breathing and your brain – some science

by – Kai, lead somatic sexologist

Breath is an important somatic aspect of my work with clients. I recently read a study by Professor Jay Gottfried et al. from Northwestern University sporting some new science. Her article titled “Nasal Respiration Entrains Human Limbic Oscillations and Modulates Cognitive Function” explored the relationship between the rhythm of breathing and electrical activity in the brain.

Why is this study important? Science is now able to establish a link between the effects of breathing and the enhancement of emotional experience and behaviour. This has significant implications for the use of breath work during mindful sexual awareness. Something somatic sexological bodyworkers have known for some time through observation. We just didn’t have the physiological science to back it up. Now we do.

Gottfried et al. observed that nasal airflow generated neuronal oscillations. Oscillations are movements/fluctuations. These  oscillations caused changes in the amygdala and hippocampus. The amygdala is thought to be responsible for processing emotions, sexual drive, arousal, pleasure and behaviour. The hippocampus is involved in memory, processing of memory, connecting emotions and the senses to memory for example smell, sound and touch.

The main author of the study Zelano notes: “when you inhale, you are in a sense synchronizing brain oscillations across the limbic network”.

The researchers also discovered a significant difference between inhalation (breathing in) and exhalation (breathing out). They note that when we breath in through our nose we are stimulating our  olfactory neurons. This results in electrical activity spreading across to the Amygdala and Hippocampus regions enhancing emotions and memory. Don’t bother breathing though your mouth this did not have a positive effect.

I often refer to the sympathetic/parasympathetic nervous system when discussing situational body awareness. The studies findings also suggest the relationship between hyperventilating (fast breathing) during panic states that could have a positive effect on the brains function. We certainly know that your body becomes hyper alert in these states. The effects of hyperventilating may increase rapid awareness in threatening situations.

The next time you panic or are feeling stressed just remember to stimulate your Amygdala, and breathhhhhhh through your nose.  If you would like to learn about breath work and enhancing mindful sexual awareness why not come and talk to me.