Anxiety, Breathe, Calm
How does breath calm us? Why does such a simple, basic human function, done in a specific way, work so well in redirecting our day? And for some people, helps redirect their entire life. I wondered about this because of the way I started my morning.
I found myself running around this morning. The previous night, I had gone to bed early; thus awoke on my own at 6. I decided to go to the gym. Home by 7:30. Had some breakfast, and got ready for my Tuesday morning accountability call at 8. Finished the call about 8:30 and headed to the shower and got ready for work. It left me about 45 minutes to start writing this blog. I sat down and realized how hyped up I was – already – before I even got to work. So I decided to close my eyes……… breathe……. and meditate for a few minutes.
Those 5 minutes of stopping and breathing made a huge difference. As I write this, I’m more focused, certainly more relaxed, and the ideas about what to write about are flowing. I had been trying really hard to think about something that might be helpful. Now, I simply need to edit all the information that has come to my thoughts. This latter process is a much more enjoyable process than the first. Having to think hard about what to write makes my brain hurt and feel constricted.
Functions of Breath
- Connects us to life. Without breath, we are dead.
- THE MOST basic and urgent of human needs.
- Easy, no assembly required. I would say no training required. Certainly not as a healthy newborn. However, as we experience our world, I would guess most of the population could use breath training. As we age, we seem to become breath holding machines.
How does breath calm us ?
The autonomic nervous system is made up of three sub-systems. They are the sympathetic nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system and the enteric nervous system. The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems have everything to do with how the body handles stress. When the sympathetic nervous system senses a stressful or dangerous situation, it goes into fight or flight. This response triggers the adrenal glands to secrete hormones that increase blood pressure and heart rate.
The parasympathetic nervous system works in partnership with the sympathetic nervous system. It triggers the body to secrete hormones to decrease blood pressure and heart rate. When our heart rate and blood pressure decrease, we feel more relaxed. Breathing deeply and mindfully helps stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system to trigger this response.
That’s a lot of technical jargon. But here is a real life example that might make it clearer. Think about what happens when you are startled. You take that little quick breath of air in. And then once you know you are safe, there is that Aaaahhh…. breath out.
Chinese Medicine and Breathing
Qi can be translated as breath/air, function, and vitality. There is a strong connection between regulating our breath and the free easy flow of qi in our body. In Chinese Medicine, the lungs (and the spleen) are considered to be the source of postnatal qi. Postnatal qi is the actual vitality of a person that can be added through healthy lifestyle changes. When lung qi is strong, then our breathing is normal and our body has enough energy. In contrast, if our lung qi is weak, it deprives the other organs and body tissues of energy.
Note: In Traditional Chinese Medicine, when a baby takes their first breath, it establishes the rhythm of their heart. If I think back to the era when a Dr. would hit a baby on its butt, hanging upside down, to get them to breath. It occurs as barbaric and harsh in todays world.
The lungs open to the nose and control the voice. When lung qi is healthy, the sense of smell is acute, the nasal passages remain open, and the voice is strong. When lung qi experiences dysfunction, the person may experience symptoms of nasal congestion, excessive mucus, an impaired sense of smell, and a weak or hoarse voice. As most of us have experienced, a breakdown in energy throughout the body often follows these symptoms.
Most people do not breathe with the belly, as one can see it, when you watch small children. As a result, the abdominal organs do not move optimally and therefore reduce gradually their functions. If you watch a small child sitting on the floor: completely straight, completely relaxed. The breathing expands their belly forward, but the sides of their body expand. If you watch you can see their back expand as well. That is how our breath functions optimally. The small movement works as an internal massage of our organs.
Breathing to Heal:
There are some healing modalities that work with breath specifically to heal. Two that come to mind immediately are Qi Gong and Buteyko Breathing.
The art and science of using breathing techniques, gentle movement, and meditation to cleanse, strengthen, and circulate the life energy, or qi. Practitioners of Qigong feel that the practice leads to better health and vitality and a tranquil state of mind. It is especially effective at combatting stress. We are all exposed to high levels of stress. Qigong teaches us how to control our reactions to stress. If we can control our stress levels around life events, we support our systems by alleviating a myriad of symptoms. Some of the more common symptoms include high blood pressure, frustration, head aches, digestion issues and anxiety.
This breathing was developed by Dr. Kostantin Buteyko, MD. He was a Russian medical scientist who spent over 45 years of his life studying how hyperventilation and over-breathing caused many of today’s chronic diseases. This method of breathing will help control asthma, stress, allergies, sleep apnea, panic attacks and snoring.
Dr. Nathalie Paravicini, ND, is located here in Portland and offers these classes on a regular basis.
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