It’s all about good breathing

Its all about good breathing.

I became curious as to why breathing in different ways had such positive benefits to our body, mind and wellbeing, several years ago.

I was at a lecture by Dr Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani, who had come to the UK in 2019. He was a professor in Pondicherry in India. The hospital he worked in, had a clinic for people to attend after major heart complications or surgery. He was studying their recovery, in comparison to those who did not attend the clinic. 

They developed practices for their patients to use daily, including simple movements and breathing techniques. The results were outstanding and the patients not only recovered faster, they had a 40% reduction of further complications or repeat heart attacks, in comparison to those not attending the clinic.

Whilst this was interesting, Dr Ananda went on to explain why the impact was so great and also free and easy for anyone to use. 

One of the easiest techniques they used was based on “box breathing”. This is Bruce’s technique. Using the count of four, breathe in slowly for the count of four, hold breath for four, breathe out slowly for four and hold breath for four. This is then repeated as many times as is comfortable or you begin to feel a calmer state. 

So why did this have a good impact on these patients? Dr Ananda was aware that many in the room, did not have medical knowledge. He carefully and clearly talked through the results they had found, which was backed up by many scientists researching this area. 

Put very simply, our brain is sent signals and messages, via nerves that run up and down the body, gut and spine. It monitors information sent back to keep us alive and safe. A large amount of these actions are done at speed and we have very little control over them.

People often term the two main nervous pathways running below the base of the brain, as “flight and fight” (sympathetic nervous system) and “rest and digest” (parasympathetic nervous system). When our brain senses we may be in danger, it tunes down information going to the rest and digest and focuses on the fight and flight to prepare the body to run away. This is so fast, we are not aware our body is in this state. Our breathing becomes faster, our heart rate increases and blood is pumped to areas to oxygenate our muscles. Our senses heighten and we are in “run away mode”. Once the danger passes, the brain tunes down the flight and fight and allows the rest and digest to calm the body down. 

The brain reacts to anything it feels could put us at risk, whilst this is good if we are in danger, it also does not forget past experiences. If the brain has reacted to situations in the past, it will be tuned in unconsciously and still react. This state can mean our bodies are half turned into a flight and fight mode daily. This daily anxiety can lead to longer term health problems. 

It is at this point in the lecture that I became curious about breathing. As these processes in our bodies play out, we are often unaware of the stresses that are happening. When we are anxious, our breath quickens, as we become calm it slows. 

Could we actively control this? It turns out the answer is yes. If we begin to notice when we become anxious, we can control our breathing and use techniques such as box breathing to change our state. The deep breathing in and out helps immediately to send signals to the brain that you are not in danger. Holding breath in between, helps to slow the breathing further. The brain calms, turns down the flight and fight response, allowing the rest, digest and calm state throughout the body. 

We can learn to change our breathing when we are in an anxious state to calm us. We can also use the technique daily to settle our minds. I use the technique repeated up to 30 times at the beginning and end of the day. For me it has helped my anxiety especially during this strange unsettling time. 

I really enjoyed the lecture. I originally practiced medicine as a career, so tying the biological side to the breathing, made total sense to me. I knew from that day I had a lot of research and understanding to come, however I felt I now had a technique that I could incorporate into my NLP practice. A technique that could immediately benefit people and help them manage their stress and anxiety. 

Although the modules I designed after the lecture were not running for long due to COVID, I have continued to research breathing and its benefits to support the book Breathe with Bruce. As there are many connections with breathing, wellbeing and mental health my journey continues and I hope sharing with people will help them too. 

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