Just Breathe

Without getting too personal- last Monday I was in a car accident. I’m fine (!) however, the process I went through really gave me reason to pause and consider breathing (among other things of course).  This consideration is nothing new- most of us know how important our breathing is but it was only after reflecting on how my body responded to that stress that I experienced the relevance.

Without thinking about it- to calm myself down I was taking long exhalations… through my mouth. Now- having just spent a long 18 months doing my Yoga teacher training where the use of breathing through your nose is the key, it made me think… is teaching an exhalation through the mouth more calming for someone in a stressed lifestyle such as an addict- could it be more effective and indeed more relaxing?

Perhaps I’m asking a simple question and I’m sure there’s plenty of evidence to support all types of breathing to be of benefit but it just got me thinking and I wanted to share my thoughts with you.

Breathing has numerous effects on the body, in particular the central nervous system, this is due to the encouragement of deep breathing which helps to lower the heart rate: implied in newer research which suggests that by slowing the breathe one can ‘have a significant impact on the heart rate variability’(E. Jovanov2006 University of Alabama) thus synchronising the homeostasis of the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system.

By supporting the education of a positive coping strategy one could aid the recovery of addiction (at the appropriate stage) or at least the underlying reasons for a person’s addictive behaviours such as depression or anxiety.  Also, as discussed by Donna Farhi in The Breathing Book, pg 6, “Correlations between breathing and the state of our body and mind have been made for thousands of years”.

By educating individuals on the benefits of relaxed breathing could greatly reduce the detrimental effects of the stress response often exacerbated by daily life. This could work to support the recovery of addictive mentalities and also act as a preventative method. Not only would this benefit the body in terms of its physical structure but it would “enhance the cellular, hormonal and psychological processes” ( P.B.F Nixon, Human Functions and the Heart, 1989). Through breathing, neurotransmitter secretion is controlled which in turn develops the nervous system. It can also increase GABA and serotonin levels, positively impact the hypothalamus and successfully increase the ability to control the sympathetic function (Kumar, A. 2012. The Research and Development Institute Journal).

Additionally, let’s think about the relevance of Vagus nerve stimulation. At least 80% of the Vagus nerve fibres are afferent, meaning the body sends messages to the brain. Therefore one could assume that by encouraging deep breathing, one would then have the ability to further induce relaxation (Porges, S. 2001. International Journal of Psychophysiology).

For me, the interesting point in all of this is that exhaling through the mouth could be a more instrinsic, natural response and proof to be a greater link in relaxing and therefore inducing a more consistent parasympathetic response amongst those living with addiction.

Post Author: Ruth Baker

Ruth Baker has over eight years teaching experience within the health and fitness industry. With a degree in Health Promotion and Fitness and a passion for the integration of mental health issues and health/wellbeing Ruth runs a voluntary organisation, Wellness Street, regularly volunteering herself to offer classes to help those living with various conditions. www.wellness-street.org www.facebook.com/wellnessstreet