon dioxide. It is about bathing your cells in enough oxygen that ensures optimum functioning. It is about aligning the whole body from your head to your toes. It is about lessening pain, invoking calmness, creating mental clarity and enabling you to start to regulate those unpleasant feelings and sensations that force you to seek help and support.
Conscious breathing is putting awareness into your breath, connecting to the process, slowing it down and regulating it. Science is now supporting the long held beliefs about slow breathing from eastern philosophies which talked about pranayama or ‘yogic breathing’ being able to treat disease and enhance longevity. As we study this in greater detail the physiological effects of slow breathing are beginning to reveal their secrets.
Breathing slower actually helps to oxygenate your cells better than breathing faster. By breathing slower we access parts of our lungs that don’t get exercised increasing the lungs ability to function. When you breathe faster but more shallowly you can shut off the smaller alveoli regions reducing the effective uptake of oxygen. Ensuring that our cells are bathed in sufficient oxygen all of the time is crucial for our health and wellbeing. When we are oxygenated our heart, lungs, brain, vascular and nervous systems all work together in a process called entrainment. When we are in this state of being we feel full of vitality, strong, in control and have the mental clarity to make our best decisions.
"Breathe is the bridge which connect life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts"
Thich Nhat Hanh
When we breathe we use our ribs muscles and diaphragm. When we breathe consciously, slowly, smoothly and deeply we have a balanced diaphragm performance. It is our diaphragm that we train when learning to how breathe consciously. We are aiming for a breathing rate around 6 breaths per minute using our diaphragm as the conductor. How we breathe is directly related to blood oxygen, carbon dioxide, and blood pH levels. Each one of these affects cell functioning.
The way that we breathe affects our heart rate and blood pressure and vice versa but we know that the effects are stronger when driven by the breath rather than the heart. When we consciously breathe we begin to affect our heart rate and blood pressure in a positive way aligning the interactions in a process known as cardiorespiratory coupling.
We know that the heart beats around 70 times a minute but we also know that there is a slight time difference between each beat known as, Heart Rate variability. Studies show that it is the heart rate variability patterns that are influencing how we feel and these exhibit particular patterns in different emotional states. When we are stressed, angry, frustrated, jealous, depressed, or hopeless the patterns are chaotic and irregular. When we are full of joy, appreciation, gratitude or love the patterns are harmonious and regular. These patterns are radiated electromagnetically to the whole body and beyond. It is these patterns that are signaling to our cells whether to heal and repair or whether to shut down and stagnate. Our Heart Rate variability patterns are having a profound impact on our cells and in turn our felt sense of health and wellbeing. These patterns can be strongly influenced by our breath. They are also affected by our physical health and mindset.
Focusing on our move principle through mindful activities like yoga & Qi Gung and physical exercise helps us to build our physical and cardiovascular strength and stamina.
"Breathe to pause, to make space, to collect your thoughts, to remember, to face the next moment, to choose, and to feel free"
Strong and effective emotional self-regulation ensures that our mindset influences our Heart Rate in the most positive and constructive way possible. When we are feeling overwhelmed with low mood, depression or life stress our nervous system begins to send fight and flight signals to our cells saying that we are in imminent danger. We may actually not be about to receive a life threatening physical assault but rather it relates to a dilemma over a difficult decision, conversation or perception of our life that we hold. Our cells can’t tell the difference but our heart lungs and brain are starting to uncouple and form those chaotic heart rhythm patterns.
These emotional signals are delivered by our autonomic nervous system which is a balance between the sympathetic, fight or flight system and the parasympathetic, clam and more relaxed pathways. The parasympathetic system is driven by the vagus nerve and slow conscious breathing enhances vagal activity and in turn leads to parasympathetic dominance. This in turn begins to change your set point. Your set point determines how you react to life. If you are stressed and anxious most of the time you see threats everywhere and your set point is primed for danger. Here your cells are shut down in defence mode unable to function effectively. As you work on your breath you begin the process of parasympathetic dominance and the set point shifts towards a calmer more balanced reaction. You cells begin to heal and readjust.
"When you own your breathe, nobody can steal your peace"
Conversely when we have sympathetic dominance we begin to feel ill, stiff, achy, tired with brain fog and can lose our better judgement. In this moment and with an ability to breathe consciously, with awareness we can start the process of breaking our patterns, retraining our bodies and minds stopping the unhealthy patterns developing into chronic physical symptoms, mental overwhelm and eventually disease. We move into the calm and relaxed system changing the way we feel.
The power of the breath when slow and conscious, in the moment, cannot be over emphasised.
It takes practice and perseverance but once mastered enables you to start taking the steps back to health and wellbeing. The breath is the doorway into self-regulating your emotions, into changing years of unhealthy patterns and into optimal cellular and mental functioning.
We want to develop the ability to experience every emotion whenever it arises but ensuring that it is acknowledged and processed but leaves no lasting unhealthy imprint.
Bringing your awareness to the breathe principle supports your successes in all the other principles of health and wellbeing ensuring sustainable self-care habits are developed and embedded.