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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.