Stress occurs whenever we have to adapt to change. Small amounts of stress are good for us; through adapting successfully to stressful situations, we become stronger and more competent. Excess stress - stress that is beyond our ability to master - can lead us into a cycle of negative emotions such as worry, fear and anxiety. When this continues without relief, it can become a whirlwind of frustration, anger, exhaustion, self-loathing and depression.
A major component of the stress-response system is the autonomic nervous system, which orchestrates the involuntary functions of the body: cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, hormonal, glandular and immune systems. An intricate network carries messages from the brain to the body in order to regulate these functions. At the same time, messages from the body ascend to inform the brain of the moment-to-moment state of every part of the body. If there is anything amiss with our breathing, the brain needs to know quickly to take action immediately. Respiratory messages have top priority when it comes to getting the brain’s attention.
Of all the autonomic functions of the body, only one can be controlled voluntarily - breathing. By voluntarily changing the rate, depth and pattern of breathing, we can change the messages being sent from the body to the brain. Messages from the respiratory system have rapid, powerful effects on brain centers involved in thought, emotion and behavior.
How often do we have to adapt to change? Every day, we have to digest a certain amount of stress. Breathing can alleviate negative feelings such as fear, anxiety, depression, self-blame and physical discomforts. Breath practices nurture positive emotions, loving feelings, compassion, our sense of connection with what is meaningful in life, and our sense of bonding with others.
There are infinite ways to use the breath to enrich every moment of your life.
Adapted from: The Healing Power of the Breath
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