The Physiology of Belly Breathing

Physiology of Belly Breathing

How Diaphragmatic Breathing Activates Our Relaxation System

Why “belly” breathing calms us down and keeps our brain from being emotionally reactive:

Research has shown that just 20 minutes of diaphragmatic breathing is all that’s needed to activate and oxygenate the mindful and thinking part of the brain (the prefrontal cortex).

  1. A belly breath causes the lungs to press on the diaphragmatic wall.
  1. The diaphragmatic wall pushes down on the abdominal cavity (like a balloon being squeezed).
  1. The squeezed abdomen spreads outward in the front of the abdomen and the back where it presses on the spine.
  1. This causes the abdominal cavity to put pressure on the longest cranial nerve, the vagus nerve, which runs all the way downs from the brain stem and the spine.
  1. When pressed on, the vagus nerve quiets down and turns on the body’s relaxation system and regulates the parasympathetic nervous system (in contrast to the instant gratification nerve).

What happens when the vagus nerve gets quieted down:

  1. Blood pressure, pulse rate, and respiration become lower.
  1. Lactate (which increases feelings of anxiety) gets cleansed from the blood.
  1. Alpha brain waves (calm and alert) are increased.
  1. The neurotransmitter serotonin is released, gets into the bloodstream and up to the brain in about 20–30 seconds. About 95 percent of this feel-good neurotransmitter is stored in the stomach lining and intestines (our gut).

No wonder breathing blocks reactivity and unhealthy emotions, helps you feel better, and think more clearly!

Thanks to Donald Altman, author of The Mindfulness Toolbook for these tools.

Everyday Mindfulness and Brain Integration

I think it’s important that my clients understand the physiology of relationships and the significance of an integrated brain in building healthy relationships. Dr. Dan Siegel is at the forefront of the latest neurobiology research on how brain integration shapes relationships and relationships shape the brain. One of the ways you can cultivate a more integrated brain is through mindfulness techniques.

Here are some tools to help foster this symbiotic process:

Dr. Siegel’s Hand Model of the Brain

Breath Awareness

See Dr. Siegel’s website for a guided experience through this reflective process.

Breath Discussion

Dr. Siegel also shares an audio clip on the Wheel of Awareness Practice.

Self-Esteem Inventory: How I Feel About Myself

Self-Esteem InventoryHow you feel about yourself impacts your ability to have healthy, happy relationships with your children, partners, family, coworkers, and practically every person in your life. Strong negative self-talk can create internal stress. Take an honest inventory of yourself. People who feel good about themselves can say “yes” to many, not necessarily all, of these. Notice what is already working for you and areas you would like to improve. Making a commitment to yourself to improve can begin the process of your becoming more empowered and more internally relaxed.

  1. I am willing to work hard to improve my self-concept.
  1. I want to improve my self-concept even though I know it will change many aspects of my life.
  1. I like being the person I am.
  1. I feel I am an attractive person.
  1. I like my body.
  1. I feel attractive and sexually desirable.
  1. I feel confident most of the time.
  1. I know and understand myself.
  1. I feel good being a man/woman.
  1. I no longer feel like a failure because my love relationship ended.
  1. I feel capable of building deep and meaningful relationships.
  1. I am the type of person I would like to have as a friend.
  1. I feel what I have to say is important to others.
  1. I feel I have an identity of my own.
  1. I have hope and faith that I can improve my self-concept.
  1. I am confident I can solve the problems facing me.
  1. I am confident I can adjust to this crisis.
  1. I can listen to criticism without becoming angry and defensive.