Benefits of Breathwork, Meditation and Movement on the nervous system
I have already touched on mindfulness and the benefits that it can have for managing symptoms of chronic illnesses, but in this weeks blog I wanted to share how we can use the tools from mindfulness to listen to our nervous system. When we can tune in to our bodies and minds we can learn to cope with stress, anxiety, pain and to find more balance within our minds and bodies. We can learn to notice our triggers which set us into one state of our nervous system and either use mindfulness techniques to harness those triggers or move away from them.
Our nervous system controls our heart rate, our breathing, and our body’s response to our external world. We are all connected beyond our physical body to our world and experiences.
When the body feels an outward threat the nervous system responds accordingly. When we become activated in our nervous system, our sympathetic tone (fight and flight) is triggered. We can feel agitated, fearful, panicked and anticipate things which haven't happened yet - we become stressed and anxious.
When we listen in, we can start to notice the triggers and change pathways within our body and mind through mindfulness practices.
Addictive patterns to how we react to stress through our day are stored within our subconscious. We aren’t grounded or present when we are constantly leaning into the unknown and the uncertainty. We create a false sense of stability and structure to be able to cope through our triggers - these coping mechanisms aren't very helpful.
Our triggers can also activate holding patterns - we can create a holding pattern within the physical body and these prevent energy from flowing freely and leaving the body. Mindfulness can help us with practicing presence for the body and mind, I am sharing some insight in this blog particularly within Meditation, breathwork and movement. I feel that these three practices have been incredibly useful in my own life, dealing with stress, anxiety, pain and symptoms of my Crohns disease. I practice something everyday to positively impact my own mental and physical health and strengthen my connection to my nervous system.
Working on ways to become objective without judging our environment as good/ bad, right/ wrong we can start to identify what is activating us - we can then use these objective tools as a way to regulate our nervous system.
The more we practice these tools the more we can build and strengthen new pathways, making our nervous system more resilient and adaptable to the triggers.
Meditations like body scans, watching the fluctuations within the body and observing the breath can really allow us to tune in and bring our awareness to our bodies, minds and breath. We can start to listen in to how we feel and learn to not judge what comes up. Just allow and accept. Yoga Nidra can encourage us to delve deeper within our subconscious layers of the body. I wrote a blog about the benefits of Yoga Nidra which you can read here.
When we can start to identify with the triggers which activate our sympathetic tone (fight/ flight/ freeze) we can start to work with our practices to neutralise them so that we can feel more grounded in our day to day experience of our world!
Breathwork practices can help to regulate the autonomic functions of the nervous system. We have so many tools within us that just need to be practiced and harnessed to find which practices work best fo us. Our breath can control our heartbeat, calm us down and regulate anxiety and stress.
Focusing on the breath is a great way to calm the mind, conscious breathing and paying attention to your breath can create focus - away from anxiety, pain or discomfort. It can also help to relax and quieten the mind. I personally practice breathwork exercises most days and really notice if I am ever tuned out of my breath.
Diaphramatic breathing - Belly Breath
A lot of us already know that breathing through the nose and breathing from the belly, using the diaphragm muscle can trigger our parasympathetic nervous system which is the opposite to Fight and Flight (rest and digest).
Benefits of breathing from the diaphragm muscle
Lowers heart rate and blood pressure
Decreases muscle tension
Increases blood oxygenation
Strengthens the immune system
Reduces stress hormones
Activates the body’s relaxation response (and reverses the stress response)
The more functional our breath can be - slower, lighter, deeper, fluid, less breaths can help us to bring in more oxygen with less effort and feel more calm.
There are a lot of breathing exercises which can be really beneficial in calming our nervous system.
These are a few;
Equal breath - Sama Vritti
(Inhale 4, exhale 4)
4 - 7 - 8
(Inhale for 4, hold the breath for 7, exhale for 8)
(Inhale for 4, hold the breath for 4, exhale for 4, hold the breath for 4)
Extended Exhale Breathing
(Inhale for 4 and extend your exhale by 1 count every 2 breaths)
(alternating your breath between your nostrils - inhale right, exhale left, inhale left, exhale right)
All of these breathwork variations essentially are generating the same response from the body. The inhale generates a sympathetic response from the body (heart rate goes up) activating the body.
When you exhale or hold your breath you are relaxing your body. If you're exhaling or holding your breath for 3 quarters of the time that you are breathing, you are going to become more relaxed.
Posture is also important. Our lungs need to inflate and deflate properly for consistent and easy flow of air and flow of oxygen.
We tend to breathe up and down, but we need to be breathing in and out - engaging our diaphragm. Bringing air into lungs softly, the rib cage needs to be flexible.
Tension from our external world and our experiences can roll out into symptoms within the body. Emotional and body awareness can help us to notice the areas where you tense and close - ways to open the body.
Yoga movement can help us to stretch, create space and flexibility in the physical body, particularly into the thoracic cavity (the open space within our rib cage, breast bone and sternum).
Movement can also move energy in the body and can help to remove tension. When we are stressed a lot of mental tension can be stored in the physical body.
I myself often feel tight within my chest when I am feeling anxious or stressed so often lean towards a heart opening yoga practice, creating space within the front of the body. This helps me feel more balanced and also energised!
Tension within the body can show us as;
Jaw - Not being able to speak or share your truth
Neck/ Shoulders - Frustration
These are easy areas to become tense as we look at screens/ computer phone. The jaw and neck clenches.
Upper chest - Grief
The upper back/ Back of heart - Trust, where we can feel stabbed in the back, mistrust other people, mistrust ourselves
Hips/ Hip flexors - Fear, run, curl up and freeze, strike out
When we aren’t breathing properly (from the diaphragm) we can become trapped in our sympathetic state within the body - breathing from the chest. We end up using the secondary muscles of inhalation - within the shoulders and neck to help us breathe and this can exhaust these phasic muscles much faster than the diaphragm which is an incredibly powerful muscle.
We breathe on average 25,000 times a day and if we aren't breathing correctly, we are then overcompensating into the neck and shoulders. I try to notice my breath throughout the day and if I can feel as though I am becoming tight within my shoulders and neck, I take some time out, even if its just 10 minutes, to do some relaxing breathwork. My go to's are usually box breath or alternate nostril breathing. its like I have jumped back into my body after I practice. If I am wound up mentally on an evening I absolutely love to practice extended exhale breathing in bed before I sleep. So dreamy for the nervous system!
How we are choosing to respond to our surroundings shows up in the way we breathe. The diaphragm is like the keeper of the nervous system. It's the computer/ motor and when we breathe we programme to the brain and then we are in a vicious cycle.
It's important to learn how to respond to your body when it becomes activated. Become aware and learn how to be in control of how your body responds to your experiences.
When we can activate our parasympathetic tone (rest and digest) we can become more present with our surroundings, feel calm and grounded.
So once we can identify the activators of both our sympathetic and parastympathetic nervous system, we can start to learn more about how we can train our nervous system through the above mindfulness practices of meditation, breathwork and movement, and the way we respond to our surroundings.
We can learn to be more present and balanced within our body and mind.
If you would like to practice some mindful movement, breath work and meditation you can join one of my live online class, please feel free to BOOK HERE
I also hold 1-2-1 sessions online and in my home studio which can be hugely beneficial in working with specific practice for your individual needs.
Please feel free to get in touch, if you would like to book a session you can send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org.