By Louise Amuir
Sometimes I catch myself holding my breath with my shoulders up around my ears. Once again, I’ve startled myself into freeze mode for some reason, and the best thing I can do for myself I have discovered, is to exhale. Long and slow until I am empty and relaxed and ready for something new to fill me.
Breathing is a very cool thing in our bodies as it is the link between conscious body process and unconscious body process. Without even thinking about it, our body breathes all night long while we sleep guided by the medulla oblongata and the pons.
The pons is a major structure in the upper part of your brain stem and has two over-arching roles. The first is the regulation of breathing. In the pons, there is a structure called the pneumotaxic center comprised of nerve cells that control the amount of air you breathe and how many times a minute you take a breath. It transmits signals and information to other parts of the brain, is involved in sensations of hearing, taste, and balance, and regulates deep sleep.
The medulla oblongata is a structure located in the lower half of the brainstem just below the pons. They work in tandem on issues such as breathing. It’s an autopilot area of the brain stem that monitors heart rate, blood pressure, blood acidity. And it’s also an area of the brain where we can take back “pilot” controls – at least for the breathing. The vagus nerve runs right through the medulla oblangata.
I wonder if conscious breathing is a way of fostering relationship between the conscious and unconscious parts of ourselves. So I’m going to offer a little experience to you so you can decide for yourself.
Take a few deep breaths. You can do this sitting up or in the more classic Haven breathing posture of lying on your back on the floor with your knees up and your hands by your sides. Breathe through your open mouth.
Put one of your hands at the base of your skull and breathe there, at the pons/medulla oblongata brainstem.
Leave your hand there and put the other hand on your heart and breathe a few times into your heart area.
Then let your hand energy warm the connection between the two.
Notice any sensations when you breathe into one area or the other or in the connection and just stay with those sensations for a few moments, breathing into them.
Move the hand from the back of your skull to your belly and take a few deep breaths, then switch your attention to your heart area and breathe a few breaths there.
Then, take a few breaths to focus on the connection of heart and belly.
Again, noticing sensations and breathing into them.
Move your heart hand to the back of your skull and take a few breaths.
Take a few breaths to your belly.
Then take a few breaths into the connection of your brainstem and your belly.
And finally, move your belly hand to your forehead, leaving a hand on your brainstem at the back of your skull and take a few breaths at each and then breathing into the connection.
Congratulations! You are befriending your nervous system by consciously connecting polyvagal areas with your breath to create pathways into your autonomous system. When I do this, I feel my heart, head, gut and spirit line up in an enlivening and gentle way. I wonder if you have a similar feeling…..
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