In recent years, there is an explosion of children and adults struggling with anxiety disorders.
These range from anxiety disorders which are uncomfortable to those that lead to disabling fears and panic symptoms. Turning to medications for a solution is often filled with both short- and long-term side-effects and questionable utility, although at other times useful in the urgency for immediate relief.
Historically, some psychological treatments have been effective, with cognitive-behavioral approaches, tapping techniques, and Neurofeedback all having solid success.
In our practice using Neurofeedback to change brain waves, we have found that optimal results are found when clients embrace the critically important role of respiration or breathing. As bizarre as it sounds, they must learn HOW to breathe to feel better.
Why Breathing Matters
In the past, common advice was offered that was overly simplified. Comments such as, ‘just take a deep breath,’ were well-intentioned, but of limited value. Yet, this was a pointer to how important breathing is for the mind and body to be settled.
More recently, solid research (as well as my clinical experience) confirms the role that breathing plays in shaping our emotional states. Historically, we viewed the short, rapid breaths associated with anxiety states as a consequence of fear and anxiety, but not a possible interactive contributor to anxiety.
We now know our breathing plays a vital role in what the brain is doing, as well as the body. Here’s a short summary of how that happens.
1. Breathing Influences the Heart
How we are breathing directly shapes the heart rhythm. This is not a minor influence but rather breathing exerts powerful control over the heart. And this is not just the pace of the heart, going from faster to slower. Instead, HOW we breath shapes the rhythm of the heart.
While the details are a bit complex, the important take-away here is that the rhythm of the heart can be shaped by breathing, and that very rhythm can become very smooth and at the same time, more variable. This, as it turns out, is a very good factor for our health.
There is an evolving literature base that examines what is called, ‘Heart Rate Variability’ or HRV. The variability between heart beats turns out to be a significant indicator of both our current state of emotional heath, but also a very strong predictor of our overall physical health and longevity.
And, more critically, we can shape this with our breathing.
2. The Heart Inform the Brain More than the Brain Shapes the Heart
It now appears that 85% of the messages running through the vagal nerve runs from the heart to the brain, and not the other way around. Why is this important? This finding emphasizes the role the heart is playing on the condition of the brain. When anxious for example, the heart rhythm is speaking strongly to the brain. In fact, VERY strongly to your brain!
In our Neurofeedback clinic, we can observe the influence that breathing plays on the brain, changing the very dominance of our Beta brain waves from one side to the other.
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