Deep breathing has become important in the recovery from anxiety and depression because you can notice that the shallow breath contributes to the panic. In the worst hours, maybe you use want to use a paper bag in order to keep from hyperventilating.
Deep breathing exercises stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system or PNS, which is responsible for the activities that happen when the body is at rest. It functions in an opposite aspect to the sympathetic nervous system that stimulates the activities connected with the fight-or-flight response.
You can think of the PNS like the calm sister, and you can think of the sympathetic nervous system like the crazy sister on the edge of a nervous breakdown.
Of all the automatic functions of the body – digestive, cardiovascular, immune, granular, hormonal – only the breath can be controlled easily voluntarily, explain Patricia L. Gerbarg, M.D. and Richard P. Brown, M.D. in their book named: “The Healing Power of the Breath.”
In their book they wrote that by voluntarily changing the depth, rate and pattern of the breathing, we can change the messages that were sent from the respiratory system of the body to the brain.
So, breathing techniques supply a portal to the autonomic communication network through which by changing our breathing patterns, we can send particular messages to the brain and all that using the language of the body that is a language that your brain knows and to which it responds.
The messages from the respiratory system have a powerful, rapid effect on major brain centers involved in emotion, thought and behavior.
In the eight substantive chapters of the book, the authors explain several techniques of deep breathing in order to reduce anxiety and stress. They start off with 3 basic accesses that provide the building blocks for the others:
Coherent breathing is essentially breathing at a rate of 5 breaths per minute that is the middle of the most profound breathing rate range. You can achieve this if you count to 5 inhaling and count to 5 exhaling.
The 5 minute rate maximizes the HRV – heart rate variability, a measurement of how good the parasympathetic nervous system is working. Gerbarg and Brown point out that changing the pattern and rate of the breath alters the HRV that causes shifts in the nervous system.
Breathing at a rate that is near to one’s ideal resonant rate – that is about 5 breaths per minute) can induce up to a tenfold improvement in the heart rate variability.
Resistance breathing is absolutely what the name says: breathing that creates resistance to the flow of air.
According to the authors, the resistance can be formed by pursing the lips, positioning the tip of the tongue opposite the inside of the upper teeth, hissing the clenched teeth, slightly closing the glottis, tightening the throat muscles, narrowing the room between the vocal cords, or maybe using some external object like breathing through a straw.
All that looks so complicated. So, we will clearly breathe out of the nose, that according to Gerbarg and Brown, it creates more resistance than breathing through the mouth.
We don’t think that is interesting when they explain that chanting and singing – all musical sounds that are created by contracting vocal cords – are modes of resistance breathing, and that is the reason why they support that relaxed sensation you can get if you meditate.
Breath moving is when your breath moves courtesy of your imagery. Brown contrast this exercise to an internal massage.
However, we do think that sending the breath on a little vacation around the body, does help you keep the concentration on the exercise and not on the to-do list because counting to 5 can get a little old. Here you have a part of a circuit that the authors offer in the book:
As you breathe in, imagine that you are moving the breath to the top of your head.
And as you breathe out, imagine that you are moving the breath to the base of the spine, the perineum, sit bones.
Every time when you breathe in, move the breath to the top of your head, and every time when you breathe out, move the breath to the base of your spine.
Breathe in this circuit for 10 cycles.
The history of breath moving is interesting. According to the authors of the book, this technique was created in huge part by the Russian Christian Orthodox Hesychast monks somewhere around the 11th century.
They would teach this technique of moving the breath to the holy Russian warriors in order to help secure them from any kind of harm and to empower them as they protected the territory against invaders.