Somatic Breathwork: A Guide to Nervous System Reset

By

Katie Rapkoch, CHPC

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Published on

June 05, 2024

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Updated on

June 05, 2024

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Robert Stevens

Somatic Exercises

In modern times, where stress and anxiety have become ever-present, the quest for peace and mental clarity is more prevalent than ever. Somatic breathwork is emerging as a beacon of hope, offering another healing tool for those struggling with chronic stress or illness. 

This blog post delves into the transformative power of somatic breathing, providing a step-by-step guide to resetting your nervous system, nurturing a healthy brain, and fostering a greater sense of ease in your life.

Re-origin is a science-backed neuroplasticity and brain retraining program that helps you implement new thoughts and behaviors to reduce the frequency of chronic illness and improve your overall health. If you are interested in learning more, book a free info call.

The Foundation of Somatic Breathwork

At its core, somatic breathwork is more than just a set of breathing exercises; it's a gateway to profound inner peace and bodily harmony. Rooted in the principles of somatic experiencing, this practice emphasizes conscious breathing to regulate the autonomic nervous system. By focusing on somatic breathing, individuals can transition from a state of fight-or-flight to one of rest and digest, enabling a serene mind and a relaxed body.1

The Connection Between Somatic Breathwork and Neuroplasticity

Somatic breathwork influences the central nervous system, promoting relaxation and reducing stress, which in turn can enhance the brain's plasticity. This section will highlight scientific studies and anecdotal evidence that support the efficacy of Somatic Breathwork in improving neuroplasticity. Through case studies, readers will gain insights into how Somatic Breathwork has helped individuals reshape their brain’s function and structure, leading to improved health outcomes.

Understanding the Autonomic Nervous System

The autonomic nervous system plays a pivotal role in our response to stress. Comprising the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, it controls our body's unconscious actions. The sympathetic nervous system prepares our body for action, and the parasympathetic nervous system helps us calm down and relax.1 Somatic breathing techniques create balance between these systems, promoting a decrease in anxiety and physical tension, improvements in energy levels and immune system function, an increase in lung capacity, and an improved ability to regulate stress and emotions.

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Transformative Effects of Somatic Breathwork

Somatic breathing exercises, often referred to as "transformational breathwork" or "conscious breathing," encourage full engagement of the diaphragm, a large muscle located at the base of the lungs. This technique involves breathing deeply into the lungs, allowing them to expand fully with air, which enhances oxygen exchange and encourages a more efficient expulsion of carbon dioxide.1 Somatic breathwork is a therapeutic tool with many transformative effects.

Transformative Effects:

  • Respiratory System: Somatic breathing exercises increase lung capacity by encouraging full expansion of the lungs and more efficient use of the lung's sections, which is often underutilized in shallow, chest-based breathing. This increased lung capacity brings more oxygen to the blood, supporting better energy levels and overall health.1
  • Nervous System: Breathing techniques activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the "rest and digest" response, counteracting the stress-induced activations of the sympathetic nervous system. This process ultimately promotes relaxation, reduces heart rate, and lowers blood pressure, contributing to a deep sense of calm and well-being.1
  • Immune System: Engaging in deep abdominal breathing aids in protecting the lungs and other tissues from infection.2
  • Emotions: By fostering a heightened state of consciousness while tapping into body and mind with breathing techniques, individuals can observe their emotional responses without immediate reaction, allowing them to manage and regulate emotions more effectively and even release trapped emotions. This conscious awareness can help mitigate feelings of anxiety and depression by promoting a sense of calm in the presence of uncomfortable emotions and ultimately improve overall mental health.1
  • Physical Tension: Transformational breathwork helps identify areas of tension within the body, allowing for targeted relaxation in the body. As the breath is directed towards physically tense areas, it can help release tightness and promote relaxation, reducing the physical manifestations of stress and anxiety.1
  • Energy Levels: By engaging in deep, diaphragmatic breathing, individuals encourage a more efficient exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide within their bodies, ensuring that every cell receives an optimal supply of oxygen. The practice also fosters a state of relaxation and balance, enabling the person practicing to tap into a more sustained and resilient source of energy.2

Applying Somatic Breathwork in Brain Retraining for Chronic Health Conditions

Integrating Somatic Breathwork into brain retraining programs offers a promising avenue for individuals with chronic health conditions. Below, we will explore three powerful techniques that intertwine to reset the nervous system swiftly: the double inhale method, bilateral stimulation, and “The Anxiety-Busting Breath”3. These techniques, when practiced consistently, can lead to an instantaneous shift towards relaxation and equilibrium.

Bilateral Stimulation: Snap, Snap, Clap

Complementing the double inhale, the snap, snap, clap sequence offers bilateral stimulation, a crucial element in somatic exercises. This sequence, which involves alternating snapping or tapping the hips followed by a clap, engages both brain hemispheres, fostering a sense of present-moment consciousness and reducing stress-induced brain fog.

Double Inhale Method

This somatic breathing technique involves a deliberate pattern of inhalation that increases oxygen intake and stimulates a gentle adrenaline rush, contributing to the nervous system's reset. By taking a deep breath through the nose and adding a small additional inhale at the top, followed by a smooth exhale, this method introduces a rhythm to breathing that assists in calming the mind and body and improving well-being.

“The Anxiety-Busting Breath”3

Take a deep breath through your nose. With your lips sealed, lengthen your exhale by slowing and softly humming. Allow yourself to fully complete the exhale. Pause for 2-3 seconds at the bottom of your exhale. Maintain the humming to encourage a longer exhale compared to your inhale. This extended out-breath has a soothing effect by activating  your parasympathetic nervous system.2

Incorporating Somatic Breathwork into Daily Life

Creating a daily practice of somatic breathing exercises can significantly enhance your ability to manage stress and maintain emotional balance, improving overall physical and mental health. Here are practical tips for incorporating these techniques into your lifestyle:

  • Start your day with a three-minute somatic breathing session to set a positive tone.
  • Aim to stay intentionally engaged with your breathing throughout the day; breathe fully, expanding your rib cage and filling your lungs with air. Focus on slow exhalation, allowing all of the air to leave your body.
  • Utilize the above quick breathing techniques during moments of heightened stress or anxiety.
  • End your day with a 5-minute session of somatic breathwork to ensure restful sleep and a balanced autonomic nervous system.
  • Find group sessions that incorporate diaphragmatic breathing exercises or work one-on-one with a skilled practitioner.
  • Make it fun! Introducing a playful element to your breathwork can further enhance the benefits for your mind and body.4

Breathing techniques can be practiced in various positions: standing, seated, or reclining, focusing on controlled and mindful breathing that is both intentional and relaxed. Inhalation and exhalation can occur through either the nose or mouth, flowing seamlessly from one to the other without breaks. It is recommended to breathe through the nose, as this is the default respiratory method for humans and other mammals.5

The Lasting Benefits of Somatic Breathwork

Embracing somatic breathwork offers numerous long-term benefits, including improved stress management, enhanced mental clarity, and a stronger connection between the mind and body. By regularly engaging in these practices, individuals can foster a resilient nervous system, ready to face life's challenges.

Connecting to the Comprehensive Guide on Somatic Exercises

For those seeking to deepen their understanding of somatic practices, our pillar blog post, "Somatic Exercises: The Ultimate Guide to Enhancing Your Well-Being," serves as an invaluable resource. This extensive guide offers a deeper exploration into the world of somatic exercise, highlighting its benefits for physical and mental health and providing a solid foundation for incorporating these practices into your life to help you heal.

Enhance Your Well-Being with re-origin’s Neuroplasticity Techniques

Somatic breathwork is a powerful tool in the quest for mental wellness and bodily harmony. By understanding and applying the techniques outlined in this blog post, individuals can experience the transformative effects of intentionally engaging the human respiratory system in conscious breathing exercises, embrace the journey of somatic breathwork, and discover a path to lasting peace and balance.

If you are looking for ways to better manage chronic stress, illness, or mental health, re-origin offers a science-backed neuroplasticity and brain retraining program designed to help you shift your thoughts and behaviors to improve your overall health. Book a free info call to learn more.

References

  1. Bsn, E. C., RN. (2023, November 13). How somatic breathwork can help you chill out. Charlie Health. https://www.charliehealth.com/post/somatic-breathwork
  2. An easy way to beat stress — and build a healthier life. (2016, May 17). https://www.michiganmedicine.org/health-lab/easy-way-beat-stress-and-build-healthier-life
  3. Brooks, D. (2023, April 21). 8 Somatic Breathing Exercises to do today. Original Body Wisdom. https://originalbodywisdom.com/8-somatic-breathing-exercises-to-do-today/
  4. Yokers, K. (2023, July 28). Somatic Breathwork and Play: How to be mindful with a smile. Lindywell. https://lindywell.com/somatic-breathwork-play/
  5. Somatic breathwork: the healing power of an ancient practice. (n.d.). https://www.ryandelaney.co/blog/somatic-breathwork

By

Katie Rapkoch, CHPC

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