I relate to the breath
Reflections on control of the breath in yoga, life.
In my recent attempt at stewarding my own career path, I’ve managed to stretch my entrepreneur legs to a whole new level. As my own professional steward, I aim to prioritize mental well-being and intend to take frequent action to protect emotional balance, recover from daily stress and anxiety, and examine present challenges and perspectives. Yoga and meditation are my first language to uncover these aspects of the mental landscape but are often informed by other modalities like: music, art, dance, and cooking.
In my moment to moment basis, the breath serves as a key indicator but also an avenue to affect change upon a mental landscape in relation to our current motivations. If we are endeavoring to be creative but find lists of mundane errands running through our head at a loud volume, tuning into the breath may help us understand how the body is responding to this stimuli. Miraculously, as well, the breath is also a route for us to “reshape” a dissonant mental state. If we are able to turn our focus inward, we may discover that the breath is shallow, fast in pace, or labored. If we feel safe enough to do so, with some effort, we can lengthen the breath in its entirety, either by pacing the inhale and exhale or pausing between both at either end. Lengthening the breath is soothing to the nervous system and can help us move away from our strongest stress responses.
Sympathetic vs. Parasympathetic Nervous System
The Stress Response and Regenerative Systems in the Body
When we face a stimuli, the amygdala determines the appropriate response, according to a number of situational and inherent factors considered. If a threat is identified, the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) is initialized. The Fight/Flight/Freak/Freeze Engine is thus activated. And depending on your genetic constitution, historic exposure to previous trauma and stress, and a number of other factors; its gears will serve to function as the overriding mode of our mental/emotional/psycho-spiritual capacities in any given situation. This response may be powerful, helpful, intoxicating, debilitating. Our modern lives dance around this system in sometimes unexpected ways.
The sister of the SNS is the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). It encompasses the monitoring organs and glands that affect a range of processes that replenish, rebuild, and rejuvenate the body. The system can be accessed and with practice can be accessed with comfort and ease. The simplest way to tap into the PNS, but easier said than done sometimes, is to lengthen the breath cycle. This procedure demands a certain amount of mental focus that may take some time to develop depending on our previous relationship to our mental state. Some who have experienced severe trauma or neglect may experience surprising and unwanted effects when attempting to reflect or change the breath consciously. These include: disorientation, flashbacks, and general discomfort within the mental state. Slow and deep breathing, while steadily lengthening the breath all together is one of the most effective ways to activate the PNS. This system also conserves biophysical energy overall by lowering the heart rate, stimulating gastrointestinal and glandular activity, and making muscular preparations to clear the bowels- further relieving the body. It is because of these features the PNS is sometimes referred to as the “rest and digest system.” The PNS is our hero in this way. It’s what allows the body to heal itself. It’s what allows us to bounce back from the stresses and anxieties of our daily lives. It’s what frees us from our doom-scrolling, and ungrounded digital consumption. And it’s what can help us return to a sense of center.
Thus Spake Maek
Nov. 14, 2020