Calming the brain
We have previously posted on breathing and the importance of the diaphragm for better breath, 'core strength' and postural support. Breathing with your diaphragm makes it stronger like any muscle with increased use, and we encourage 'deep and wide' breathing patterns for this to take place.
This recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald is a great read and discusses the benefits of nasal breathing over mouth breathing. Researcher of Neurology in the US university NorthWestern, Christina Zelano says "When you inhale, you are in a sense synchronising brain oscillations across the limbic network". She explains that when we are in a stress response or panic state, we breathe faster. We can all sense this ourselves when stressed. Through measuring brain activity levels at this time, it is thought that the brain is able to positively respond faster with nasal breathing than if we were to mouth breathe when in stress. It gets our brain deciding what to do faster. Could it be that our smell nerve (olfactory nerve) located in our nose is in close vicinity to the brain, sending messages faster along this nerve highway?
On the flip side for relaxation (and as well documented), a slower breath through the nose sends messages to the brain via the same olfactory nerve. The slower nerve stimulation of the slower breath sends messages to the brain of a steadying nature. This can bring about a relaxation and calming of the brain activity.
There are many relaxation and breath awareness exercises out there to try such as progressive or guided relaxation. Yoga offers another that we can add to the repertoire. It is called the 4-7-8 technique and can be easily practiced in any position. It aims to extend our bodies to breath beyond a normal breath capacity. It is thought in Yoga and Pilates practice that we are usually only breathing to 10% of our lung or breathing capacity! (and as a result, not ever utilising the olfactory nerve and its calming effects on our brain activity).
Simply breathe in for four seconds, hold the breath for seven seconds and exhale completely to a count of eight. It only takes a few seconds and it is suggested that you repeat this cycle up to four times. Do it at least twice a day. You cannot do it too frequently.