Our breathing is a fundamental and often overlooked aspect, if not neglected part, of our daily lives. It is something we do without conscious thought, but its effects on our well-being, particularly on the nervous system, are profound. In this blog post, we explore the complicated relationship between breathing and the nervous system and highlight how the way we breathe can affect our physical, mental and emotional state.
The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS): A Brief Overview
The heart between breathing and the nervous system is the autonomic nervous system (ANS). This complex system controls involuntary body functions, including heart rate, digestion, blood pressure and breathing rate. The ANS is divided into two main branches: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.
Sympathetic nervous system: The accelerator pedal
The sympathetic nervous system is often referred to as the “fight or flight” system. It is responsible for activating our body's stress response in times of danger or perceived threat. When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, heart rate increases, blood vessels constrict, and muscles contract, preparing us to respond to challenges.
Interestingly, the way we breathe is closely linked to the sympathetic nervous system. Shallow, rapid breathing is a hallmark of the stress response. When we are anxious or stressed, our breathing tends to become shallow, leading to an increase in oxygen intake and a decrease in carbon dioxide levels. This physiological change triggers a series of reactions that can lead to increased stress and anxiety.
Parasympathetic: The brake pedal
In contrast to the sympathetic nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system is often referred to as the “rest and digestive system.” It promotes relaxation, recovery and restoration. When the parasympathetic nervous system is dominant, heart rate decreases, blood vessels dilate, and muscles relax.
Breathing plays a central role in activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Deep, slow, controlled breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing, stimulates the vagus nerve – a key role in the parasympathetic response. This type of breathing helps maintain a balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide and promotes a state of calm and relaxation.
Diaphragmatic breathing can be supported by placing Kinesio tape on the costal arch. Which makes it easier for the person to perceive the diaphragm and movement.
In the next blog posts you will learn more about the topics of breathing, the nervous system and kinesiotape.
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