Scientists are now telling us that giving each breath a thought might actually lead us to a place of deep and lasting happiness and health.
We breathe without giving it a second thought and take this particular bodily function completely for granted. Yet, scientists are now telling us that giving each breath a thought might actually lead us to a place of deep and lasting happiness and health. According to neuroscience, the act of breathing consciously paves the way to enhanced immunity, inhibits fight-or-flight response to stress, induces a state of relaxation, creates emotional stability, improves cardiovascular and respiratory healthy, is the perfect antidote to depression even when drugs haven’t entirely worked out and helps in the drug-free management of pain. This list of effects is by no means comprehensive; it is just the tip of the iceberg.
Pranayama: what is it and how does it work?
Pranayama is a technique in yoga that puts the controls to breathing back into your own hands. Literally, the word means “extension of life force,” and the practice engages you with the nuances of breathing. This special and ancient yogic technique switches the light back on in the dark spaces – the places in your body-mind that you have not dared to visit. That said, pranayama works in the realm of the nervous system to vastly improve the mechanics of it, because it influences what we always thought was beyond the realm of influence.
Pranayama tones the vagus nerve and manages anxiety
Conscious breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system through the vagus nerve, which runs from the base of the brain all the way to the abdomen. It is responsible for managing nervous system responses and reducing the heart rate, to name only two of its functions. The neurotransmitter acetylcholine is released by the vagus nerve and plays a pivotal role in increasing calmness and focus. Therefore, the more you stimulate the vagus nerve, the more acetylcholine it releases, directly lowering anxiety levels. Adults who experience higher levels of vagal tone also experience enhanced feelings of connectedness and positive emotions, and this increase further amplifies vagal tone.
Pranayama manages hypertension and reduces heart rate
Consistent practice of conscious breathing can reduce blood pressure and calm the heart. This in turn, scientists say, increases the life span of the blood vessels. The regular and long-term practice of pranayama can therefore prevent diseases of the nervous system such as stroke, migraine headaches or Parkinson’s disease. Another notable benefit of pranayama is that it stops grey cells from diminishing with age, meaning your ability to perform at your best remains relatively intact as you grow older, and your memory and focus are also not undermined in the process. An interesting scientific finding on the benefits of pranayama is that the expression of genes involved in stress response can be changed in a way that can potentially slow down the body-mind’s reactivity to stress. This will automatically improve immune function, metabolic activity and insulin secretion.
Pranayama is a great example of how matter can be influenced through the subtle act of awareness or objective observation. Your entire biology can be influenced by simply becoming aware of your breath and then manipulating it in order to move the controls from the primitive brain to the pre-frontal cortex – a direct effect of infusing the breath with your conscious attention. For example, emotions come under the jurisdictional authority of the prefrontal cortex, as do many other mental and emotional aspects of the being. Therefore, when you alter your consciousness around your breath, your consciousness is sparked to alter your body-mind for optimum wellness.