Yogic Breathing: The Physiology of Pranayama

#truelove #allowing #dating

GPS for the Soul – The Huffington Post
Yogic Breathing: The Physiology of Pranayama
By Angela Wilson, MA, RYT

Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.
— Thich Nhat Hạnh, Stepping into Freedom: Rules of Monastic Practice for Novices

Yogic breathing is a fundamental practice in the study of yoga. As one of the limbs of Patanjali’s eight-limbed path, yogic breathing, or pranayama, is defined as the “control of life force,” and is aimed at increasing vital energy in the body and mind.

For students of yoga, the benefits of yogic breathing are numerous. Students report feeling more calm and centered. They report that it can help mitigate intense emotional feelings, and help them sleep better. For most yoga students, the practice of conscious breathing is foundational to the practice of yoga.

Intrigued by these reports, scientists have begun to turn an eye to this practice. Why is yogic breathing so helpful? What are the key benefits to this practice? A key research finding is that yoga can increase stress resilience. But how? The answer to this question lies in understanding one of the primary systems affected by yoga practices — the autonomic nervous system.

How the autonomic nervous system regulates our stress response:
The autonomic nervous system is connected to physical processes such as digestion, respiration, heart rate, immune function, peristalsis, and even sexual arousal. This system has two branches, the sympathetic system and the parasympathetic system.

The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is our fight-or-flight response. It helps us to mobilize energy to complete a task — whether it’s a work-related task or the task of predatory survival. In small doses, the SNS is essential, but when it goes into overdrive, the body and mind suffer. The decreased blood flow to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and prolonged high blood pressure caused by the fight-or-flight response can lead to digestive problems, cardiovascular disease, and anxiety, among other conditions.

The other branch of the system is the parasympathetic nervous system (PSN), often called the “rest and digest” or “calm and connect” system, which allows us to recoup from the stressors of life. If you find yourself breathing slowly and deeply, feeling a sense of calm and peacefulness, you can guarantee that your PNS is activated, enhancing digestion, increasing blood flow to the GI track, lowering the heart rate, and enhancing sexual arousal.

This system also activates certain parts of the brain, dampening fear-response regions and increasing the reflective, responsive regions. The result? More reflective, conscious behavior and action; an increased feeling of calm; and greater mental flexibility and creativity amid life’s challenges.

Stress resilience is a balance of these two systems. It’s not that stress-resilient people don’t have periods of SNS activity, but they can easily bring the PNS back online and de-escalate the SNS when the task, or stressor, is over. They experience a fluid flexibility between the two systems.

Yogic breathing techniques to support the nervous system:
The respiratory system is the one system of the ANS over which we have conscious control. And because air intake is essential for life, the brain responds to the respiratory system with urgency. That’s why yogic breathing can make such an impact on overall health. It’s a place where we can begin to plug into our nervous system and support its overall function and balance.

Most of us have experienced that the way we breathe can impact both our body and mind. Now there’s a collection of research studies backs up these effects. One pranayama technique that has been shown to improve stress resilience is Coherent Breathing, which is essentially full yogic breathing with a focus on finding the number of breaths per minute (usually between 3.5 and 6) to optimize the effect on stress resilience.

In their book, The Healing Power of the Breath, Richard P. Brown and Patricia L. Gerbarg argue that when this “sweet spot” is found, the electrical rhythms of the heart, lungs, and brain become synchronized. They report that this breath rate can “induce up to a tenfold improvement in heart-rate variability,” a measure of stress resilience. Researchers have found that this sweet spot can open the capillaries to optimize blood flow, bringing more oxygen to the body.

The impact of the body on the mind:
This impact on physiology has a “trickle-up effect” on the mind. Research shows that yogic breathing positively impacts mood. A few studies show that yogic breathing techniques reduce anxiety and depression. Why? Researcher Chris Streeter from Boston University believes it’s because yogic practices stimulate the vagus nerve (which is part of the PNS), and this effect ripples out to the body and brain, increasing neurotransmitters in the brain that reduce anxiety.

This mind/body connection is central to yoga. Yoga teacher and writer Michael Stone writes, “Physiology and psychology are two ends of the same stick. You can’t work on one without the other.” Nowhere is this truer than with conscious breathing, which acts as a medicinal tool, increasing well-being and peace of mind.

About Angela Wilson, MA, RYT: Angela Wilson, MA, is a senior Kripalu faculty member and Project Leader for the Institute for Extraordinary Living‘s Front-Line Providers program, working with leading scientists to document the program’s impact on health, well-being, and quality of care for community service providers. Angela holds a master’s degree in mental health counseling from Lesley University and is a regular contributor to Yoga International and Yoga Therapy Today, where she writes about the intersection between yoga, Western psychology, and science.

A Little Bit Less, a Little Bit Better: 6 Tips for Slowing Down
Last fall, I posted, “12 things I learned from cancer.” At the end, I included a poll: Which life lesson means the most to you? All of the tips got some votes, but the last one, number 12, has consistently come out ahead. Apparently, a lot of you can relate to the idea that we could do “a little bit less, a little bit better, and enjoy it all a whole lot more.” When I wrote that, three months ago, I was in the last phases of eight months of exhausting cancer treatment. So yes, slowing down came with the territory. But now I want to retain that pace. Even as I write this sentence, I have to sit back and take a breath. It’s not easy, going slow, even for someone still shaking the fatigue of chemo and the after-glow of radiation. Going slow — doing less — is against our societal grain. It’s like a daily bit of radicalism.

As we engage with the activity of life, there is a constant flood of “stuff” to do and people to meet. It’s exciting and important, but how do we keep up with everything AND slow down? There isn’t one answer that fits for everyone. It depends on each of us — our lives, energy, and responsibilities — and it changes day by day. I don’t have the answer, but I am engaged in the discovery. One thing I have learned is to do the best I can to listen to the signals my body gives me before they are drowned out in the busy-ness. Here are some other specific things that have helped in my journey. The first three deal with time and the next three with space. Skip around to find what interests you.

1. Quiet Time: I slow down for a bit every day, usually in the evening. When I teach late, I will create a pocket of down time in the morning instead. I do my walk or yoga around sunset and then turn off email and computers to relax with my husband and our four fabulous felines (yes, four, two arrived recently as a post-cancer surprise). I read a book or page through a magazine, cook a pot of soup or veggie chili, or watch something on TV. It’s calm and peaceful and, for now, it’s also necessary as I adjust to post-treatment fatigue. But as that improves, and I know it will day by day, I want to keep this relaxing time.

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2. To-Do List Part 1 — Categories: What I have found, pretty much all the time, is that there are more things in my to-do list than I can reasonably accomplish in any given day. To address this without constantly feeling behind, I took inspiration from a wise and kind social worker, one member of the excellent team at Norris Cancer Center, and divvied my tasks into groups — for me, these include: teaching, writing, art, and home/personal. This last one is important; it’s where I include vital things like: “Visit ashram with Diane,” “Meet mom for lunch,” or “Plan girls’ outing,” (if calling these vital seems odd, see life lesson #2 on my first list). Having my to-do list organized in this way helps me to stay balanced. I can mark accomplishments in the various spheres of my creative, professional, and home life without getting overwhelmed or over-emphasizing any one area.

3) To-Do List Part 2 — Triage: This is one of my new favorites. I took a cue from my recent medical experiences and came up with what I call triage on the To-Do List. Here’s how it works. When I see that there are more things on the list than I can accomplish in a dwindling time period, I locate the key items and disregard the rest, or leave them for another day. One way I decide whether the item is vital is how it will impact other people. For example, if I have writing I want to complete and also have a stack of papers to grade and students awaiting feedback, I choose the latter. With that comes another choice — how I accomplish the task in the time given. One day, when pressed for time, I learned a good lesson. Unable to write extensive comments on a batch of student papers, I instead took 15 minutes at the start of class to talk one on one with each student about the work. This not only saved time, but proved more effective than my normally scrawled comments. To-do list triage has the added benefit of feeling great.

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4) Lean Back: This is hands down the fastest way to slow down in any given moment! It’s exactly what it sounds like and you can do it right now — or anytime you like — to gain a shift in perspective that never fails to invite a deep breath and an organic smile. Just lean back in your chair or stand slightly back on your heels. You can even do this with just your head in a pinch (or in a meeting): Slide your head ever so subtly back in space and notice how the rest of your body follows and softens. We tend to lead with our heads, literally, in this fast-paced, accomplishment-driven culture. Changing the view makes a world of difference.

5) Sky Mind: This one is inspired by meditations from teacher Sally Kempton. I adapted them to tune into spaciousness anywhere, anytime. Simply imagine your mind is the sky. Let all extraneous thoughts float in the luminous space of that sky. Let it be a blue cloudless one, a deep black starry sky, or a pink sunset, whatever you imagine in that moment. Sometimes, I watch as it shifts from one lovely sky to another. Rest your eyes and jaw and inner ears. This will generally inspire natural breath and a gradual smile. It can be done anywhere but avoid it while driving in case it shifts you from a calm mind into a deeper meditative state.

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6) Let it Be: This is a wise tip I got several years ago from The Attitude Doc. Let it be replaces the more familiar, yet invariably nearly impossible mandate to “let it go.” Instead, let it be. Okay, you say, I didn’t finish this or that today. Or, okay, I really need to close my eyes for a minute. Or perhaps, okay, I am grumpy or tired or irritated or sore. The amazing thing about let it be is that, as soon as we accept uncomfortable feelings or situations and (if necessary or possible), address them, their impact decreases. Let it be will allow a deep sense of calm and facilitate a peaceful mind, which is the first step to slowing down.

I hope these help you do a little bit less a little bit better and enjoy it all a whole lot more. Please share your own tips for slowing down in the comments or find me on Facebook or Linked in. Happy sailing.

Caroline Myss, Spiritual Author, Explains Why Intuition Is Often A Source Of Suffering (VIDEO)
As a spiritual teacher and medical intuitive, Caroline Myss says she can see into people’s bodies and souls. What the best-selling author has learned through her three decades of work is that the mind, body and spirit are all deeply connected.

Your spirit, Myss says, is the part of you that seeks meaning and purpose. Each day, we have a choice as to whether we enhance that spirit or drain it — a choice that presents itself in the form of our intuition. Myss believes that ignoring our intuition leads us away from our life’s purpose and can cause serious damage to our spirit. She explained this belief in detail to Oprah on an episode of “Super Soul Sunday.”

“We have an intuitive voice in us. We are born intuitive,” Myss says. “We are so intuitive that it’s actually for most people the source of their greatest suffering.”

“How is your intuition — your intuitiveness — the cause of your greatest suffering?” Oprah asks. “I think it would be the opposite.”

“Oh, no. No, it isn’t, Oprah,” Myss responds. “Because people hear when they betray themselves.”

This betrayal happens when you ignore your intuition which often causes a nagging voice in your head to question your choice — whether you’ve said something you shouldn’t or whether you’re sticking around a dead-end relationship. “This is the voice of your conscience. It’s the voice of your consciousness, your gut instinct,” Myss explains. “It’s the voice you don’t want to hear, that never turns off.”

Following that voice and listening to your intuition allows you to evolve and push further toward your life’s purpose. “[Intuition is] the part that keeps us moving and turning the wheel of our life,” Myss says. “It will guide you.”

Also in the interview above, Myss explains the difference between acceptance and simply doing nothing.

“Super Soul Sunday” airs Sundays at 11 a.m. ET on OWN.

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