While breathing may seem like a natural every day occurrence, many people will do it on autopilot. Little do they realise how powerful this basic physiological activity really is. On autopilot, most people tend to breathe in short and sudden gasps three times quicker than the five or six they need to feel and perform at their best. Your breath is the most powerful tool, after your brain, which allows you to live a happy, healthy and full life.
Your breath, pranayama in yoga terms, is key to your holistic life journey. Through meditation or deep breathing exercises it allow you to train your mind to relax and focus on your whole person (physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually).
The brain body connection
Your autonomous nervous system is your body’s survival tool from stressors which can cause your harm or illness. Your breath is a powerful link to how you feel and your autonomous nervous system is your inbuilt alarm. It provides your body with sympathetic (fight or flight) reaction or parasympathetic (rest and restore) response. When you feel your heart rate increase or feel a change in your digestion system, this is your body’s way of sending you a signal to either stay and respond or get yourself out of harm’s way.
Response or reaction?
Your ability to regulate your breathing is critical to how you respond to a stressful situation. Your emotions are guiding you through panic and anxiety resulting in shallow, rapid breathing. Some of the other reactions you may notice in your body include: increased heart rate and blood pressure, tense muscles, perspiration and anxiety.
Your breath becomes faster, activating your sympathetic nervous system where the stress hormones (e.g. cortisol) are turned on. Your body is preparing you for either a fight or flight reaction or response.
How to use your breath effectively
When you change your breath, your mood and autonomic nervous system will change. By slowing down your breathing you will activate the parasympathetic (rest and restore) nervous system sending a signal to your brain. Upon receipt of that signal, your body will become calm and relaxed allowing you to gain mental clarity. As you continue to breath deeply and calmly, your parasympathetic nervous system will return a signal to the brain that the stress event is over. As a result, your body returns to its natural relaxed state.