Breathing Techniques to Calm the Brain and Body
Because your breath directly controls your nervous system, it’s the remote control to instantly calm your brain and body. Learning to control and calm your breathing has many physical, mental, and life benefits – both instantly and in the long run. You take roughly 20,000 breaths a day, which means you have a lot of chances to help yourself. Here are six ways to do that.
Your Breath Controls Your Nervous System
It’s been well-known for some time that slowing your breath can have a calming effect on emotions and increasing your rate of breath makes you anxious, but science didn’t know exactly why. Fairly recently, research determined that your breath directly calms your brain through the “breathing pacemaker.”
In a mouse study, the group of neurons at the base of the rodents’ brain stems was found to directly connect to the arousal center in the brain. When the scientists “silenced” certain neurons in the mice’s breathing pacemakers giving them “at-rest’ breath patterns, they remained calm even in situations that would normally stress them out. Turns out, these neurons have a direct line to the brain’s arousal center and can either tell the brain there’s an emergency or keep it calm. When you intentionally slow your respiration down, the pacemaker does not send a panic signal. The breathing pacemaker has also been identified and studied in humans.You’re Probably Doing It Wrong (seriously!)
If you want to observe the correct way to breath, watch a newborn. They naturally practice deep breathing from the diaphragm. You’ll see their belly expand and chest rise as they inhale air through their nose into the lungs, and when they exhale, their belly contracts. For many people, this kind of respiration is no longer instinctive. Life teaches us how to breathe incorrectly. Many of us have become shallow mouth breathers. Our breathing patterns may have shifted due to stress and anxiety. Also, the desire to have a flat stomach encourages us to hold our breath and suck in our stomachs — which is the opposite of what we should be doing. We have to intentionally re-learn how to breathe optimally.
When you take shallow breaths, your body remains in a cyclical state of stress. Stress causes shallow breathing and shallow breathing causing stress. Breathing incorrectly can activate the sympathetic nervous system and the stress response. Shallow breathing can lock your body and mind in a habitual state of stress.
Deep breathing goes by many names. You may have heard it called diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, or belly breathing. When you breathe deeply, the air coming in through your nose fully inflates your lungs, and your lower belly extends. When you breathe deeply and consciously, you can tap one of your body’s strongest self-healing mechanisms. With the speed and depth of your breath, you are telling your body your psychological state which, in turn, directs your physical state. Your breathing affects many bodily functions from your blood pressure to the immune system.
As you inhale, you draw in oxygen (O2). As you exhale, you push out carbon dioxide (CO2). Your body requires a balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide. This means that we can also run into problems when our carbon dioxide levels are too low. Proper breathing techniques help you maintain a healthy balance.
The negative effects of mouth breathing are:
When you breathe through your mouth, you will experience less tissue oxygenation.Inhaling through your nose allows you to absorb more oxygen with less physical exertion.
When you breathe through your mouth, you are more likely to hyperventilate or experience allergens. It can also cause you to expel too much carbon dioxide from your body, which can produce fluctuations in your blood’s pH level and limit the hemoglobin from releasing oxygen into cells. This is called the Bohr effect, which can lead to hypoxia or low blood oxygen levels that restrict blood flow to vital organs.
This means that even while exercising it is better to breathe through your nose than your mouth. One way to work on this is to back off the intensity of exercise and train breathing only through your nose. This will push your body to become more efficient and tolerant holding in carbon dioxide. Additionally, breathing through the nose allows you access to a small portion of nitric oxide that you carry in your lungs. Nitric oxide helps dilate our lungs and blood vessels while providing antibacterial properties to clear out germs and bacteria.