Goodbye. How your brain processes emotion.
Recently I said farewell to a loved friend who left this realm unexpectedly, leaving behind a treasured partner, family, friends and his admiring community
Everyone was grieving the hole left in their lives.
They say losing loved ones is part of living, but when it happens, this knowledge doesn’t seem to make it any easier.
In the chapel hundreds gathered to share their memories about him, and many shed tears as they came to terms with their loss.
The pain was palpable, the grief was obvious and as I sat amongst the mourners I could feel a mix of disbelief, sadness, deep sorrow, love, hope, heaviness, anxiety and even anger at him being taken so soon.
There was even a sense of acceptance amongst many.
I know he has gone home, and is beyond joyful.
All those who have returned from near death experiences tell us how deeply loving and peaceful it is on the other side.
Many years ago, after losing a close friend, I sat in meditation to connect with his spirit, and he came through and somehow opened a portal for me to allow me to feel his joy.
It was only momentary, but the effect was overwhelming, my heart felt as if it was leaping out of my chest with what felt like ecstatic joy.
I felt suddenly hugely expanded and loved. It’s hard to describe the powerful intensity of it.
That experience has stayed with me because I’ve never experienced anything like it before, or since.
But what of those left behind? How do they find calm, a place of peace?
Today I want to share some new research that proves the way we breathe influences the way our brain processes our emotions and memories.
It’s well known that mindfulness calms the body and mind. It’s also well understood that deep, regular and controlled breathing calms our parasympathetic nervous system.
The parasympathetic, or “rest and digest” system is responsible for controlling homeostasis, or the balance and maintenance of the body’s systems. It restores the body to a state of calm and counterbalance, and allows it to relax and repair.
The body undergoes several specific responses when the parasympathetic system is activated.
Your saliva is increased, digestive enzymes are released, your heart rate drops, the bronchial tubes in your lungs constrict, your muscles relax, the pupils in your eyes constrict, your urinary output increases to name a few.
All of these changes are designed to maintain long-term health, improve digestion, conserve energy, and maintain a healthy balance in your body’s systems.
And, along with the physical effects, your emotional system calms and steadies, flows and relaxes. Your ability to process and release emotion is greater. As the body relaxes so does the mind and heart, operating as one.
For some people, the parasympathetic nervous system can be activated simply by reading a book, which may be why so many people read before going to bed for the night. Soaking in a hot bath, getting a massage, or petting a dog or cat are good relaxation strategies.
One method that works for everyone is a deep breathing practise, like those in yoga and Qigong. But not just any type of deep breathing…. researchers have recently uncovered something important about the way you breathe.
New research shows something fascinating about how your brain processes emotion and memory:
To find out whether you’ve been helping or hindering your brain to process your emotions try this….
Take a big deep breath in – now.
Really…. do it now…
Did you breathe in through your nose or your mouth?
If you just gulped air in through your mouth you’ve been missing out on the benefits of nasal breathing to influence your brain activity.
Researchers have discovered your in-breath encodes memories and regulates our emotions.
No wonder all ancient health practises include specific breathing techniques for healing and emotional release.
They’ve known for centuries that deep breathing through the nose was essential for wellbeing on many levels…. activating our parasympathetic nervous system and regulating our brain function, and together calming our physical and emotional bodies.
How to do deep breathing – that’s NOT just in your chest:
In Qigong (“chee-gong” is like tai chi) we practise breathing in and out through our nose, focusing on noticing our belly rising as we breathe in, and deflating as we breathe out.
Try it now as you’re reading this. It can be helpful to imagine having a balloon in your belly that inflates on your in-breath and deflates on the out-breath.
As you breathe out through your nose, gently tighten your belly muscles to squeeze out stale air from your lungs. Then breathe in again normally.
This can feel odd at first if you have been shallow breathing up high in your chest. Just go slowly. Don’t push. Just relax into it. Forced breathing isn’t good for you either.
Once you’ve got the idea, introduce holding your in-breath for a count of 3, and control your out-breath (through your nose) for a count of 6 (maximum.)
At first is easier to do this lying down.
Repeat this nose breathing cycle 10 times: Breathe in normally (no count), hold for 3, breathe out for up to 6.
Repeat this 3 times a day, especially before bed, and any stress or anxiety, tension or emotional blockages will begin to release of their own accord.
This is highly recommended for any physical or emotional imbalances. After a week of this simple practise you will notice differences.
Your body will heal faster, your emotional balance and resilience will be stronger, and your ability to find and maintain your inner calm will increase dramatically.
And doesn’t that sound good?
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