The sun shines through the blinds, forcing you to roll out of bed, slide your feet into warm slippers, and glide to the kitchen for a tall glass of cool water. A pipe and lighter that sit on the window sill, enter your hands as you prepare to glide to the crisp morning air. Your thumb flicks down, igniting the contents within the pipe in your mouth as you take a big inhale...hold....and exhale.
Out of curiosity, I've asked smokers of all kinds of why they smoke. This mini-experiment was conducted for about a year and there were some common, condensed responses I received:
It's a break from never-ending thoughts
I can manage my thoughts easily when I smoke
I can finally relax!
I don't have to think. I can just breathe
As you can see, the responses all have one thing in common: all smokers seek time to breathe deeply.
The practice of deep breathing is relatively new to Western culture, having been adopted from Eastern cultures in the late 1800s. Traditionally, yogic breathing techniques, also known as pranayama, are often combined with meditation or yoga for it's spiritual and physical benefits. There are many different forms of pranayama, which we won't delve into today.
In this post, we'll focus on the claims of deep breathing in congruence with science.
According to the body's physiology, breathing is linked to the sympathetic nervous system. One of its functions is to regulate stress responses. Once the body is triggered by a stressful experience, cortisol and adrenaline are released into the bloodstream, affecting the heart and the brain and other systems as well. A typical response elevates the heart rate, induces perspiration, and other unpleasant responses.
Although this response is natural, due to the state of the modern world, it's triggered too often, thus causing long term chronic stress, which can ultimately be fatal.
How can you mitigate a stress response?
The answer lies within your breath.
The vagus nerve that runs along the spine has been a medical mystery for decades, yet more recently scientists are discovering its important role in the body. One of these roles pertains to the parasympathetic nervous system, the inverse of the sympathetic system.
Deep breathing is the reaction inhibitor to a stress response.
Like a chemical reaction, deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system, which allows the body to enter a relaxed state, easing the breath that opens blood vessels to promote the functionality of the heart and brain. When you gain control of this response, you gain control of your health. By hacking the vagus nerve via the breath, stress and inflammation can be mitigated, which is the base of all dis-ease.
" This power is evident in patients who have breathing difficulties. When these difficulties are sporadic and acute, they can trigger panic attacks; when they are chronic, they often induce a more muted anxiety. It is estimated that more than 60 percent of people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have anxiety or depressive disorders. These disorders probably stem in part from concerns about the consequences of the disease (what could be more distressing than struggling to breathe?), but purely mechanical factors may contribute as well: the difficulty these patients experience often leads to faster breathing, which does not necessarily improve the quality of their oxygen supply but can aggravate their physical discomfort and anxiety". 1
If you can, pair a deep breathing technique with affirming thoughts.
Be mindful when you partake of herbs, especially in smoking form.
Commercialized herbs have been modified with additives and addictive substances.
Seek a reputable source of tobacco, mullein, etc.