Lesson 2: Controlled Breathing and the Brain

Breathing influences our emotional states. Why? Because breathing speaks directly to our brain and nervous system.

Mindful breathing engages the parasympathetic nervous system. Controlled, deep breathing communicates with the nervous system by slowing heart rate, calming the body’s fight or flight response thus reducing cortisol and adrenaline production. 

Slow, purposeful breathing also speaks to the brain and the amygdala calming its response to fear and worry and releasing good endorphins into the body which has a calming effect on the body.

Studies also show a reduction in the size of the amygdala in people who meditate. Just an 8-week mindfulness meditation course can significantly reduce the size of the amygdala and thickens the pre-frontal cortex of the brain.

Research suggests that breath counting speaks directly to our emotions and memory parts of the brain, showing a more organized pattern than when in a resting state.

In a 2016 study, a neural circuit was discovered that shows a direct correlation between breathing and activity in the brain. Slow controlled breathing slows the activity in the circuit, while fast, erratic breathing increases activity. Breathing also has an effect on our memory – research suggests that inhaling is linked to greater activity in the hippocampus, the seat of memory.  

Because breathing slows heart rate, it is shown to also reduce blood pressure, and reduce the risks of strokes and heart attacks- thus increasing cardiovascular health. Breathing is also directly linked to improving our immune health and energy metabolism. Controlled breathing is the antidote to stress and the beginning of leading a healthy life.

Becoming aware of your breath is the first step, learning where you are breathing into and then retraining the body to breathe deeply, fully engaging the lungs, and fully releasing to enjoy the benefits of mindful breathing. 

In the next two chapters, there are several breathing exercises to teach you to focus on breath work while also retraining the body to take full, deep, and controlled breaths- thus calming the fight or flight response, fear and worry as well as pumping good endorphins into your system.

Learning to breathe in moments of stress and overwhelm will help you reduce your reactionary states and improve your health and happiness.

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