Control Your Emotions Through Breathing
We take the act of breathing for granted. We do it every minute of our lives without giving it a single thought. Breathing gives us vital oxygen and removes unwanted waste form our bodies. Breathing is related to your emotional state, it can be a tool that you can use to help control your emotions and how you feel. I will be showing you how we can use different types of breathing practices to either relax or invigorate ourselves. It might seem counter intuitive that breathing can cause both effects but it is how you breathe that determines how your body responds.
We might feel that we don’t have control of a stressful situation and our body’s response. Additionally, we might not be able to fully control our external situation, but we can control our reaction towards it. Breathing can help you control your emotions and help you relax in stressful situations. On the flip side you can use breathing to reenergize and feel rejuvenated. Special breathing techniques are designed to wake you up and keep you fueled for your day just as coffee would. Breathing might not taste as good as coffee but it can be just as invigorating.
Breathing is both voluntary and involuntary. This means you can override your autonomic nervous system and control the depth and rate of how you breathe. Additionally, the connection between breathing and emotion is bidirectional meaning that your breathing can affect how you feel and your emotions can affect how you breathe. You are probably aware that your breathing pattern changes depending on your emotional state. For example, when you are very angry you might be prone to very rapid, short, and shallow breathes. While you are relaxed your breathing slows down and becomes calmer.
Many people are not fully aware that it can also work in opposite way, where breathing can affect how you feel. We will learn how we can use breathing to change how we feel and either energize or relax ourselves.
The Dance between relaxation and activity
There is a balance that allows us to handle the multitude of rolls we must play each day. One second we might be relaxing after a nice meal and the next we might need to muster up the energy to run a mile. How does our body transition from a resting and energy saving mode from an active and energy expenditure mode? How is our breath involved in this intimate dance within our body? This dance of rest and activity is performed in our body’s every day. One mechanism is by varying the sympathetic or parasympathetic state in the body. You can think of a sympathetic state as the flight or fight mechanism. Sympathetic nerves mobilize and accelerate body processes and slow down digestion. It is the flight or fight mechanism. It reduces the energy expenditure of non-vital processes such as digestion and focuses on giving your muscles all the energy they need in order to get out of danger. If your body is in a constant sympathetic state it will be hard for you to relax and digest properly resulting in wasting a lot of energy.
On the other had we have the parasympathetic nervous system which can be thought of as the rest and digestion state. The parasympathetic state promotes energy restoration and rebuilding your body. The resources of your body such as blood is directed towards digestion. Additionally, your heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure lower to a normal level. One of the main nerves in parasympathetic system is the vagus nerve. We will be talking later about how breathing can stimulate this nerve and promote relaxation.
Our bodies are never in a fully sympathetic or parasympathetic state. They are always both active but just at varying levels. There is an interplay where one state dominates over the other. One is not better than the other they both serve their unique function in the body.
Invigorate Yourself by This Breathing Technique
Feeling tired and sluggish during the mornings is the worst. Usually people grab a cup of coffee to give them that morning jolt to propel them through the day. You don’t have to depend on just coffee to wake you up, there are other methods. Pranayama is an ancient practice where you use breathing techniques to strengthen the body and relax. It is used to oxygenate your body and improve respiratory function. Rapid breathing is often used in pranayama to stimulate the body. A specific technique in pranayama is called Kapalbathi or fire breath.
Kaplalbathi is a simple practice where you rapidly exhale through your nose using your diaphragm. On your exhale you will consciously contract your diaphragm. When your inhale should not be forced and your lungs should naturally recoil back to draw air in. You do not want to forcefully inhale and take a deep breath in. Instead you want to rapidly exhale. This is also known as hyperventilation where you rapidly remove waste such as CO2 from the body. This means that you are providing more oxygen thought your body to energize itself. It also helps to release epinephrine. This type of rapid breathing helps to circulate the lymphatic system by having your diaphragm act as a pump. Proper lymphatic flow is important to get rid of toxins from the body. No wonder why they call it fire breath, breathing is so powerful that people use it to regulate and change their core body temperature. Here is a guy(super human) who is able to withstand freezing cold conditions just by controlling his breath.
Gain Access to Your Relaxation Button.
Wouldn’t it be great if we had a button that if pressed we can feel instantly relaxed and rejuvenated. You can use breathing to trigger your body into relaxation. Breathing can help stimulate the parasympathetic system in your body helping you to relax. If your practice this enough you can train yourself to relax faster. This is perfect if you are, competitive athlete, have a demanding job, or if you just have a busy schedule.
To perform the practice sit down and take naturally deep and slow breaths. After you have taken a few breathes start to hum on each exhale. You want to vibrate your throughout this can be done by humming saying OM. You should make the sound as long as you exhale. After a few times you would be able to prolong your humming just like an opera singer.
When you make a humming sound you partially close your laryngeal (throat) muscles so that you are restricting air flow. Why do this, what did the ancient practitioners realize? It is theorized that by making this sound while you breathe the restricted air flow causes vibrations in your throat muscles that stimulate the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is one of the largest nerves that helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system, if you remember this is the system that helps you relax and recharge. The vagus nerve innervates multiple parts within our body such as our heart, liver, stomach, intestine, and kidneys. Stimulation of the vagus nerve has different physiological effects on these various body parts. It helps to regulate digestion heart rate and breathing rate it also helps stabilize your blood pressure and heart rate. It promotes relaxation and you will feel calm and alert.
The next time you are feeling tired and need a jolt of energy, try rapid breathing. It will energize you and get you ready for the day. If you would like to learn more about pranayama let me know. I would love to talk about it with you and I can write more articles.