Our in-breath is like a remote control for our brains, directly affecting electrical signals that communicate with memory and emotional processing centers. ~ Crystal Goh
Numerous scientific studies have recently discovered what ancient knowledge has always taught: Breathing works in harmony with the brain’s neural commands and can also modify the brain’s activity in relationship to those instructions. The breath connects the body and mind. The connection between the breath and the brain is a symbiotic relationship. Our emotions can affect our breathing patterns and our breathing patterns can have an equally powerful effect on our emotions.
Physiology of Breath and the Brain
The central nervous system, acting through the fluid in the spinal cord is the communication pathway that responds to output from the brain. It translates emotional feedback into physical responses throughout the body.
- Rapid breathing increases the sympathetic nervous system’s flight or fight reactivity that puts the body on high alert and revs up the body’s physiological fear responses.
- Slowing the breath can enhance parasympathetic activity ie- inhibit excitatory responses and promote the production of the hormone oxytocin (‘feel good’ hormone) to support rest and conserve energy and can improve respiratory and cardiovascular function, decrease the effects of stress, and enhance physical and mental health.
This is your Brain Running on Fear
From as early as 3 months’ gestation, our fear responses begin to develop in the primitive, survival-focused part of the brain known as the amygdala. The amygdala is simply a repository for fearful memories that has no timeline or context for such memories that cannot distinguish between past, present, real or unreal. When it is activated, it overrides the higher functioning aspects of the brain (neo-cortex) triggering states of high alert and stress/anxiety that are sometimes not relevant to what is really going on in present time. Thus, it can be the source of irrational stress and anxiety that is difficult to extinguish once it is initiated.
Breathwork, Your Brain and Healing
Within the brain, your default breath pattern reinforces learned neural responses to fear, dysfunctional behaviors and traumatic circumstances in your life. Breathwork introduces an unusual pattern of conscious, connected breathing to the established breath pattern. It is thought that this has the effect of being able to reset the embedded wiring in the brain by introducing a new pattern of breath that interrupts the track of old breathing. If these old breath patterns have been linked to old memories of sadness, fear, anxiety, rejection and low self-esteem, the new breathing rhythms can support just the opposite because they are unencumbered with unhelpful past memories that no longer matter.
Respected holistic health practitioner and researcher, Dr. Reza Samvat, Chiropractor has long observed in his work with Breathwork that, “I have seen the connective power of the breath normalise emotions in numerous individuals. Following Breathwork, they just naturally become more loving. What was needed was just discovering a way to connect into and activate that essential ‘love’ program embedded within them.”
Research is catching up with ancient awareness
about the breath and the brain relationship:
A 2016 study discovered the breath plays a key role in influencing emotional states and refers to the breath as the ‘brain’s pacemaker’.
The old adage “take a deep breath” is wise counsel that, used consistently over time has been shown to help control blood pressure
A recent study showed preliminary proof that counting your breath cycles has positive effects on regulating the neural activity that correlates to emotion, memory and awareness.
Another study (https://bit.ly/2HRYFJ9 ) out of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine has also linked the rhythm of breathing with enhanced emotional responses and memory recall. Breathing in stimulates neuronal activity in the cortex, amygdala and hippocampus regions of the brain – all areas connected with emotion and memory.
When you change the way you breathe, you activate different areas of your brain. Knowing this gives you the ability to have greater emotional control, better focus, and generate inner calm that quiets stress and anxiety.
Suggested Reading: here is a fascinating piece posted recently by International Breathwork Foundation.