Practice your Breathing

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There are ancient practices like yoga, thai chi, and many different forms of meditation that have the core of their practice on breath. Why do these practices stick around for thousands of years?

And why do they focus their practices on awareness, breath, observation, movement and concentration?

The main reason most of these practices are so effective & timeless is they combine all the attributes of awareness, observation, movement, concentration & breath to take the body to its optimal level. These practices accomplish this by stimulating the brain and calming the nervous system.

A recent study in the Journal of Neurophysiology, (Breathing above the brain stem: volitional control and attentional modulation in humans | Journal of Neurophysiology) may support this, revealing that several brain regions linked to emotion, attention, and body awareness are activated when we pay attention to our breath. These findings represent a breakthrough because, for years, we’ve considered the brain stem to be responsible for the process of breathing. This study found that paced breathing also uses neural networks beyond the brain stem that are tied to emotion, attention, and body awareness. By tapping into these networks using the breath, we gain access to a powerful tool for regulating our responses to stress and control of our brain.

What they found was increased activity across a network of brain structures, including the amygdala, when participants breathed rapidly. Activity in the amygdala suggests that quick breathing rates may trigger feelings like anxiety, anger, or fear. Other studies have shown that we tend to be more attuned to fear when we’re breathing quickly. Conversely, it may be possible to reduce fear and anxiety by slowing down our breath. The results of this study support a link between types of breathing (rapid, intentional, and attentional) and activation in brain structures involved in thinking, feeling, and behavior. This raises the possibility that breathing strategies may be used as a tool to help people to manage their thoughts, moods, and experiences.

TL/TR – watch a short video instead.

Controlling your breathing helps calm the brain

A simple 4-7-8 breathing method (In through the nose with tongue at roof of mouth for a count of 4, hold breath for a count of 7, out through the mouth for a count of 8) can help regulate your nervous system and calm your body.

Breathing Regulates Blood Pressure

While you can’t entirely control Blood Pressure with breathing, this study suggests that slowing your breathing increases the mechanism that regulates blood pressure via heart rate. Over time, using controlled breathing to lower blood pressure and heart rate may lower risk of stroke and cerebral aneurysm, and generally decreases stress on blood vessels (a big plus for cardiovascular health). (Breathing control center neurons that promote arousal in mice | Science (sciencemag.org)

Controlled breathing may boost the immune system and improve energy metabolism

One theory (Nasal Respiration Entrains Human Limbic Oscillations and Modulates Cognitive Function | Journal of Neuroscience (jneurosci.org) states that controlled breathing may trigger a parasympathetic response and may also improve immune system resiliency as a “downstream health benefit.” The study also found improvements in energy metabolism and more efficient insulin secretion, which results in better blood sugar management.

Breathing can affect your memory

Researchers think that nasal inhalation triggers greater electrical activity in the amygdala, the brain’s emotional epicenter. Inhaling also seems linked to greater activity in the hippocampus, the seat of memory. Being able to control these mechanisms may help you get more oxygen to your brain to help your memory.

If you start to feel anxious just thinking about slowing down and slowing your breath, you are not alone. But a simple practice of 4-7-8 breathing once or twice a day can be a great place to start to help control your nervous system and help your overall brain health. Moreover, it just feels good to slow down and take control of something, the easiest thing you can do is to learn to control your breath.

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