Breathe Yourself Happy
Respiration -the exchange of the gases oxygen and carbon dioxide, takes place not only externally (in relation to the atmosphere) but also internally (in relation to cellular gaseous exchange). Think about what is involved in the action of breathing; as you inhale the diaphragm (muscle) pulls downwards, drawing air into the lungs and compressing on the lower abdominal organs. Then, as you exhale the diaphragm releases upwards, pushing air out of the lungs and releasing the pressure on the digestive organs. So, every time we breathe the internal organs of the digestive system receive a gentle massage. We can regulate and alter our breathing patterns and in doing so will also have an effect on our digestive system.
Now think about being happy. Where do you feel that emotion in your body? We can identify all emotions by mental reasoning and rationale, based on previous experiences, but as happiness is defined as an emotion then, essentially it is felt by the body. So, when you feel happy, where exactly do you feel it, or, to be more precise, where in your body does happiness originate?
I’VE GUT A FEELING
If, like me, you identify the origin of your emotions to be in your abdomen, you may be curious to know why that is. The abdomen is a wall to wall expertly fitted energy resourcing unit with everything in its place and no place for anything more, with the exception, in females, of a baby of course! But what you really need to know about your abdomen and the digestive system in particular, is that it is monitored by its own nervous system: The Enteric Nervous System.
Probably the most ancient part of our nervous system as a whole, the Enteric Nervous System functions outside of the Central and the Autonomic Nervous Systems, but is influenced by and influences both. It is most closely related to the parasympathetic branch of the Autonomic Nervous System, which concerns itself with rebalancing the internal environment after the excitement of the sympathetic nervous system’s response to a stimulus and contains as many neurons as the spinal cord. However, the Enteric Nervous System functions without a brain and, as such, just responds to its own environment without the need for reason or rationale. It acts because it must. The digestive system is essential for regulation and maintenance of energy, which in turn is essential for our life and existence (Energy is THE life force.)
If we delve a little deeper into the structure and contents of this system we find that 95% of the body’s serotonin is found here. Serotonin is also known as the happy chemical. However, as happiness is an emotion and emotions fluctuate, we will use the term contentment in terms of digestion. A contented digestive system is a result of a balanced and adequate refuelling strategy (diet), and therefore responds badly to over-loading or under nourishment. The serotonin levels in the gut act to influence the intestinal contractions; too much serotonin in the digestive system can produce either vomiting or diarrhoea. So whilst our digestive system needs to feel contented to be able to do its job efficiently, it also needs to be balanced. In humans, serotonin levels are affected by the diet, but as serotonin does not cross the blood/brain barrier this means that ingesting serotonin in the diet has no effect on brain serotonin levels; it just affects the digestive system.
Yet the mood in our gut does affect and influence our mental state. When things are not balanced in the gut, or there is discontentment there, our capacity to enjoy the moment is reduced. Alternatively, when we are in a situation where we feel uncomfortable or unsure, we literally get a feeling in our gut which is related to an instinctive reaction or response to the situation. The structure of the Enteric Nervous System most relates to the nervous system in jellyfish, which are some of the most primitive and ancient species on the planet. Their nervous system functions without a brain as well and, ironically, if we watch the movement of a jellyfish it mirrors the shape and movement of the diaphragm muscle when we breathe! So perhaps this gut feeling is a result of an established (primitive), heightened sensitivity to our environment, both inside and outside. And what is it sensitive to? ENERGY!
Energy moves molecules; outside of yourself (external environment) and inside of yourself (internal environment). Energy reacts and responds to other energy sources; Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion. This is how we can sense when someone is upset or angry, without even knowing who they are or why they might be upset. This heightened sensitivity is a part of our defence mechanisms and as such is a useful tool for warning us in terms of situations and people. However, when our reaction begins to affect us (our internal environment) detrimentally then we are liable to suffer. Our energy levels suffer, our digestion is affected, our posture falters and our breath is distorted. But our breath or breathing rhythm is the key to internal contentment.
Whenever you feel that your energy levels are affected by someone else’s mood, observe the agitation in your body (gut). Then, take 3 deep breaths, drawing the agitation up into the inhalation and exhaling the agitation as you breathe out. After 3 deep breaths observe how the state in your body has changed. Repeat this process as many times as is necessary to return your internal environment to a naturally contented state.
By directing your breath you are influencing your internal environment. You can influence your internal environment, even if you can’t control your external environment.
OTHER USES FOR THIS BREATHING EXERCISE
- Pain control; drawing the pain into the inhalation and releasing it on the exhalation.
- Reducing heat; drawing the heat into the inhalation and releasing it on the exhalation.
- Exam nerves; draw the sensation into the breath in the same way and breathe it out.
- Other strong emotions- anger, frustration, euphoria, hurt.
Article written by Heather Langley