Hey everyone. To me, Yoga is a self-healing journey to tap into your core being. Those of you who are reading this are the cream of the crop. You are committed to seeking new and better ways to improve your current Yoga practice. You are also open to bringing intent and soul as the common denominator for all that you do and want to learn more about how to use breath to bridge the mind and body.
Before we get into the topic for today, I want to offer a suggestion. No matter what professional background you have, FM, PT, Yoga, Nutrition, Psychologist, Nurse, how about if we detach from our roles and step into our deep inner core being as we learn about breath as a bridge to connect our mind to our body?
So often we live focused on the role that we play satisfying the world’s needs so much so that we forget who we are. Not your role you’ve assumed in life, but your inner core being that you’ve detached from for so long. The demands of our lives and world sometimes are too much for us to bear. We are so busy with the “gotta, gotta, gotta” that we don’t allow space and time for ourselves. In fact to, to ask for time for yourself seems like such a luxury, and a luxury you can’t afford. But you can’t afford to deny your true self any longer. I know you hear the calling, and it’s partly why you’re here.
Let’s just close our eyes for just a moment and align ourselves with our core.
Slowly open your eyes. Take a deep breath in, and take a deep breath out. When was the last time you paid attention to your breath? Most of us don’t pay any attention to the breath. So today, I want to talk about the anatomy and physiology of breath and how it can be used to modulate our whole body system as well as to use it in our Yoga practice.
More importantly, I want to offer how to use your breath to get to the deeper part of yourself and connect deeply to your soul.
The Autonomic Nervous System
We know that there is a direct relationship between the rate of breath, mood state and the state of our nervous system, specifically our autonomic nervous system.
The autonomic nervous system is divided into two parts: the sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for our fight-or-flight response. The parasympathetic is responsible for our rest-and-restore response.
Back when we were hunters and gatherers, this worked to save our lives. But in today’s non-stop distractions from smartphones, pings, emails and anything new that bombards our attention, it trips our system.
With each breath, millions of sensory receptors in our respiratory system send signals via the vagus nerve to our brainstem. Fast breath pings the brain at a higher rate, triggering the sympathetic response. This results in the stress hormone surge, increased heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension and anxiety.
On the flip side, slowing your breath induces a parasympathetic response, triggering the rest and restore signals in the body. The good news is that we can modulate our breath to have a direct effect on our physiology in real time.
The Anatomy of the Breath
As you breathe in, the diaphragm, which is the dome-shaped muscle that powers the breath, contracts, lowers and flattens to decrease the pressure in the thoracic cavity for the lungs to expand. This is what allows oxygen into the blood. At the same time, your heart rate increases, which in turn increases blood flow through the body.
As you exhale, you release carbon dioxide, your diaphragm relaxes, decreasing the volume and increasing the pressure in the thoracic cavity, and your heart rate slows, decreasing the blood flow to the lungs.
This metabolic exchange is enhanced when the body is properly aligned and postured versus being stooped forward and restricted. So, there is a physical effect of spinal extension with inhalation and spinal flexion with spinal flexion.
It’s super important to understand the importance of mindful breathing and how this conscious practice allows us to not only physically help our bodies with the three essential functions of our bodies: metabolism, detoxification and elimination.
Mindful breathing is a powerful way to reset your body in meditation as well as to use it in your Yoga practice. I always cue breath with movement, but I encourage full excursion in inhalation and exhalation.
I also use it as a way to facilitate core activation to thread the rib down to activate the TA, mutifidus, pelvic floor and diaphragm in inhalation and exhalation.
Practicing Full Inhalation/Exhalation: Boxed Breathing
Movement with breath is what we teach. Let’s move in Surya namaskar together slowly and really focus on the breath with movement.
Gaze is important, focus on the third eye and tune inward as you move.
Ease into the pigeon and bring core, alignment and posture into the practice.
Muscles and Functional Mobility
Our muscles are the largest organ in our body that enables us to move functionally. As we age, we lose functional mobility, our bodies get stiff and flexibility declines, as do the muscles atrophy. It’s the natural phenomenon. So, our goal is to increase our longevity and health. To do so, we must strengthen and maintain our muscles and retain mobility in our joints. This requires discipline, focus and intention.
Due to the internet and the information explosion, we don’t need to consume any more information. We need to decompress and step away from the connectedness to the external influences to tune into the internal.
Those of you who are health care practitioners know the HPA axis. It’s nothing more than the stressor having an impact in our hypothalamic, pituitary, adrenal feedback to create a highly stressed environment within our body to wreck havoc in our health. For those of you who are not familiar, this HPA axis is our central stress response system.
Stress and the Nervous System
Stress is the culprit to any disease, and it disconnects our mind from our bodies and causes our mind to hyper-focus on the stressor or the problem. Through mindful practice of Yoga including meditation and using breath, we can calm our nervous system down to revitalize our health.
Going back to the autonomic nervous system, it has a direct role in the physical stress response in our body. We need both the sympathetic AND the parasympathetic nervous system, but many of us are stuck in the sympathetic nervous system.
It’s easy to prescribe a medication and/or “talk” about stress management. But to provide the tools, “show” your patients, embody patience, peace and joy in all that you do proves you are an authentic practitioner who shares this powerful practice, and it will set you apart.
- Breath can be used as a gauge for our physical stress.
- We can use breath to tune inward in Yoga.
- We can use breath to calm our minds and modulate stress.
- Awareness in our breath allows us to cultivate patience, calm and zen.