Sunday, February 13, 2011

On the Breath and Nerves...

There was an interesting thread connecting breath and the nervous system, that kept coming up in David's anatomy workshop last weekend.

I've been playing with the pace and fullness of my breath in practice lately and have blogged a bit on changes I've noticed. Changing the pace and quality of breath, changes the quality and energy of my practice. I've noticed it in the moment (during practice) and I've noticed changes in energy post-practice, later in the day.

...but so far, that's all I had done...just change the breath arbitrarily to see what would happen and then make a note of it. I hadn't been setting out to change the breath with any particular intention in mind.

Over the weekend, the importance of controlling the breath in order to control the nervous system kept coming up. This was definitely a "light bulb moment" for me. My default setting is nervous. I grew up with family often encouraging me to make decisions out of fear, to make "safe" choices. I've known for a long time that I don't want to live that way. Some of the best people/experiences that I've known have come out of the sort of choices where you take a deep breath and jump! I've crash-landed a few times too, but I've never regretted taking the risk even when I've landed hard.

What's sort of settled in from thoughts generated over the last weekend is that creating the spaciousness to make choices with the greatest awareness I can manage all comes back to controlling the nervous system....and the way in to the nervous system is the breath.

David talked about the importance of using the breath to manage and reduce stimulation of the nervous system.
My favorite David Keil one-liner of the weekend was in reference to breath: "Take control of the breath, otherwise it's controlling you."

Ah, yes...that is, in fact, exactly what happens when I let the nervous system take the wheel. The breath gets shallow and fast and drives me right into a panic. Suddenly, all I can hear is the refrain of "What if...".

It's amazingly freeing and calming to know that I have a tool to manage the nervous system. I can tame it daily with the breath.

More from David on the anatomy of breath here:


  1. Love this post! My family raised me the same way too. They are really missing out on some of the best experiences / people! :)

    I think a lot of people come to yoga wanting the same thing: to gain control of their breaths and experience a better life with this new found control/awareness.

  2. Hi Yyogini,

    Thanks! The back and forth play between breath and nervous system fascinates me...I'm such a yoga geek!
    Taking that off the mat is always a worthwile adventure. :-)