How does breathing change my nervous system?

An in-depth guide of breathwork practice and your nervous system

In our fast-paced lives, stress has become an inevitable companion. The demands of the modern world can take a toll on our nervous system, affecting our mood, mental well-being, and overall health. However, the power to influence and regulate our nervous system lies within us, and one effective tool to achieve this is through intentional breathwork.

Understanding the Nervous System

Before diving into the breathwork techniques, it’s essential to understand the basics of the nervous system. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is responsible for controlling involuntary bodily functions, such as heart rate, digestion, oxygenation, posture, hormonal and neurotransmitter modulation, and respiratory rate. It consists of two branches: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
The SNS is associated with the “fight or flight” response, triggering stress reactions, while the PNS promotes a “rest and digest” state, inducing relaxation. Striking a balance, and ability to switch between these two systems is crucial for overall well-being.

Breathwork Techniques for Nervous System Regulation

1. Box Breathing:
  • Inhale for a count of four.

  • Hold the breath for four counts.

  • Exhale for four counts.

  • Hold the exhale for four counts.

  • Repeat.

Box breathing helps regulate the breath, calming the nervous system and promoting a sense of balance.

2. Physiological Sigh:
  • Inhale deeply.

  • Exhale with a long, audible sigh.

Physiological sighing resets the respiratory system, promoting relaxation and reducing stress levels.
3. Wim Hof Method:
  • Combines controlled hyperventilation and breath retention.

  • Enhances oxygenation and alkalization of the body.

The Wim Hof Method has been associated with improved mood, increased energy levels, and enhanced stress resilience.

4. Ujayi Breath:
  • Inhale slowly through the nose.

  • Exhale with a slight constriction in the back of the throat. Making a “Darth Vader” or “Ocean Waves” sound.

Ujayi breath, commonly used in yoga, promotes a calm and focused state of mind.

5. Alternate Nostril Breathing:
  • Inhale through one nostril.

  • Exhale through the other nostril, alternating sides.

This technique balances the two hemispheres of the brain, fostering a harmonious nervous system response.

The Importance of Meditation in a Fast-Paced World

Incorporating breathwork into a meditation practice amplifies its benefits. Meditation encourages mindfulness, bringing attention to the present moment and reducing the grip of stressors from the past or future. A consistent meditation practice enhances the brain-body connection, reinforcing the communication between the frontal lobe and other brain regions.

Frontal Lobe Control and Inhibitory Loops

The frontal lobe plays a crucial role in decision-making, problem-solving, and emotional regulation. Proper inhibitory loops in the brain, facilitated by practices like meditation and breathwork, allow for better control over impulsive reactions and heightened emotional states. This leads to improved stress management and a more balanced nervous system.

Brainwaves and Alpha Peak Frequency

Brainwaves are electrical patterns produced by the brain, and their frequencies correlate with different states of consciousness. Alpha brainwaves, associated with relaxation and a calm yet alert state, have an optimal frequency known as the alpha peak frequency. Regular breathwork practices have been linked to achieving and maintaining this frequency, contributing to effective stress management and improved cognitive function.
In conclusion, the breath is a powerful tool that can influence and regulate the nervous system. Integrating breathwork techniques into daily life, coupled with meditation practices, allows individuals to navigate the challenges of the modern world with resilience, enhanced mood, and a profound connection between the brain and body. The journey towards a well-balanced nervous system begins with each intentional breath.
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