I’ve harked on about the importance of breathing many times. About how breath is the foundation for all meditation practices. I’ve often wondered, briefly, why that is. And never taken the time to really investigate. After all, it’s a no brainer, isn’t it? We breathe, we live. We don’t, we die. As a bonus, breathing is relaxing and oxygenates our bodies.
Finally I have discovered the root cause for why it is so important. Bear with me if you already know this. Sometimes I’m a slow learner. The light bulb moment came about from listening to yesterday’s video on Compassion in Action.
There are two powerful tools mentioned by Prof Paul Gilbert that I found of particular interest. They are vagal breathing and compassion for voice.
Today, I give you the Compassionate Breath. At the 43 minute mark in his video he demonstrates the 5 and 5 soothing rhythm breathing which is designed to stimulate the vagus nerve –
- Sit straight, lift the shoulders up and back
- Breathe evenly in and out through the nose – 5 in, 5 out
- On the out breath use the words ‘mind slowing down, body slowing down’ instead of the count
So what is it about the vagus nerve that makes it so important? First, a bit of background about the nervous system. It consists of the sympathetic and parasympathetic pathways. The sympathetic NS is the one that stimulates the ‘fight or flight’ response to immediate danger. It can become overburdened. You really don’t want an overburdened NS. It’s not healthy.
This is where the parasympathetic NS come in. It calms and soothes, doing its job when we’re resting. As well as it can. But wait – here’s the important bit. Well, one of them. It can be activated through breathing exercises. That’s a good thing.
Here’s my simplistic take on what happens. The vagus nerve (Latin for wandering) starts at the brain stem and connects everything from the tongue, pharynx vocal chords, lungs, heart, stomach, intestines to different glands that produce enzymes, hormones which in turn influence digestion, metabolism and heaps of other stuff. Get the picture? The Vagus Nerve is a VIP when it comes to looking after our body. By waking it up with some special breathing, it starts to send signals to other bits of you to relax whenever you kickstart it. That’s a really, really good thing.
Here’s a bit more of a sci-ency explanation for you –
And here’s a guided practice of soothing rhythm breathing –