Just the other day I was talking with a friend of mine regarding his high blood pressure. He was telling me about how, if he was unable to properly manage it, he would be put on an anti-hypertensive drug for the rest of his life.
As I listened to him tell me about his situation I thought about what information I could share with him to help him. My friend knows that nutrition and exercise are crucial to maintaining healthy blood pressure. So I figured I would tell him about the importance of breathing to our overall health.
What proceeded was a brief explanation of proper breathing. I told him about how most people have forgotten how to breathe deeply and breathe solely from the chest (chest breathing). I told him how proper breathing can manage our blood pressure. And I told him about diaphragmic breathing, a type of breathing which fills our lungs with oxygen and allows us to cleanse them and keep them healthy. I then gave him a brief demonstration of diaphragmic breathing. He was curious about learning more about it. That was how this brief article came about.
This article will talk about breathing. It will describe the consequences of not breathing properly, what happens to our bodies when we do breathe properly and a tool I regularly use to cleanse my body and mind by breathing deeply and moving.
Most importantly, the article talks about allowing Jesus into your heart so He may transform you and take away all the stress and worry you experience.
So let’s get to it!
Our Breath = Our Health
I have written a few articles which talk about breathing. You can read them here:
Oxygen is the most essential element required by our body. Every cell in our bodies needs oxygen to function. Therefore, when our breathing is sub-optimal, our health is also sub-optimal. When our cells doesn’t get enough oxygen we can experience some or all of the following:
- Brain fog
- Low energy
- Poor digestion
- High blood pressure
Why is our breathing such a central part of our health? Why does it impact so many areas? The answer lies in the autonomic nervous system.
The Autonomic Nervous System?
Remember when your high school biology teacher chided you that one day you would need to know what the autonomic nervous system was, and when you didn’t know you’d be sorry? Today is that day.
The autonomic nervous system is the nervous system in charge of managing the unconscious processes which keep us alive. For example, digestion, sweating, elimination, heart beat and breathing. Breathing is a special case which I will describe further on.
The autonomic nervous system is itself divided in two different systems:
- The sympathetic nervous system
- The parasympathetic nervous system
1) The Sympathetic Nervous System?
The sympathetic nervous system manages our “fight-or-flight” response. When we perceive a threat, whether real or imaginary, our sympathetic nervous system activates. When this happens our muscles tighten, pupils contract, digestion stops, our thinking and our breathing becomes rapid and shallow. This is our body preparing itself to fight or flight – it marshals all available resources to do this.
Imageine youre faced with a deadly situation; say a car jumps the sidewalk and is headed straight for you. How much energy would you want to have available to be able to evade the car? Answer: All of it.
When we are in fight-or-flight or sympathetic nervous system directs our energy away from long-term maintanence projects – like digesting our food – to immediate survival projects. Like jumping out of the way of the incoming vehicle described in the previous parragraph.
All of this means that recovery does not happen when our sympathetic nervous system is active.
The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for our recovery.
2) The Parasympathetic Nervous System?
The parasympathetic nervous system manages our “rest-and-digest” or “rest-and-recover” response. It’s the hand break for our fight-or-flight response. When our parasympathetic nervous system is active we are relaxed and our body has a chance to heal and recover. Additionally, our thinking is more creative, our pupils dilate, we digest our food properly and our breath is slower and deeper.
We recover when our parasympathetic nervous system is active.
The Special Case Of Breathing
Did you notice how our breathing changes depending on whether we’re in fight-or-flight or rest-and-digest mode? When we’re in fight-or-flight mode our breathing is fast and shallow, when we’re in rest-and-digest mode our breathing is slow and deep.
This is important. Remember, the autonomic nervous system is also responsible for breathing. But breathing is the only biophysical and biochemical process necessary to our life which we can do both consciously and unconsciously.
This makes breathing a gateway to our autonomic nervous system! When we breathe consciously we consciously change our autonomic nervous system. When we make our breathing fast and shallow, we activate the sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight). When we make our breathing slow and deep, we activate the parasympathetic nervous system (rest-and-digest).
This is key to understand why our breathing is so important to our health. When our breath is always shallow we keep our body in a low-key state of fight-or-flight. We inhabit what is called “sympathetic dominance”. This means we never give our bodies a chance to rest-and-recover. The body has a miraculous capacity to heal itself, but if we never give it the chance to do so by resting and recovering we will never be able to have optimal health.
What Is Sympathetic Dominance?
Sympathetic dominance is living in a constantly stressed state. Being an adult in our modern world imposes a tremendous amount of stress from countless sources:
- Social Life
- News and entertainment
- Nosy neighbors
Even though these sources of stress don’t seem life threatening, to our autonomic nervous system they are. When we perceive our lives to be threatened our sympathetic nervous system activates. Experiencing chronic stress continuously prevents our bodies from recovering fully from the wear and tear of modern life.
We can either be in fight-or-flight mode or rest-and-digest mode. There is no in between. While in either mode there are different levels of intensity. We can be lightly stressed, or heavily stressed, in both states our sympathetic nervous system is active.
We can also be lightly relaxed or deeply relaxed. In both states our parasympathetic nervous system active.
I’ll describe a modern-day example of living in sympathetic dominance.
A Modern-Day Example Of Sympathetic Dominance
Let’s say you have a horrid relationship with your boss. Every day you go into work you dread facing him. Just the thought of listening to his voice is enough to send you into a volcanic rage, spewing destruction upon any and all unsuspecting souls who cross your path. His face, his demeanor, his hair, every cubic inch of the man implores for your loathing. If the inhabitable earth were a single speck of dust floating in the vacuum of space, and your boss were on it, you would rather have your body explode and be strewn across the cosmos than ask him to make room for you.
Such a relationship would be a considerable source of stress. Being at work would heavily activate your sympathetic nervous system. Your body and mind would quickly decay.
Now imagine your relationship with your boss isn’t good, but it isn’t as bad as what I just described. You dislike him, but you don’t hate his guts. Being in your boss’s presence still stresses you, though. And you have to work with him, every day. You can’t get away from him.
Slowly but surely, day after day of living like this, your body and mind would decay. Because you wouldn’t be giving them the chance to recover.
Chronic, unrelenting stress is the greatest source of disease today. It has been linked to:
- Cardiovascular dysfunctions
- Autoimmune syndromes
- Depression and anxiety
Chronic Stress Kills Us Slowly!
Our bodies and minds aren’t used to living in chronic stress. Before civilization, when we experienced stress we would handle the situation and be done with it. Stress today can be unrelenting and seem inescapable; a tense relationship with a boss or a spouse, for example.
This is how chronic stress slowly but surely sends us to an early grave.
But fret not, for there is a solution to chronic stress. His name is Jesus.
Jesus Saves Us In This World And The Next
First we need to answer a question. What is stress?
Stress is any stimulus, real or imagined, which threatens our life. Starvation, dehydration, hypothermia, hyperthermia or physical harm are examples of real stressors. Public speaking, meeting new people and phobias are examples of imagined stressors.
Whether faced with real or imagined stressors, the outcome for the person experiencing them is the same: the sympathetic nervous system activates.
So how is Jesus the solution to chronic stress? It’s pretty simple. When you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and saviour, you lose your fear of death. You’re guaranteed a spot in heaven beside your perfect Father for eternity. While this life is temporary, the next is eternal, and how does the temporary compare to the eternal?
There is no comparison. The duration of our lives on this fallen world are nothing compared to our next lives, which are eternal.
Jesus sets us free, both from sin and from worry. Having faith in Jesus Christ, knowing and understanding that He will provide for us and that He is always good, means believing we will be provided for, come what may. Jesus is greater than anything which this world can throw at us. He has conquered this world and gracefully offers us redemption in God’s eyes. All we have to do is repent of our sins and accept Him into our hearts.
Then we experience the peace which surpasses all understanding. After all, how can anything stress you when you have assurance that death is the stepping stone to heaven?
See how faith in Jesus works to set us free? It’s a real thing and it has been going on for a couple of thousand years. Tried and tested.
A Tool To Manage Breathing (And Stress)…
Nothing can compare to the peace brought by believing in Jesus. Accept Him into your heart and see what happens.
But while we live in this world we will be bound to the flesh. Our flesh fears for its life. While the spirit is free and pure, the flesh is bound to sin and fear of death. So having a tool which works to convince the flesh it’s safe and can relax into the parasympathetic mode is always useful.
This is where Six Degree Flow by Scott Sonnon shines. Six Degree Flow is a workout designed by Scott Sonnon, a world-champion martial artist, sports scientist, coach and an expert on breathing.
Mr. Sonnon regularly works with militaries around the world, he has done some amazing work with American soldiers seeking to pass special forces training. Special forces operate in the most pshycially and psychologically stressful situations imaginable. They go into the places where no one else can and execute the most demanding missions in existence. Mr. Sonnon demonstrated how soldiers could significantly improve their chances of passing the Special Forces Selection course by completing a 6-week intervention program which included performance breathing training. You can read Scott’s article here.
I wrote a review on Six Degree Flow, which I have been regularly practicing for several years now. You can read it here. Six Degree Flow combines complex movement and deep breathing to provide a workout which not only strengthens the body but also calms the mind. By practicing Six Degree Flow I put myself in parasympathetic dominance. I also enter the “flow state” a state of mind of complete focus, responsible for the highest levels of human creativity and performance.
Final Thoughts On Deep Breathing
Our breathing is central to our health because every cell requires oxygen to function. Additionally, our breath serves as a bridge by which we can consciously modulate our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
When we live in chronic stress, our bodies and minds are unable to replenish themselves, and so we become sick. Surrendering to Jesus and handing over to Him everything that stresses us is the best way to deal with stress. Jesus is always with us, He is always ready and willing to help us, if we ask Him to.
Six Degree Flow is a peerless workout which I have been doing since 2018. It keeps me physically and psychologically fit by training my body, breath and mind. By combining deep, relaxed breathing with challenging, complex movements, we educate our body and mind to inhabit parasympathetic dominance.
Taking control of our breath and educating ourselves on how it influences our health is a powerful way of reclaiming our health sovereignity. Most diseases today are caused by chronic stress. If more people learn about how their breath can be used to handle stress there would be fewer resources directed to dealing with its consequences, namely, disease.
If you’re struggling with stress, I invite you to look to Jesus as your deliverer. A couple of years ago I would have scoffed at the idea of letting Jesus take away my stress. But God had other plans for me. Accepting Jesus as my savior is the best choice I ever made. I invite you to let Him into your life today!
To God the glory.