Breathing Changes Your Mind

Posted on: December 3, 2018, by :

Mindfulness … meditation … contemplation … reflective practice – these words have become part of the language at The Avenue as we explore pathways of connection with God, with each other and with creation. We have lauded the health and wellbeing benefits of regular reflective practice, and we have initiated some new regular opportunities to explore mindfulness, meditation and prayer. And those of us who share in these opportunities have a sense that we better people because of it – more balanced perhaps, somehow calmer, and better equipped to live well (at least for a while after our practice!).

Last week I reflected on the role of Thomas Keating in the development of contemplative practice, and his assertion that ‘silence is the language of God.’ This week I want to share some information I came across in an article about the science of mindfulness, titled ‘Neuroscientists have identified how exactly a deep breath changes your mind’ [Quartzy, Nov 19 2017].

Breathing is a function of the autonomic nervous system – it is an involuntary action that our brain controls whether we are aware of it or not (like the beating of our heart or the digestion of food). However, unlike other animals, humans do have the ability to intentionally control their breathing – we can take a deep breath, we can breathe faster, we can hold our breath (although not indefinitely). Scientists have long wondered why and how: what is the advantage for humans in being able to volitionally regulate our breathing, and how do we gain access to parts of our brain that are not normally under our conscious control?

The article I read this week reports on the findings of new and unique research involving recordings made directly from within the brains of people being prepared for neurosurgery. It shows that volitionally controlling our respiration, even simply focusing on one’s breath, yields additional access and synchrony between different areas of the brain. When breathing changes, the brain changed as well. The research findings suggest that the advice ‘to take a deep breath’ may not be just a cliché: focusing on one’s breath or doing breathing exercises can indeed change the brain.

Further, the study draws on other related research to suggest that particular patterns of breathing or specific contemplative practices or different styles of mindfulness can impact differently on the brain, meaning that we might be able to learn how to control our breath to effect a particular outcome: relaxation, concentration, presence, creativity, etc.

It sounds so simple, yet the impact could be so profound, enabling us to slip into calming mode when confronted by a stressful situation, or promote our ability to focus when concentration is required, or foster our creativity when the words won’t come, all through the way we choose to breathe.

If you want to explore these possibilities further, why not take advantage of the regular reflective practice opportunities within the program at The Avenue: Connect at 7:30 pm on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays each month; 15 minutes of Mindfulness at 9 am each Thursday; a Contemplative Gathering at 5 pm on the first Sunday of each month. All people are welcome to join us on this journey of discovery.

David Brooker.

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