Have you ever wanted greater mental processing power, a better memory, more creative ideas, faster decisions or a happier, healthier brain?
The word ‘inspire’ most often refers to a moment of, or an urge to do something creative. Inspire also has another literal translation – to breathe in.
Our breathing is directly linked to how our brains work, our emotional state, and our productivity and creativity. It seems to be such a simple and intuitive concept; almost all of us, regardless of our understanding of the neuroscience of emotions, will have told someone at some point to “take a deep breath” to help them calm down.
Rapid breathing is a function of our fight or flight autonomic response. When our sympathetic nervous system activates this response, our heart rate increases, the level of certain hormones we produce changes, and our breathing becomes shallow and rapid. While this is an automatic response, we do have the capacity to control its severity and duration by consciously slowing down our breathing. The physiological manifestations of a stress response do not operate in isolation from one another. Consequently, by slowing our breathing, we are able to slow our heart rate and stave off the production of certain stress hormones. Many among us might not be aware of this, yet we all instinctively know to tell someone to take a deep breath when they’re upset.
We are so intuitively attuned to other people’s breathing that we will instinctively turn our attention to someone who sharply draws breath, as it signifies that they may be about to speak to us. We might notice the person we’re speaking to is becoming upset or angry as their breathing becomes rapid, or that someone we’re sitting with has fallen asleep by their slow and rhythmic breathing.
While we are intrinsically aware of other people’s breath and what it may signify about their emotional state, it is often very hard to be consciously aware of our own breathing, what it signifies for our emotional state, and how it may be contributing to the emotions we are experiencing.
Sue Langley tells the story of when she first began public speaking and about one minute into her presentation her voice would cut off. Basically she would be tense and that would cut off her breathing and therefore her voice. Sue realised that before going on to speak, her shoulders would be drawn forward and up in anticipation of walking on stage, thus restricting her breathing.
Realising this, Sue created a ritual for the moment before she walked on stage; she draws a mindful breath and consciously drops her shoulders to straighten her posture. This has both a calming effect and sustains Sue’s speaking for the duration of the talk. Anyone who has seen Sue speak publicly, will know it is something she does with great ease and this comes, in part, from a mindful awareness of breath and tension.
Understanding the importance of breath and how difficult it can be for us to stay mindful of our own breath, we have partnered with Spire to be the exclusive distributers of their breath and activity tracker to Australia and New Zealand. Spire is a wearable device developed by Stanford researchers that helps reduce stress and improve productivity by monitoring your mental state through your breathing. Spire sends you gentle alerts and guided breathing exercises when it recognises you are becoming tense, helping you return to a calm emotional state. Spire links to your Android or iOS device and sends you insights and notifications to help you have a balanced and productive day.
Imagine Spire as the friend listening to you and reminding you to take a deep breath.
Zelano, C., et al. (2016). Nasal Respiration Entrains Human Limbic Oscillations and Modulates Cognitive Function. Journal of Neuroscience., 6: 12448 –12467 [Abstract]