Breath is vital to life, we enter the world with an inhale and we leave the world with a final exhale. We all know we cant live without breathing and it is believed by many people and many cultures or religions as the most vital form of energy and life. Breath is given many different names in these practices such as prana.
Breathing influences us in both a physiological way by stimulation the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the body’s ability to relax, as well as in a psychological way by diverting attention to thought and in that way can divert some attention away from pain.
Breathing is a very interesting body function as It is both involuntary and voluntary as we are able to control and manipulate our breath. Here I’m going to focus more on the voluntary side of breathing and how and why we should focus on some breath work.
It is a very common saying when people are stressed or have too much on their plate to say “Just breathe” But why?
This is because breathing switches our body to the parasympathetic nervous system which is our rest and digest mode. When the PNS is activated your body is at ease and relaxed and involuntary functions such as digestion are taking place without any additional stress to hinder their performance.
For example when we are in a stressful situation (such as being chased by a bear) your breathing rate increases, your heart rate increases, your blood pressure increases and focus is moved away from certain functions such as digestion. As in that moment, digesting your over indulgent lunch is not the most vital process in the body and it is more crucial to get out of danger, so you are running on adrenaline and your cortisol levels increase. Your body is functioning in a stress response.
City life may not be the same in the way that you are being chased by a bear and fear for your life, however your body doesn’t know the difference between the stress of the bear or being stuck in traffic, work deadlines or stressful financial responsibilities. These are all detected as a threat to the body. Long term stressors can be more harmful to the body as we never shake them off and you remain in the fight or flight response which will further increase your cortisol levels and in time may even alter hormonal levels.
We all definitely need this stress response otherwise we will never get anything done but the body needs to be able to freely switch within the nervous system.
In my clinical practice I have found the most effective way to treat the central nervous system, decreasing chronic pain , stress and anxiety is by using Craniosacral therapy. It is the good way to work on the environment of the source of pain. The same way in which you would nourish the soil of a pot plant for the flower to grow. You need a craniosacral therapist to help you with this treatment. What I have found is that breathwork is something that you can do on your own, anyway and it is another way in which you can train your nervous system. Breathing improves the connection between the body and the brain, mainly by the vagus nerve. Vagus is the Greek work for traveller, and it is collecting information from the body and travelling with this information to the brain.
Breath work is currently a very popular topic and there are so many different types of breathing you can focus on depending on what outcome you are looking for, such as energising or calming the body. This is a brief introduction to breathing so for now “Just breathe” and that awareness of breath is already providing many benefits to your body