Superman, Spiderman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Thor... is that what you think of when you think of those destined to have superpowers? Wouldn't it be magnificent if we could tap into our own potential and manipulate our own superpowers? Personally, I think it would be wicked to have full control over this body that is mine and the thoughts that sometimes run rampant within. Is it that far fetched to believe we can be super by using our breath to power our mind, body and spirit?
Our breath has tremendous abilities as it allows us to siphon energy and redirect it in the direction we choose. This can be done on a physical realm such as bringing your entire body into unison when upside down in a fun arm balance. Breath can also be used in times of stress such as a nerve-wracking work or school presentation. Harnessing our breath keeps us grounded, clears the head and allows for optimal cognitive function.
Admittedly, when I first started practicing yoga it was more for the
physical practice. I did not understand the importance of synchronizing breath with movement. When I was taking a class, I barely registered the breath cues the teacher was saying as my focus was solely on the postures… A lot has changed since then and here is why.
Breathing is beautiful because it can be done voluntarily and involuntarily. This allows us to decide when to focus our energy on conscious breathing; allowing us to manipulate our breath and control portions of our nervous system. The key is to not surrender the breath during times of challenge, chaos and struggle. After spending two months in Indonesia learning how to breathe, I learned how to use the breath to fuel and control my movement. I learned various techniques of pranayama (learning how to control our prana (our life force energy)). It has become quite apparent to me how essential conscious breathing is in our lives.
Since I was 7 years old, I have had a severe physiological response to my own blood. To emphasize my point; when I was in middle school, I got a paper-cut and it resulted in me fainting. I landed face first on a concrete floor, killing my tooth, smashing my face and breaking my nose... I looked like the elephant man for over a month…
When I see my own blood, I completely freaked out internally. My heart rate increases, I sweat, see stars then the next thing I know is that I am no longer upright but have landed on the floor. I faint and to top it all off I have a seizure. Its violent and when I wake up, I am so disoriented and exhausted it takes me over a day to recover from the electrolyte imbalance. As I get older this reaction has gotten worse as my recovery has doubled...
When I was in University, I took matters into my own hands and tried unofficial “exposure therapy” on myself. I interned at the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s office as a death investigator. This coupled with observing the Medical Examiner’s doing autopsies helped me get over my discomfort of other people’s blood but had no positive impact on my phobia to my own blood.
Blood tests are one of the scariest things in the world for me. It is not the needle itself that terrifies me but how I know I will react to the situation… I have a vasovagal response causing my heart rate and blood pressure to suddenly drop. Leading to the fainting and seizing part… it is truly awful.
You might be asking yourself “why is this weirdo sharing this with me?” Well the other day, I needed a blood test and I decided for the 50th time that “today I am not going to faint.” Rather than having my body take over my mind, I would be in control the entire time. No more blacking out, no more panic, no more uncontrollable ridiculously dramatic fainting episodes.
I laid down flat and directed my focus solely on doing full yogic breaths. This long breath starts from the pelvis and expands up the collarbones. I did this repeatedly throughout the procedure. My headphones were in to block out what the phlebotomist was doing. It turns out that by tunneling my focus within myself I was able to conquer. I did not faint which is a massive hurdle to overcome and my own version of a superpower.
Why I am such as proponent of learning how to consciously breathe is because by massaging the vagus nerve (the largest cranial nerve that runs from the medulla oblongata (mid-brain) down to the colon, you can control your nervous system and calm yourself down. This bidirectional nerve passage comprises more than eighty percent of the sensory output from our nervous system. This nerve controls respiration, heart rate, your GI tract, speech, as well as sweating.
When in times of stress your body reacts by activating the sympathetic nervous system (our fight or flight response --- the “OH SNAP, A BEAR IS AFTER ME” response.
Perhaps the next time you have a stressful situation to see how your body responds. Does your heart rate increase? IS your breathing shallow? Do you sweat? Does your stomach feel like it will fall out while doing a flip at the same time? Our breath is our link to our parasympathetic nervous system which is the calming portion within ourselves (the rest and digest “It's time to chill” response”). Imagine having the ability to anchor down and be able to control all those butterflies in your stomach!?
So, the next time you have a stressful scenario I encourage you to listen to your breath. Typically in times of stress, we revert to shallow breaths that are in the chest. This feeds into our anxiety and exacerbates it. If you can control, elongate and smooth out your inhalations and exhalations from your pelvis up to your collarbones; you may be able to control your nervous system response. This is an untapped superpower within yourself!