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My Meditative Moments

The Healing Power of Breathwork

by meditative - March 8th, 2010.
Filed under: Introductory Readings.

Adapted from the work of Dr.AndrewWeil,MD

The power of breath as a technique and as a treatment for healing- correcting problems with health and improving general health- is beginning to show up more and more in integrative medicine.As the connection between the conscious and unconscious mind, the breath serves as the doorway of control for our autonomic nervous system.As a technique, it can also help to control anxiety and regulate mental states, etc.

Clinical feedback has shown that practicing various breathing techniques have improved digestion- improved circulation- corrected irregular heartbeats- helped people relax and deal with insomnia, panic disorder, and other anxiety states, etc.

Breathwork is free- it requires no equipment other than our own- and it is simple enough that anyone can do. Breathwork helps our healing & nervous systems work better through the relaxation response– managing and regulating our stress,which is often either a primary or aggravating cause for illness and dysregulation in the body. It is a powerful technique for helping change the physiology in our bodies- for changing our consciousness- helping to center our minds- to work more effectively and creatively- as well as to help us to sustain resolve in dealing with life’s challenges.

The most important physiological aspect of our breathing is that it’s the only bodily function we do either completely consciously (i.e. voluntary act) or completely unconsciously (i.e. involuntary act). In essence, breathing is controlled by two different sets of nerves and muscles- either involuntary or voluntary.As a result, breath is the only function through which we can influence the involuntary nervous system- that is we can establish rhythms of breathing with our voluntary nerves and muscles that will affect the involuntary nervous system.

Imbalances of the involuntary- autonomic- nervous system function underlie many common disorders such as high blood pressure- a situation where there is often an overactive sympathetic nervous system.As we have previously discussed in “Using Meditation as Medicine”, there seems today to be over-activity of the sympathetic nervous system and an under-activity of the parasympathetic nervous system- as if the body is constantly reacting to external threat that never goes away. This constant sympathetic stimulation can lead to high blood pressure, disturbed heart function (i.e. irregular heart beat), dysregulation of digestion and circulation, etc.

Regular (i.e. daily) breathwork can be used as an effective instrument to increase parasympathetic tone (i.e. relaxation response), and helps to bring the central nervous system back into balance- getting to the root of the problem and directly to the imbalance in autonomic nervous system function, as well as correcting it over time. This practice is not immediately suppressive or counter-active like pharmacology. Breathwork does so by gradual, repetitive input of the right kind of rhythms.

Besides being the connection to our conscious and unconscious mind, the breath also unites mind and body- and through breathwork,we can harmonize the influence of the mind on the body.With breath,we are working with spheres of the mind and body… attending to the whole… rather than suppressing or counter-acting one or the other.

The breath also provides a kind of universal resonance that is shared among all living organisms- through a rhythmic expansion and contraction.The essence of breath, or the oscillation between two poles- is what connects us with every living thing. It is here that we find the spiritual lesson of our breathwork- the rhythmic expansion & contraction of life- and the universality of breath.

In many cultures, it is believed that the spirit or soul is connected to the body through the breath rhythm- it is the life force– the spiritual pole of existence- the animated, non-physical essence of being.Henceforth,when we are looking in the direction of our breath,we are viewing our spiritual self- the movement of spirit in the body or in matter. In relation to the body, the breath represents a concentrated, non-physical essence (i.e. rhythmic, energetic wave) of power. Indeed, spiritual awareness can be garnered simply through consciously attending to our breath.

In breathwork,we aspire for our breathing to be…
Deeper, slower, quieter, and more regular.

In essence, and with regular (i.e. daily) practice, this breathing rhythm brings forth states of relaxation and harmony unlike states of mental upset and agitation where breathing becomes rapid, shallow, irregular and noisy. It is this voluntary aspect of our breathing that can be used to influence conditions, and to change mental states as well as bodily responses. Regular daily practice in simple breathwork is required to begin to change rhythms in the nervous system. It’s the constancy & regularity of the input that will ultimately effect these changes over time.

The power of the breathwork to change the function of the nervous system will be through this constancy- yet the subtle and gentle force of the breath rhythm will yield very noticeable results over time in both state of mind and body

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