Monday, February 21, 2011

Breath Work to Alleviate Bipolar Symptoms

Deep breathing to calm the autonomic nervous system and help cope better with the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder.

Breath deeply yet gently with the fullest breaths you can tolerate, trying to catch the still point of mind at the bottom of each exhaled breath,  helping to bring a centered alignment of brain/body/mind sensations.

The Breath directly influences the autonomic nervous system, through which Bipolar symptoms are expressed.  

Listen to the free flow of your breath! 
The breath energizes and sustains every cell of our body. It nourishes everything in its path. It is like the freshness of water. It is with us every second of our lives, but most people pay little attention to it. Our breath is mainly unconscious and regulated by the autonomic nervous system. Autonomic is derived from the word ‘autonomy’, it has the quality of being ‘independent’ of the conscious mind. Even though air and muscular movements happily tick over by themselves we can influence the breath consciously through breath awareness and Pranayama (breath-control). We can discover unconscious, negative breathing patterns and replace them with more beneficial ones. By changing the breath we have a direct influence on the autonomic nervous system and the mind.
Precisely because its ripples influence so many human functions, a thorough understanding of the breath provides a powerful tool for expanding our awareness of the various dimensions of the body and mind.’ Science of Breath.
Science has proven that the response of the Vagus nerve is strengthened when you prolong the exhalation of your breath. The fibres of the Vagus nerve are connected to your lungs. The parasympathetic nervous system is activated and your mental state is calmed.

Breathe and understand emotions:
Emotions and feelings have a strong connection with the breath and are expressed in the way that we breathe. When your breathing reacts to an emotion your body also reacts. We constrict our breath when we feel sadness or fear creating more tension and oxygen deprivation in the body, hold our breath when we feel pain, force our breath with anger, and breathe easy with happiness. By changing the breath pattern we can change the emotions. By changing the rate and depth of our breath we can directly influence our physical condition – heart rate, blood pressure, and levels of parasympathetic and sympathetic activation. It can make us excited or calm, tense or relaxed. Shallow, rapid breathing can trigger the sympathetic system (fight or flight response).

Breathe and energize your immune system
There are two main fluid systems in the body, the blood and lymph. Blood flows through the cardiovascular system, while lymph flows through the lymphatic system. In addition to one way valves to help push along the fluid, lymph circulation and cleansing depends mainly upon deep breathing and skeletal muscle contractions.
Stress can impede blood flow
In the cardiovascular system, the body responds to stress by constricting the smaller blood vessels – these smaller blood vessels are located the farthest from the heart. They are the arterioles, capillaries, and venules. Constricted blood flow due to stress is experienced as cold hands and feet. Deep breathing can release accumulated stress and muscle tension.

Respiratory System (Air movements)
The respiratory system consists of the mouth, nose, trachea, bronchi, lungs, bronchioles and the alveoli. We inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. The breath supplies oxygen to the blood and the blood delivers oxygen to all parts of the body. Every cell in the body needs to breathe – taking up oxygen, burning fuel, generating energy and giving off carbon dioxide. Oxygen (air) enters the respiratory system through the mouth and the nose. It then passes through the larynx, and the trachea (windpipe). The trachea splits into two smaller tubes called the bronchi which lead directly into each of the lungs. Both then branch out into many smaller air passages (bronchioles), like the roots of a tree, which then connect to tiny sacs or bubbles called alveoli. Most people have about 300 million of these spongy, air filled sacs in each lung. It is here where the gas exchange occurs. The inhaled oxygen passes into the air sacs and then diffuses through the capillaries into the blood stream. Meanwhile, the waste-rich blood from the veins releases its carbon dioxide into the alveoli. The carbon dioxide follows the same path out of the lungs when you exhale. Your left lung is slightly smaller than your right lung, to make space for your heart.

Thoracic Diaphragm (Muscular movements)
Three main sets of muscles are active when you breathe normally; the intercostals, the abdominal muscles, and the respiratory diaphragm. The thoracic diaphragm is often considered the primary breathing muscle. It is a dome-shaped muscle located in the rib cage. Its position divides the body almost in half. The lungs rest above the diaphragm with the heart nestled in between. The inhale is created by the contraction of the diaphragm, it flattens out and pulls downwards which expands the rib cage and creates more space for the lungs, pushing the abdominal muscles doenward which causes the abdomen to bulge forward. This larger space pulls air into the lungs. When you breathe out, the diaphragm expands upwards, likea parachute, reducing the amount of space for the lungs and forcing air out. If you put your hands on the sides of your rib cage you can feel the diaphragm in action. Diaphragmatic breathing is physiologically the most efficient way of breathing. This type of breathing happens when you inhale and the diaphragm moves downwards and the abdominals move passively outwards. This is also known as belly breathing. It allows more air into the lungs. This also gives a rhythmic massage to the abdominal organs promoting circulation. No muscles contract on exhalation. The lungs recoil shrinking back to their original size expeling air.

To practice mindfulness breathing, sit in a comfortable cross legged position with the spine straight. Begin to focus on the breath, be aware as it goes in and out of the nostrils. Keep your attention on the tip of your nose or your upper lip. Bring your awareness to connect to the first moment of the beginning ‘in breath’. Do not try and change the breath, just be with it exactly as it is and observe. It is difficult at the beginning to keep one hundred percent of attention on the in and out breath as you will find that your mind is full of distractions. When a thought, emotion or feeling (physical sensation), image or sound distracts you; recognize it but then let it go and bring your focus back to the simple in and out of the breath. Begin at first to keep full attention for the duration of that one in breath. Connect again at the very beginning of the out breath and follow it to the end. Feel the one breath fully. Once you have sustained the attention one breath then do one more and so on. Don’t set a time or a number of breaths. Just focus on the one breath in and the one breath out. It is easier to concentrate in this way. Bringing the mind back to the breath trains the mind to be attentive and mindful. It takes effort, but slowly the mind will grow stronger.