I frequently talk about the concept of tune into you. What I am actually describing is becoming aware of your mind, body, emotions, and breathing. Together, the awareness of body cues and breathing provides incredible benefits in every area of not only the body’s health and wellness, but also for decision-making, creative endeavors, interpersonal relationships, work, and life in general. Making your life easier with an easy process that’s as easy as – well, breathing – is as straightforward as it can get.
However, if you’re like me, you want to know how it works and the purpose for doing it. For me, learning about the body, how to tune into it, and how to tap into its potential, all started with the breath, and no matter how many other tools, healing modalities, and skills I learned, everything always relates back to the breath. The breath signals the body to engage in different modes of being, such as calm, which is the best state to be in for so many reasons but that’s a hard one to get into and stay in consistently for even more reasons.
Communication is the core of it. Internal and external information input really affects everything in regards to our emotions, thoughts, and physical bodies. We can be triggered by external factors, such as sights, sounds, smells, or physical sensations, or simply by our own thoughts, reactions, and memories that are brought up by either those external factors or by internal stimuli. We can easily spiral down the rabbit hole into feeling pretty crummy with just our own memories and negative thoughts, but we can bring ourselves up and out of the rabbit hole, or at least not dive all the way to the bottom of the it by just becoming aware of our breath and taking deep, even breaths.
The vagus nerve is the communications super highway of the body; although, it is actually a pair of nerves that connect the brain to the gut. It is responsible for a large amount of input that the brain receives from what many scientists are now calling our second brain – the gut, which contributes hugely to overall functioning, wellness, and well being.
We can signal the brain and increase both wellness and well being through the simple act of taking deep, slow belly breaths, which calms stress reactions, even though the only thing threatening us might be a deadline or traffic. Unfortunately, for us the body doesn’t differentiate between stressors, for instance being chased by a bear versus feeling overwhelmed by deadlines at work. The body reacts the same to both types of stress, which is why belly breathing is a crucial and incredibly easy way to begin to help counter the effects in our bodies. The calmer our bodies, the better the body and the brain perform. Belly breathing also has important implications for the body’s immune system.
Since the immune system is comprised of free floating cells, scientists didn’t think the nerves had direct communication with the body’s immune system. However, studies conducted over the last decade show that everything in the body “floats” in myofascial tissue, which is why yoga instructors say to think of the body as one moving part: everything is connected through connective tissue. The cells of myofascial tissue actually communicate with surrounding cells, including organs, vessels, skin, bones, muscles, etc. Electrical synapses, chemical synapses, and signal transduction connect every part of the human body to the brain through this communication network. The vagus nerve conveys electrical signals to every major organ and to our immune systems, and our nerves actually have the ability to shut down inflammation before it starts, to trigger white blood cell production (immune response), and to trigger cellular repair arising from illnesses.
Additionally, the brain receives a lot of information from our gut, information that affects how we feel, how we think, and how we respond to situations, which is directly linked to the health and types of flora and fauna in the digestive system. The gut’s microbiome affects how our body feels, our immune system, our emotions, and our mental processes, which is why health and wellness professionals emphasize the importance of dietary choices.
Further input comes from the fact that we automatically scan our environment more or less constantly, which means we are simultaneously processing a huge amount of internal and external information. However, the brain only makes us consciously aware of a micro-percentage of that information. Interestingly, our bodies respond to things that we don’t cognitively tune into in the moment or at all. Although, we do talk about how we feel about people, places, situations, and things:
I didn’t get a good feeling from her.
That place is creepy.
My “spidey” senses are tingling.
Awareness of small details, such as infinitesimal changes in facial expressions or a person’s body (tightening of muscles around the eyes, jaw, orientation of the body, etc.) are all signals that we process instantly. We discuss them in terms of “feelings,” as related to body sensations and to emotional responses, using language, such as hair-raising, open, talking to a wall, trustworthy, shifty-eyed – the list goes on and on. Often, we don’t have a concrete reason for these feelings, but we have a “sense of things,” and we experience these “feelings” all the time.
In fact, studies show that we know something is going to happen about six seconds before it actually does. Our cognitive processing of events is much slower than subconscious processing, as for example blocking a striking hand during a fight. Many call this form of communication between our body and minds intuition. We tune into the intuition through awareness to what is happening in the moment and that simple awareness can really impact the ease with which we make decisions once we learn to process the body cues and other sensory information effectively – everything from intuitive eating to interpersonal relationships and from prioritizing tasks to making life decisions.
Thinking and feeling better, becoming aware, and making decisions that impact health, wellness, and well being all start with the breath, and it’s as simple as imagining a beach ball in your belly expanding 360 degrees with each inhale and deflating with each exhale as you feel the skin on your back and belly stretch and release for as few as three to five breaths.