The Relationship Between Breathing and the Brain

How Breathing Impacts Health

In Bon medicine and in select Tibetan Buddhist meditations, the use of breath is a strategic element of healing practices. Controlled breathing is not new to the ancient healing worlds of India and Tibet. In fact, there is an entire body of knowledge known as Swara Yoga that is essentially a “science of breathing.” For many years, I felt a strong affinity to these traditions and practices, but I was not aware that the knowledge they had divined preceded western medicine by thousands of years. For example, the discovery that we breathe out of one dominant nostril, switching nostril-dominance every few hours, is credited in the Western canon to a German physician named Richard Kayser in 1895, whereas Swara yoga understood this fact several thousand years ago.

Meanwhile the Tibetan practice of Tummo, or inner fire, allows practitioners to manipulate their immune system by flooding the body with trapped oxygen, increasing alkalinity and subsequently reducing inflammation and triggering immune responses. Western medicine was clueless to the fact that we are able to manipulate our auto-immune system, or else, the parasympathetic nervous system in this way, until a Dutch man named Wim Hoff, the famous “ice man,” subjected himself to clinical scrutiny and proved it once and for all.

We all know that taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly has a calmative effect, but we may not know what Dr. Sundar Balasubramania, a cell biologist, discovered after a clinical trial. And that is, the practice of a Paranayama breathing exercise, as taught by a yogi named Thirumoolar (and discovered by Balasubramania) increased the amount of nerve-growth factor and number of proteins found in the saliva of those who practiced the breathing technique, as opposed to the control group which did not practice. Such a finding, that our breathing can trigger a cascade of chemical responses, has tremendous implications for removing carcinogenics, regulating auto-immune responses, reducing stress and chronic pain.

We don’t usually think of breathing as an intentional act because we live in a world where we are discouraged from appreciating that our breath is our vital force.

Samar Habib is a writer, researcher and educator who lives in California. She’s passionate about reducing suffering and increasing compassion in the world, one mind at a time. When she’s not busy figuring out how things work and how they could be working better, you’ll find her sharing what she’s learned in seminars, public lectures, books and online courses. In fact, you can check out more of her lifestyle management hacks by taking her course Quantum Mind: Stop Suffering and Take Back Your Life. You can get in touch with her on drsamarhabib [at] email [dot] com

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