5 Ways To Change Your Life By Changing The Way You Breathe
It requires no thought to make it happen—it's autonomic. And as a result, many of us don't pay much attention to it. Why would we?
As it turns out, our breathing habits have a bigger impact on the quality of our lives than we think. And whether we notice it or not, the ways in which we breathe are heavily influenced by things like our posture, our health, our environment, and even by the people around us.
Modern science continues to prove that the way we breathe is directly linked to our state of mind and emotional well-being. In 2017, researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine identified nerve cells in the brainstem that connect breathing rhythm to states of relaxation, attention, excitement and anxiety.
Ancient Indian yogis have been using conscious breathing technology dating back as early as the Indus Valley Civilization (c. 3300-1900 BCE), and began establishing its first philosophical schools on yogic systems between 200 BCE-500 CE. Although it has taken the West this long to prove the efficacy of conscious breathing practices, such as pranayama, yogis have gone on benefiting from this technology for thousands of years.
If we make the conscious decision to bring awareness back to our breath, we harness the ability to change our overall experience of life. Even science agrees, this idea is more than wishful thinking. And what is equally as astonishing, but isn't often talked about, is that this simple yet readily available superpower of yours can also be used to influence the emotional well-being of those you love.
How Your Internal State Affects Those You Love
Joe Navarro, a nonverbal behavior expert and former counterintelligence officer for the FBI, describes in his book, What Every Body is Saying, how the limbic (mammalian) brain is the epicenter of unbridled truth when it comes to nonverbal communication. "[This is] because it is the part of the brain that reacts to the world around us reflexively and instantaneously, in real time, and without thought. For that reason, it gives off a true response to information coming in from the environment. (Myers, 1993, 35-39)." This primal technology is hardwired into our bodies, namely for the sake of survival. While this survival function may continue to serve us well today, it also has its ways of working against us.
Here's an example of how it works:
Imagine a herd of gazelles grazing on an open plain. They are peaceful and easefully moving about. Suddenly, one of the gazelles hears a rustle in a tree line several meters away, turns its head and instantly freezes. Seemingly in the exact same moment, all of the other gazelles freeze as adrenaline floods their nervous systems. The others freeze not because they heard the sound themselves, but solely in response to the one gazelle's reaction.
This is the limbic system in action. Once triggered, the entire herd becomes frozen as a unit—what one feels, they all feel. Based on any gazelles next reaction dictates the entire herds next move. And all this happens in a matter of seconds.
It's likely you've experienced this sort of thing yourself: like when a glass breaks, a stranger loses their temper, or a parent yells. The environment sends shockwaves deep into the core of your being, altering your internal state as your limbic brain screams, "it's not safe here!" or "this person is not safe!"
This type of limbic response is easier to spot when the stimulus is overt and jarring, but what about when the stimulus is a bit more subtle?
What we find is that this function of our human experience doesn't turn itself off. Our nervous systems are constantly picking up on even the most subtle cues from everything and everyone around us—affecting how we think, how we feel and how we decide… whether we are conscious of it or not.
Navarro says, "Because it is uniquely responsible for our survival, the limbic brain does not take breaks. It is always 'on'."
If you come home with stress in your body: muscles tight, breath shallow, and your sympathetic nervous system stuck on overdrive, guess what your loved ones will experience in your presence?
If you guessed unease, anxiety or discomfort, you're right. They will feel it. It doesn't matter if they're 18 months old or 18 years old. And rarely is anyone aware that it's happening. The impact your presence has on others runs far deeper than we realize. And these impressions have lasting effects.
"The limbic brain is like a computer that receives and retains data from the outside world… [For example,] if we run into a 'class bully' twenty years later, negative feelings of long ago will percolate to the surface once more, thanks to the limbic brain… Conversely, the limbic system also works efficiently to register and retain a record of positive events and experiences (e.g., satisfaction of basic needs, praise, and enjoyable interpersonal relationship)
The question becomes: what impact are you having on those you love?
Using only our breath, we have the ability to transition out of tense, stressed, and anxiety filled states in a matter of moments. With our loved ones in mind, we do this from a place that isn't just about us anymore—it goes beyond "feeling good." Altering our moods for our own sake is one thing, but doing it for the welfare of those we love is another.
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