The breath is the remote con trol of our state
The breath is an autonomic thing we do. We breathe withut thinking about it consciously and thank god for that! you don't want to stop breathing when you get distracted and you are thinking about the past or future. It is, however, also the one thing that is part of iuyr autonomic functions but can also be consciously influenced! And it is with the breath that we can hack into our nervous system and influence all of the systems and functions tied to it.
To understand why the breath has such a deep and potent impact on our physical, mental, and emotional state we need to understand our nervous system.
The Nervous System
The nervous system is an electric system; a fast means of communication between the body and the brain. Our nervous system is divided into a central nervous system and a peripheral nervous system. The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord, while the peripheral system aims to connect brain and spinal cord to all the organs of the body, just like a giant network of electrical wires. The peripheral system in turn is divided into the somatic nervous system and autonomic nervous system.
Somatic Nervous System
The somatic nervous system (SNS) regulates voluntary movements via skeletal muscles; the stuff we do consciously and purposely, such as walking. When we decide to walk, our brain fires the nerves that activate muscles all the way up through the legs, back, and stomach at once. We don’t need to think about every muscle involved in taking a step, we just do it. However, with some deliberate thought we can individually activate any one of them. This is all part of the somatic system.
Autonomic Nervous System
The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is the part of the nervous system that controls and regulates the internal organs without any conscious control or effort on our part. Put simply, the autonomic nervous system keeps us alive. Its main job is to create order and homeostasis - from the Greek words for "same" and "steady," refers to any process that living things use to actively maintain stable conditions necessary for survival - by regulating functions such as breathing, digestion, dilation and contraction of blood vessels, blood sugar level, body temperature, hormonal secretion, heartbeat and so on. In other words, everything that automatically happens in our body.
The autonomic nervous system comprises two opposing sets of nerves, the sympathetic nervous system associated with the stress system (fight-or-flight) response and the parasympathetic nervous system associated with relaxation (rest-and-digest). A little help to remember these systems:
Sympathetic NS (S = Stress)
Parasympathetic NS (P= Parasympathetic)
The Sympathetic Nervous System (The gas 'go' pedal)
The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) connects the internal organs to the brain via spinal nerves and is often referred to as the 'active' or 'The fight-or-flight' or 'fight-flight-freeze' response. It refers to a physiological reaction that occurs in the presence of something that is considered as a threat, either mentally or physically in the sense that the body can either quickly fight or flee from. It is the 'start' of your engine, to gear you into action.
The fight-or-flight response involves the sympathetic nervous system changing activity in the body to help prepare for a perceived threat, and includes: inhibition of the digestive and immune systems, increases in heart rate and pupil size, expansion of the lungs, and the release of epinephrine/norepinephrine. It causes the body to release stored energy. Muscular strength is also increased.
These processes are meant to optimize functions in the body when it’s under attack – at the same time it slows body processes that are less important in emergencies, such as digestion and urination. Our immune function is also temporarily shut down. To heal is less important than to survive. Blood moves out of our rational forebrain and is instead preserved for the lower reptilian part, so we have less capacity to think and instead rely more on our instinct to instantly react. The world shifts sharply into focus, time seems to slow down, and our reactions quicken and become razor sharp. We are in such a heightened state of alertness that we feel like a superhero. It’s a powerful mode, and it happens when our body switches to survival mode.
The Parasympathetic Nervous System (the 'break')
Stress stimuli are excellent if we can recover from them, but no organism can endure living in a high stress state for extended periods of time. Recovering from a stressor is an important factor for optimal health. This is the role of our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), or sometimes referred to as the 'rest and digest'.
The parasympathetic nervous system originates in the brain stem and controls the opposite responses. This is the equivalent of a car’s brake pedal. To facilitate the rest-and-digest response, the PNS alters several functions in the body to help it recover. These functions are largely mirror opposites of the sympathetic nervous system activation, and include: stimulation of the digestive and immune systems, decreases in pupil size and heart rate, and contraction of the lungs. These processes optimize functions in the body at rest, and allow it to focus on maintenance and healing.
One of the most important nerves that needs to be activated to decelerate from a stress state is the vagus nerve, a key component of the rest-and-digest system. The vagus nerve runs throughout the body and it has been shown that this nerve can be stimulated by breathing out in an extended and focused manner. (picture vague nerve)
Breath and the ANS Breathing is a function of the autonomic nervous system. Inspiration and respiration are multilevel biological processes taking place within the reptilian complex of the brain, specifically within the Medulla Oblongata, Pons, lower brainstem, and spinal cord (K. Ikeda et al., 2016). Interestingly, other neural systems such as the limbic system and cortex also serve to modulate breathing patterns via activation of sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system responses (Homma & Masaoka, 2008).
During the day of the Modern human being: balanced (graph of breath + cortisol)
The active and rest and digest part of the nervous system are both at play during a normal human day (picture of a graph of a day of a person, with cortisol and rest moments). If both parts are functioning with great adaptability, than you get to go out into the world and meet your deadlines with ultra focus and then arrive home to rest, digest, socialise, and sleep properly. Needless to say we need both of these systems to work in tandem to have a balanced state and live a balanced life.
When these systems are in balance, homeostasis, your body can deftly switch from one system to another. Depending on the situation, the right system takes the lead.
Modern society is 'overactive'
In our society, however, we tend to be much more in the sympathetic state of our nervous system. This poses long-term risks to our physical and mental health. The body is in a state of alertness for long periods of time and has too little time for rest and for self-healing. A body is a sympathetic state leads to inflammation, and low levels of inflammation long-term is chronic inflammation. Inflammation is the basis of pretty much all Modern mental and physical health problems. Think of complaints like burnout, depression, autoimmune disorders, and even cardiovascular disease. It is stress being produced by
like running from a tiger when we are just worrying about the past or the future. The problem is that our reptilian brain doesn't understand a thought from reality.
Autonomic Nervous system CAN be influenced.
It was long thought that the autonomic nervous system could only be influenced unconsciously - that is, without our influence. But in recent years there has been increasing evidence that we have a much greater influence on it than was thought. This means that we have a greater influence on mental and physiological processes than we thought possible. In other words, we CAN have an influence on our state! The way we do this is through the:
Breath is our remote control to breathing
How? Through your breathing. It is the one thing of our autonomic functions, which we can also actively influence consciously. Your breathing is a very powerful tool to influence this system and to change your mental and physical state. Through specific way of breathing you can induce state of alertness or a state of restfulness. You change the chemistry in your body and with that all kinds of physiological & psychological processes begin to work. By playing with the breath, you play with these states.
Principles of influencing your State (all of these influence your state). So whichever you do, it will be changing the chemistry of your body and your state.
In & Out
Breath hold in
Breath hold out
Active: short breathing: this makes that you go to the symphatic nervous system
Slow: Slow, deep, diaphragm, belly breaths.
Decondition, recondition breathing (mechanics?)
Poor breathing techniques contribute to the body becoming stuck in some level of the sympathetic NS response. Short term, this can be brilliant and beneficial. For example, in moments of physical crisis, the sympathetic NS equips the body with tools to potentially survive a potentially life-threatening event (i.e., being mugged or running from a wild animal).
However, remaining stuck in the sympathetic NS response in the long term eventually leads the body to stutter and falter. Of course, modern life no longer means we often have to run from a life-threatening animal or situation, but instead we are accessing this mode of sympathetic response in a much slower but constant way through stress and bad stress management. This could be relationship or work stress, trying to keep on top of 100s of emails, social media anxiety, social identity anxiety, and more.
These stresses often become chronic and this is where the body/mind is not regulating your stress response well and instead, deepening and causing issues in the body. Did you know that how well or how badly you breathe can either support your NS or support further negative stress responses in the body?
With practice, our breathing patterns can help to soothe and de-escalate the issues arising from a system stuck in a sympathetic response mode and in some cases do even more than that, by supporting the parasympathetic NS to achieve a more relaxed and efficient level of functioning.
The benefits of a personally designed breathing practice has confirmed and studied benefits for various functions of the mind/body/spirit, including:
Sleep and snoring problems
Increased energy and athletic performance
Blood pressure and stress management
Improved skin and hair quality