What happens when you take deep breaths?
Why is it your superpower?
Let’s look at how your body has your best interests first and foremost.
Your body is brilliantly designed to keep you healthy and well. This is known as ‘homeostasis’. It’s a balancing act that applies to both your physiological state (your body) and your emotional state (your mind).
Your autonomic nervous system (ANS) is in charge of this balancing act. It is connected to your blood vessels and your organs by your nerve system. The way it works is a bit like a see-saw. It lets you respond appropriately and helps maintain the balance which leads you to feel centred and capable.
One side of the see-saw is your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). This is your normal resting state. It maintains everyday functions like digestion and urination, relaxation and restoration.
The other side of the see-saw is your sympathetic nervous system (SNS). This helps you respond to stress.
One of its key tasks is to stimulate the adrenal glands to produce more adrenaline. This in turn, stimulates your organs to activity. (This allows you to flee or fight).
Your superpower: deep breaths
Breathing is one of the few bodily functions that can be both voluntary (conscious) and involuntary (unconscious). The fact that your body continues to breathe night and day is in itself a miracle!
Yet you can harness this superpower to help you be in charge of staying calm and balanced.
When you breathe in deeply – this sets off the energising aspect of your SNS. If you’re feeling sleepy, you’ve probably done this naturally. You step outside and take a few deep breaths of fresh air. It can give you a feeling of aliveness. It gets you prepared to defend yourself if there is danger.
Breathe out deeply – this is the relaxing aspect of your PNS. It’s also known as ‘rest and digest’ or ‘rest-repose’.
Inhale and exhale more fully, in both directions. You are then activating both the SNS and the PNS.
Breathing deeply like this forms a combination that creates a feeling of harmony. You may have experienced this when you meditate. It’s also a state recognised by athletes, artists and lovers.
It might feel odd but it really is your super-power!
Breathing in and out deeply is also described as ‘abdominal breathing’ or ‘diaphragmatic breathing’. Not only does it let your body breathe to its best effect but the gentle movements also give an internal massage to some of your other organs.
From Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust
The details of abdominal (or diaphragmatic) breathing:
The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle, which separates our chest and abdomen. When we breathe in the diaphragm tightens, flattens and moves down, sucking air into the lungs.
As the diaphragm moves down, it pushes the abdominal contents down, which forces the abdominal wall out.
When we breathe out the diaphragm relaxes, air passes out of the lungs and the abdominal wall flattens. This type of breathing has two important effects on the body:
It is in itself relaxing compared to the ‘emergency mode’ breathing of the upper chest, which is an integral part of ‘fight or flight’ response to a stressful situation.
It is typical of the regenerating processes such as when you are asleep, digesting food or the body is at peace. You can see it in the way babies and children breathe.
Respect for your amazing human body!
Other examples of homeostasis in the body include:
- Water and minerals are regulated by a process known as osmoregulation. This happens mainly in your kidneys.
- Excretion removes metabolic waste from your body. The key excretory organs include your kidneys and lungs.
- Your skin regulates your body temperature.
- The liver and pancreas maintain balanced blood glucose levels.
- If you have caught an infection your body produces anti-bodies to fight it off.
- When you have a cut on your skin, your blood forms a scab so that healing can take place.
So your body really works for you at all times. By choosing to take deep breaths, you enhance and support your own body.
This really is a super-power!
And it couldn’t be simpler.
‘The Practical Neuroscience of Buddha’s Brain‘ Rick Hanson
‘Anatomy and Physiology for Holistic Therapists’ Francesca Gould
Yvette Jane – Mindfulness & Meditation Guide
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