Updated: Feb 16, 2019
75% of employers ranked Stress as their leading health risk according to a study by Willis Towers Watson. Use Your Breath AS Your Medicine
The trouble with stress . . . it’s all in our heads. Well, and our brains. Technically, it’s created in the mind/body/brain. It’s a psychological, physiological and biochemical response to our thoughts, feelings and emotions. So, here’s the “trouble with stress”. Hardly anyone wants to talk about their thoughts, feelings and emotions; especially, at work.
So, how is breath medicine? The optimization of breathing is a means to improving the health of the mind, body and brain as breathing rates & patterns influence our biochemical, biomechanics, psychological or physiological response from the body/mind/brain. Therapeutic yoga breathing (or Pranayama) is arguably the most comprehensive approach we have to reducing stress and building physical & psychological resiliency. Pranayama is the “regulation of breath with certain techniques and sequences” where the breath is intentionally altered in order to produce specific results. Understanding this, let’s explore “breath as medicine.”
“Breathe . . . Perceive . . . Receive” ~Ed Harrold
To appreciate the role of mindful yoga breathing as a tool in stress reduction, prevention and recovery, it’s important to understand the relationship between the relaxation response and the function of the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which controls the function of the many of the systems and organs being negatively affected by stress AND the drivers of chronic illness.
Chronic stress and burnout negatively affect the parts of the brain responsible for self-regulation and the on/off switch from sympathetic (SNS) to parasympathetic (PNS) affecting our ability to be physically and psychologically “resilient”. “The stress circuit or HPA-axis (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis) describes a feedback loop which signals the brain to trigger the release of hormones (epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol) which impact everything from blood pressure and digestion to important parts of the brain that impact both mood and levels of fear.” In states of chronic stress and burnout, this feedback loop is essentially damaged and the shut-off valve is stuck.