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Do we know enough about the breath?

Breathing is more than just a biochemical or physical act; it’s more than just moving diaphragm downward and sucking in air to feed hungry cells and remove wastes. The tens of billions of molecules we bring into our bodies with each breath also serve a more subtle, but equally important role. They influence nearly every internal organ, telling then when to turn on and off. They affect heart rate, digestion, moods, attitudes, when we feel aroused, and when we feel nauseated. Breathing is a power switch to a vast network called the autonomic nervous system.

There are two sections of this system, which serve opposite functions. Each is essential to our well-being.

The first, called parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), stimulates relaxation and restoration.

The lungs are covered with nerves, and many of these nerves connecting to PNS are located in the lower lobes, which is one reason why long and slow breath is so relaxing. The deeper and more softly we breathe in, and the longer we exhale, the more slowly the heart beats and the calmer we become. It’s a known fact that the mammals with the lowest resting heart rates live the longest! And it’s not a coincidence that these are consistently the same mammals that breathe the slowest.

The second half of autonomic nervous system is sympathetic nervous system (SNS), has opposite role. It sends stimulating signals to our organs, telling them to get ready for action. A profusion of nerves to this system are spread out at the top of the lungs, When we take short, hasty breaths, the molecules of the air switch on sympathetic nerves. That’s what is happening in our body whenever we are running late for a dead line or cramming too many things, which need to be done, in our tight diaries. And unfortunately it became an everyday reality for too many of us. We live in a sea of stress when stopping to ‘rest and digest’ has become a luxury for majority of us and at certain periods in our lives. And, although sympathetic stress takes just a second to activate, turning it off and returning to a state of relaxation and restoration can take an hour or even more. It needless to say that our bodies are built to stay in a state of heightened sympathetic alert only for short time and only on occasion.

Yoga practice, as it combines breath and exercise, has become a perfect tool to re-educate our conscious minds to take a partial control over the breath and through the breath, over the stress level that everyday life brings in our lives.

Don’t take my word but find your local yoga class to share this experience with me and growing number of like minded people.

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