The Science of The Breath

Breathing is everything. Rather, correct breathing is everything.

It can be the difference between a super-strong pain-free body and one that’s under constant Cortisol distress and full of instability.

When you take a deep breath in and your diaphragm contracts down, it stimulates the vagus nerve. When the vagus nerve is stimulated, this sends a message back up to the brain telling you to relax. Lots of wonderful things happen when we relax. We sleep better,  food digest better, the process of waste products elimination is better, and even sex is better.

So, what happens if you have a shallow breathing pattern and the top of your chest and shoulders move primarily when you take air in? Say hello to your friend Cortisol — your body is thrown into a flight or fight stimulus! No one needs that extra stress, life is hard enough, so let’s break it down a bit more and get you into a correct deep breathing pattern.

How do you take a deep breath?

Although many people feel a deep breath comes solely from the expansion of the chest, chest breathing (in of itself) is not the best way to take a deep breath. While most of us never give breathing a second thought, the way we draw breath can affect our physical, mental and emotional well-being.

Breathing correctly is the path to self-healing. Besides transporting oxygen and carbon dioxide through the bloodstream, how else do you think the breath contributes to our health and well-being?

Reducing stress, sleeping better, or relieving pain – all may be as simple as becoming conscious of our breath. Deep breathing techniques can change our life!

Becoming conscious of our breath

Poor breathing habits can lead to negative health consequences—our body’s organs cannot work to their full potential without plenty of oxygen and the proper elimination of carbon dioxide. Many common health ailments such as high blood pressure, migraine headaches, anxiety, stress, chronic pain, depression, asthma, and insomnia. can be at least alleviated or completely controlled simply by making a conscious effort to breathe slowly and deeply.

Breathing properly can reduce stress levels, improve workouts and boost your immunity to infections and illnesses. Poor breathing can contribute to panic attacks and even conditions like insomnia and depression.

So, what can we do to reverse these obviously undesirable effects? Simply pause and become aware of the incoming and outgoing breath. Allow the breath’s rhythm to the center, ground and calm you. Just Breathe Consciously! 

Conscious breathing is a great form of meditation that can be easily practiced anywhere, anytime! 

Test #1: Place your hands surrounding your rib cage right under your chest and take in a big breath of air. Your ribs should move out in the front, sides, and back. Did you feel them move? They should move a lot! Maybe you only felt some of your ribs move? Did the ribs on the back left under your thumb not move as much as the right? No? There’s the source of that neck or midback tightness you’ve been feeling. Fascinating, isn’t it?

Step one: Get your ribs to expand out in a 360 fashion when you breathe.

Test #2: Did your diaphragm contract down in a deep breathing pattern with great rib expansion? Did you feel expansion right under your ribcage or did your ribcage move followed by your shoulders and your belly suck in? Now, I want you to drop a couple of fingers down under your ribcage while leaving one or two on top. Take a deep breath in. Did it expand out into your fingers right under your ribcage?

Breathing is absolutely essential to life, but it’s often overlooked as a necessity for good health. Practicing conscious breathing can help us to improve our sleep, reduce stress, and boost overall health.

Breathing properly can reduce stress levels, improve workouts and boost your immunity to infections and illnesses. Poor breathing can contribute to panic attacks and even conditions like insomnia and depression. Conscious breathing is a great form of meditation that can be easily practiced anywhere, anytime! Simply pause and become aware of the incoming and outgoing breath. Allow the breath’s rhythm to the center, ground and calm you.

Breathing is most unique as compared to other visceral (e.g. digestion, endocrine, or cardiovascular) functions in that it can also be regulated voluntarily.

Cellular metabolism (reactions in the cell to produce energy) for example, is regulated by oxygen provided during breathing. There is clear evidence that controlled breathing techniques can affect oxygen consumption and metabolism (Jerath et al., 2006). In fact, much of the aim of pranayama breathing (yogic breathing) appears to shift the autonomic nervous system away from its sympathetic (excitatory) dominance. Pranayama breathing has been shown to positively affect immune function, hypertension, asthma, autonomic nervous system imbalances, and psychological or stress-related disorders (Jerath et al., 2006). Jerath and colleagues add those investigations regarding stress and psychological improvements support evidence that pranayama breathing alters the brain’s information processing, making it an intervention that improves a person’s psychological profile.”

Slow pranayama breathing techniques show the most practical and physiological benefit, yet the underlying mechanism of how they work is not fully elucidated in the research (Jerath et al., 2006). However, Jerath and colleagues hypothesize that “the voluntary, slow deep breathing functionally resets the autonomic nervous system through stretch-induced inhibitory signals and hyperpolarization (slowing electrical action potentials) currents…which synchronizes neural elements in the heart, lungs, limbic system and cortex.” As well, investigations have demonstrated that slow breathing pranayama breathing techniques activate the parasympathetic (inhibitory) nervous system, thus slowing certain physiological processes down that may be functioning too fast or conflicting with the homeostasis of the cells (Jerath et al., 2006).

Thus, one meaningful aspect in learning breathing techniques is the awareness in the difference in smooth, even breathing to erratic breathing. Modifications in respiratory patterns come naturally to some individuals after one lesson, however, it may take up to six months to replace bad habits, and ultimately change the way one breathes (Sovik, 2000). The general rule, often noted in studies, and particularly observed by Gallego et al. (2001) was that if a voluntary act is repeated, “learning occurs, and the neurophysiological and cognitive processes underpinning its control may change.” Gallego et al. continue that while some changes can be made, the need for longer-term studies is warranted to better understand the attention-demanding phases involved with these breathing changes.

To summarize, Sovik suggests the characteristics of optimal breathing (at rest) are that it is diaphragmatic, nasal (inhalation and exhalation), smooth, deep, even, quiet and free of pauses.

Final Thoughts
The research is very clear that breathing exercises (e.g. pranayama breathing) can enhance parasympathetic (inhibit neural responses) tone, decrease sympathetic (excitatory) nervous activity, improve respiratory and cardiovascular function, decrease the effects of stress, and improve physical and mental health (Pal, Velkumary, and Madanmohan, 2004). 



Water and Brain Function Optimization

Over 70 % of your body is composed of water, and every function in the body is dependent on water, including the activities of the brain and nervous system.

Water and Brain Function – “How to Improve Memory and Focus”  – by Merlin Hearn and Nancy Hearn

The average person in the U.S. drinks less than a quart (32 ounces) of water a day.
Yet, according to the Mayo Clinic, the average adult loses more than 80 ounces of water every day through sweating, breathing, and eliminating wastes.
If you are drinking less than 80 ounces of water a day, what is the impact on your brain function? Drinking water and brain function are integrally linked.
Lack of water to the brain can cause numerous symptoms including problems with focus, memory, brain fatigue and brain fog, as well as headaches, sleep issues, anger, depression, and many more.

Water and Brain Energy

The brain is one of the most important organs in your body to keep fueled. It is approximately 85 percent water and brain function depends on having abundant access to water.

Drinking water and brain function are integrally linked.

Water gives the brain the electrical energy for all brain functions, including thought and memory processes.
According to Dr. Corinne Allen, founder of the Advanced Learning and Development Institute, brain cells need two times more energy than other cells in the body. Water provides this energy more effectively than any other substance.
Water is also needed for the brain’s production of hormones and neurotransmitters. Nerve transmission requires one-half of all the brain’s energy.When your brain is functioning on a full reserve of water, you will be able to think faster, be more focused, and experience greater clarity and creativity.

Daily hydration will not only help with better thinking, it can help prevent attention deficit disorder in children and adults.
The reason why it is important to drink plenty of water throughout the day for optimal brain function is because your brain does not have any way to store water.
When your body loses more water than you are replacing, dehydration will kick in and brain function will be affected.

Brain Symptoms of Dehydration

Dehydration causes your brain to shut down and not run at full speed. Some of the mental symptoms of dehydration include brain fog, afternoon fatigue, focus issues, depression, anger, emotional instability, exhaustion, headaches, sleep issues, stress, and a lack of mental clarity and acuity.Studies have shown that if you are only 1 percent dehydrated, you will likely have a 5 percent decrease in cognitive function.
If your brain drops 2 percent in body water, you may suffer from fuzzy short-term memory, experience problems with focusing, and have trouble with math computations.
Further studies have shown that prolonged dehydration causes brain cells to shrink in size and mass. This is most common in the elderly, many of whom tend to be chronically dehydrated for years.

Dehydration is also a known factor in dementia and proper hydration may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Water is also essential for delivering nutrients to the brain and for removing toxins. When the brain is fully hydrated, the exchange of nutrients and toxins will be more efficient—thus ensuring better concentration and mental alertness.

Water and Brain Challenges

Dr. Allen has found that people with brain challenges such as Autism, Aspergers, ADD, head injuries, anxiety attacks and depression often drink almost no water each day! The lack of water only enhances brain dysfunction.
Brain inflammation is often associated with various types of brain challenges, especially injuries, and will often result in the body’s inability to detoxify harmful substances from the brain.
When the body is dehydrated, the detoxification problem linked to inflammation is exacerbated.
Free radicals such as radiation, pollutants, chemicals, pesticides, and toxic metals pass freely through the brain’s blood supply. To stop the many sources of free radicals attacking the brain and causing brain inflammation, a strong antioxidant and powerful anti-inflammatory agent is needed.

Water provides essential energy to the brain, keeps the nerve signals going, delivers nutrients to the brain, and removes toxins. We need to be drinking enough water daily to keep the brain fueled and energized for optimum function.

Recommendations for Improved Brain Function

To start your day off right for optimal brain function, I recommend drinking 12 to 16 ounces of water as soon as you wake up.
Always keep a bottle of filtered water near you throughout the day, especially if you have a job that requires a lot of mental activity.

Drinking water regularly will help to keep your brain fueled, oxygenated, and energized.

Many people think, like I use to, that they can drink soda, coffee, milk, or juice instead of water and get the same level of hydration. This is simply not true.
Bottom line, if you want your brain to function well, receiving and sending signals to the rest of your body, make sure it receives the water it needs.
In addition, the type of water you drink is extremely important. I recommend filtered drinking water over tap, bottled, distilled, or reverse osmosis water.

Reference Water and the Brain
Further reading . . .
Depression and Dehydration – Key Reasons They Are Linked
Return from Water and Brain to Health Benefits of Drinking Water

I hope you enjoy this article and choose to stay on the path to wellness by staying hydrated.

REMEMBER: The recipe for well-being is simple: 


My Love and Gratitude to YOU !

Veronica Vidal