Photo by Nine Köpfer on Unsplash
You’d think that the thing that keeps us alive would be automatic — and it is — but so many people fight the ease that’s right here for us.
The part of your brain that controls your breathing is called the Medulla Oblongata. This ancient structure is part of the brainstem. It looks like the long tail feathers of a macaw and it squawks just as loudly when it thinks you are in trouble.
Your rate of breathing is unconscious, meaning you don’t have to think about it. Your brainstem is automatically tracking your rate and depth of breathing by monitoring how much CO2 is in your blood.
Translation: When you perceive that you are being threatened and in danger, your brain goes into fight or flight. Your brain tells your diaphragm and intercostal muscles to contract and you start breathing in the upper lobes of your lungs. This prepares you to fight, run away, and otherwise protect yourself. When you’re in fight or flight, your number one priority is to get out of there.
On the other hand, when you feel safe and loved, your brain sends a different set of nerve impulses to your body, telling you it’s ok. You can relax now. You’ve got this. It’s ok to calm down. It’s all good. Your diaphragm relaxes and you are able to breathe deeply into the lower lobes of your lungs. Creativity, compassion, collaboration, inspiration and ease all happen when we are living in this parasympathetic state.
Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash
Breathing through your nose calms you down.
Nasal breathing activates the lower lobes of the lungs, where optimal oxygen transport occurs. This means that you get more oxygen to your muscles, tissues, and organs, and you release more CO2 and metabolic waste. Your engine runs better if it’s not gunked up.
When you breathe deeply through the nose, you expand your rib cage. Activating the intercostal muscles acts as a giant pump for your lymphatic system, so deep breathing plays an important role in keeping your immune system strong and healthy.
Deep nasal breathing also massages the diaphragm and the stomach. It triggers the parasympathetic nervous system response — tells your body it’s time to rest and digest — because nose breathing increases the production of nitric oxide, which is a signal to the body to relax. Your blood vessels expand, so you increase blood flow to the stomach so your digestion improves.
Researchers have found that nose breathing results in 50% less fight or flight (sympathetic) activation and 50% more rest and digest (parasympathetic) activation.
Thanks to Engin Akyurt for this awesome image
Breathe more deeply, stress less.
Exhaling through the mouth releases CO2, lactic acid and other metabolic waste from the lungs.
Try this exercise to create ease right now: inhale long and deep through your nose. Take in as much air as you can, allowing your ribcage to expand, your diaphragm to drop, and your lungs to fill. Sip in a little more, expanding your capacity to receive. Inhaling teaches us to be great receivers. Practice that.
Hold the breath at the top of the inhale without straining. Feel your own pulsation in that space between the inhale and the exhale. Float there. The ancients say that this is where pure bliss lives, in the space between the inhale and the exhale. Hang out there.
Slowly release the breath through your mouth. Pause at the bottom of the breath. Let the diaphragm float back up to the bottom ribs, let the collarbones melt down the back. Allow yourself to settle into the saddle of who you are.
Inhale again through the nose. Pause at the top of the inhale. Exhale though the mouth. Pause at the bottom of the exhale. Take five long, deep, relaxing breaths at regular intervals throughout the day to stay calm and focused.
“You are alive by breath, you are a product of breath, and your realization is through breath. The moment you are in touch with your breath, the universe pours into you.” ~ Yogi Bhajan
More brainy ways to breathe easy
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