My late grandmother had many sayings. “Well, I’ll go to the foot of our stairs ‘, ” It’s getting dark over Bill’s mothers” (never totally sure who Bill was) and ” When angry or upset, stop and take a deep breath’.
Our lungs are pretty awesome (although in my humble opinion not as much as our minds). They work automatically without us consciously thinking. What is pretty special about them is that unlike most organs, we can consciously regulate our breathing. Aside from being good advice at emotional times, deep breathing is an effective way of becoming present amongst long standing meditation practices and exercises.
The average human takes somewhere between 12-20 breathes per minute, at rest. Most of the time we don’t use all of our lung capacity, even more so when anxious and stressed, as our breathing become more rapid and shallow.
Last month the New York Times published an article covering research around the part of the brain involved with the regulation of breathing. It’s a tiny part made up of approximately 3000 neurones, identified 25 years ago by research at the University of California. More recent research at Stanford University has suggested how these neurones interact with other parts of the brain, with what appears to be links between arousal neurones and the breathing control neurones. That may sound obvious but their tests (using mice) identified the role of specific neurones and by isolating some of them, resulted in mice who did not react to stressful situations.
If I understood the science, this research seems to indicate that feedback from the breathing neurones to the arousal neurones did not happen, which meant that other parts of the brain did not react and an increase in anxiety did not happen. Apparently the researchers dubbed them Zen mice! The research has not yet developed to the point of understanding which specific neurones control deep breathing and how they may (or not) calmly influence other parts of the brain.
While the science is interesting (really interesting to my geek side) its not as important as the actual calming effect deep breaths have, which we have probably all experienced.
So to share a simple breathing technique which I find makes a difference, especially at times of frazzledness. You don’t need any equipment, no smartphone app or sitting in any uncomfortable positions. Just yourself and about three minutes. Simply:
- Sit and close your eyes. Bring yourself to now by taking ten deep breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.
- While doing that, allow your body to feel the chair you are sat on and your feet on the floor. Let any sounds around you just be, don’t search or react to them.
- Count to ten using normal breaths, counting 1 on inhale, 2 on exhale etc and focus on just observing your breathing.
- It’s natural for thoughts to come into your head . Just acknowledge and gently guide the mind back to the breathing count
- Repeat the breathing count 5 times (so 5 sets of ten breaths).
- Open eyes slowly and you may find some calmness has entered the mind.
Perhaps my grandmother understand something that science is catching up on. Maybe I should check the link between dark matter and her Bill’s mother quote…
Hope you find interesting and love to hear comments. Have a peaceful weekend.