The disciplines of medicine, biology, chemistry, and physics have delved deep into science to explore the human body and uncover its full capabilities. We have marveled at the wonders of regenerating livers, one-kidney function, heart transplants, and the power of brain cells. However, it is not the peak of discovery, and every day, we learn a new wonder about the capabilities and functions of the human body.
For the longest time, breathing has been considered necessary only for replenishing oxygen and taking out unused gases in the body. In recent times, however, it has been discovered that breathing is more than just a biological function – it is an art and science that can be mastered and directed towards achieving certain mental and emotional benefits.
The Brain and The Lungs
The brain is the central nervous control centre and controls basically every other function in the body. It senses temperature differences and stimulates the body to regulate them. The brain manages your emotions and presents whichever is appropriate for any given moment. It also allows you to form and process thoughts, create and store your memory, and do many other things.
Breathing is one of such functions. The brain can tell the levels of oxygen in your blood and control your lungs’ expansion and contraction so that you can get enough with every breath. This is why you will start panting in a room without enough air.
Most of the body functions, specifically physiological functions, you have some degree of control over. You tell your mind what to do, and it does it. You can manage your breathing rhythm, how much air you take in, how long you hold in it, and when you let it out.
With this understanding, you can manipulate your breathing to relax and enrich your physical, emotional, mental, and even spiritual health. This is perhaps why we are told to take a deep breathe whenever we are nervous, scared, angry, frustrated, or overly excited. This very concept is the foundation of breathwork.
What can I do with breathwork?
Let’s take a moment and talk about the legendary Wim Hof. He is called the Ice Man for a reason – the man has broken world records and astonished many with his ability to withstand frigid temperatures. The 61-year-old Dutch athlete is known to swim miles in ice-cold water under solid ice barriers without gasping for a single breathe. He has been pictured meditating in bathtubs full of ice and walking barefoot effortlessly and seemingly very comfortably on snow and ice roads in nothing but a pair of thin shorts and an occasional vest. Is he superhuman? I want to think that he’s not.
Wim Hof does not have dead nerves, exceptional resistance to cold, or extraordinary lung capacity. He can achieve all these by controlling his breathing by controlling his mind. He can manipulate his breathing patterns and the amount of air he takes in to acquire all these outstanding accomplishments in athletics.
This is just an example of just how much you can achieve with breathwork.
How can I control my mind with breathing?
As scientists have found from a series of experiments, breathing, specifically through your nose, can have specific effects on the mind, especially when done deliberately in a precise and controlled manner.
Brain signals transmitted electrically in the olfactory cortex, which is responsible for smell, can be altered significantly by specific patterns of nasal breathing. This part of the brain receives those transmissions directly from the nose and transmits them to the amygdala and hippocampus, which are responsible for emotions and memory. This system is also associated with the part of the brain that affects our feelings and behavior. This explains why you think of your mom when you smell her perfume somewhere.
In an experiment to understand the connection between breathing and its effect on emotions and memories, scientists used 60 healthy participants. They were shown a variety of faces ad had to decide quickly which facial expressions they first saw. It was observed that the faces that showed fear were more easily recognized, especially when the participants were breathing in through their noses. The scientists did not observe this with regular uncoordinated breathing, breathing out, or when the participants were breathing through their noses.
In the same study, the test subjects were also shown images and asked to recall them later. It was observed that they had an easier time remembering the pictures that were displayed to them when they were breathing in through the nose.
This experiment shows that breathing in is an effective way of controlling our minds. The process triggers brain signals in areas affecting our memories, emotions, and behavior. If we can understand this and practice different breathing patterns, we can control our minds with breathe.
Conclusively, breathwork has been around for a while now and has even been traced back to ancient communities where it was used in meditation to clear the mind and achieve other uses. It has been found to have a variety of benefits physically, emotionally, mentally, and even spiritually. It is beneficial for individuals who struggle with anxiety, depression, stress, and other related emotional problems.