Does How You Breathe Influence How You Feel?
Updated: Aug 25, 2021
In short .. absolutely!
It is very important to understand that the way we breathe corresponds to the way we feel. If you have played with your breath, you may have noticed that when you breathe quickly your heart rate goes up. Conversely when you slow your breath down, particularly the exhale, you can bring your heart rate down. This reflects changes in our autonomic nervous system. In simplistic terms, the sympathetic branch is the accelerator, and the parasympathetic branch is the brake. The speed, location and delivery of the breath is critically important as it influences our nervous system. Chest breathing is sympathetic and diaphragmatic breathing is parasympathetic. Mouth breathing will stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, and nasal breathing will stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. We want the nervous system to be in a dynamic equilibrium and have easy access to the parasympathetic state as it promotes recovery, restoration and relaxation.
Think of the last time you were frustrated .. there was a certain breath pattern associated with this feeling. Picture someone having a panic attack ... there is a very obvious breath pattern occurring (fast, shallow, high in the chest, lots of tension). For every emotional state we have, there is a corresponding breath pattern. Not only is the pattern of the breath important, but how we breathe is critical.
The diaphragm is very important as it has a dual role of respiration and core stabilisation. As the diaphragm contracts and relaxes, intra-abdominal pressure, a stabilising force for the spine, changes. This is the reason that people will generally hold their breath when they lift something heavy. Using the diaphragm the ‘brace’ and put pressure on the spine to provide stability. The diaphragm, like any other muscle, adapts to the way it is used. As many people are habitual mouth / chest breathers the diaphragm can become weak and tight, as without optimal movement, it becomes restricted.
More than just breathing, the diaphragm also influences the circulation of blood between the upper and lower body, promotes lymphatic drainage and influences digestion. Think of the diaphragm as a big pump that moves the fluid around the body. We don’t want any blockages or restrictions, we want free-flowing, free-moving fluid.
So think about how you breathe, where you breathe, how fast you breathe and the role of your diaphragm. As you take control of your respiration, you can begin to influence your nervous system, spine, circulation, lymphatic drainage and digestive system.
Pretty neat if you ask me!