How to Strengthen the Mind-Body Connection

How to Strengthen the Mind-Body Connection
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Slow-paced breathing at the right frequency can result in a vagal nerve activation, which may have a variety of beneficial effects.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

There are “all manner of [purported hiccup] ‘cures,’ everything from chew a lemon, inhale pepper, or, our dog’s favorite, “a spoonful of peanut butter.” Here’s the technique I’m excited to try next time I get hiccups: “supra-supramaximal inspiration.” You take a very deep breath, hold for ten seconds, then breathe in even more, hold for another five seconds, and then one final tiny breath in, and hold for five last seconds. “[A]n immediate and permanent termination to hiccups was achieved.”

When I was a kid, I taught myself how to control my own hiccups using slow-paced breathing, and I was excited to see there was finally a case report written up on it.

It’s really neat—there’s a nerve, called the vagus nerve, that goes directly from our brain to our chest to our stomach, and connects our brain back and forth to our heart and our gut, and even our immune system. The vagus nerve is like the hardwiring that allows our brain to turn down inflammation within our body. When you hear about the mind-body connection—that’s what the vagus nerve is, and does. So, there’s been “increasing interest in treating a wide range of disorders with implanted pacemaker-like devices for stimulating…vagus [nerve] pathways.” But, certain Eastern traditions like “Yoga, QiGong, and Zen” figured a way to do it without having electrodes implanted into your body. Let me explain how.

“A healthy heart is not a metronome. Your heart rate goes up and down with your breathing. When you breathe in, your heart rate tends to go up. When you breathe out, your heart rate tends to go down.”

You can pause this video, and test it out on yourself right now by feeling your pulse change as you breathe in and out. I’ll wait. Isn’t that cool?!

See, that heart rate variability is a measure of vagal tone—the activity of your vagus nerve. And so, the game to play next time you’re bored is to try to make your heart rate speed up and slow down as much as possible within each breath.

This can be done because there’s a whole other oscillating cycle going on at the same time that’s speeding, then slowing, your heart rate based on moment-to-moment changes in your blood pressure. And, as any physics geek can tell you, “all oscillating feedback systems with a constant delay have the characteristic of resonance”—meaning you can boost the amplitude if you get the cycles in sync. It’s like pushing your kid on a swing; if you get the timing just right, you can boost them higher and higher.

Similarly, if you breathe in at just the right frequency, you can force the cycles in sync, and boost your heart rate variability. Uh, and why are we doing that again? Because that allows us to affect the function of our autonomic nervous system “via vagal afferents to brainstem nuclei,” like the locus coeruleus, activating “hypothalamic vigilance areas,” or at least according to the “neurophysiologic model” postulation. I mean, duh.

Uh, and why are we doing this again? It’s not just to cure hiccups. Practicing slow breathing a few minutes a day may have lasting beneficial effects on a number “of medical and emotional disorders,” including asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, and depression—though in the U.S. of A., we’ve put it to use improving “batting performance in baseball.”

Now, to date, most studies have lacked proper controls, and used fancy biofeedback machines to determine each person’s resonant frequency, but for most people, it comes out to be about five-and-a-half breaths per minute; so, a full breath in and out, about every eleven seconds.

When musicians were randomized into slow-breathing groups with or without biofeedback, slow breathing helped regardless. Same with high blood pressure. You can use this technique to significantly drop your blood pressure within minutes. The hope is if you practice this a few minutes a day, you can have long-lasting effects the rest of the day, breathing normally.

Practice what exactly? Slow breathing, five or six breaths per minute, split equally between breathing in and breathing out should do it. So, like, five seconds in, then five seconds out, all the while breathing “shallowly and naturally”—you don’t want to hyperventilate. Natural, shallow breaths, but just breathing really slowly. Try it the next time you get hiccups. Works for me, every time.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credits: Dimitris Vetsikas via pixabay and Luiz Carlos via Wikipedia. Images have been modified.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

There are “all manner of [purported hiccup] ‘cures,’ everything from chew a lemon, inhale pepper, or, our dog’s favorite, “a spoonful of peanut butter.” Here’s the technique I’m excited to try next time I get hiccups: “supra-supramaximal inspiration.” You take a very deep breath, hold for ten seconds, then breathe in even more, hold for another five seconds, and then one final tiny breath in, and hold for five last seconds. “[A]n immediate and permanent termination to hiccups was achieved.”

When I was a kid, I taught myself how to control my own hiccups using slow-paced breathing, and I was excited to see there was finally a case report written up on it.

It’s really neat—there’s a nerve, called the vagus nerve, that goes directly from our brain to our chest to our stomach, and connects our brain back and forth to our heart and our gut, and even our immune system. The vagus nerve is like the hardwiring that allows our brain to turn down inflammation within our body. When you hear about the mind-body connection—that’s what the vagus nerve is, and does. So, there’s been “increasing interest in treating a wide range of disorders with implanted pacemaker-like devices for stimulating…vagus [nerve] pathways.” But, certain Eastern traditions like “Yoga, QiGong, and Zen” figured a way to do it without having electrodes implanted into your body. Let me explain how.

“A healthy heart is not a metronome. Your heart rate goes up and down with your breathing. When you breathe in, your heart rate tends to go up. When you breathe out, your heart rate tends to go down.”

You can pause this video, and test it out on yourself right now by feeling your pulse change as you breathe in and out. I’ll wait. Isn’t that cool?!

See, that heart rate variability is a measure of vagal tone—the activity of your vagus nerve. And so, the game to play next time you’re bored is to try to make your heart rate speed up and slow down as much as possible within each breath.

This can be done because there’s a whole other oscillating cycle going on at the same time that’s speeding, then slowing, your heart rate based on moment-to-moment changes in your blood pressure. And, as any physics geek can tell you, “all oscillating feedback systems with a constant delay have the characteristic of resonance”—meaning you can boost the amplitude if you get the cycles in sync. It’s like pushing your kid on a swing; if you get the timing just right, you can boost them higher and higher.

Similarly, if you breathe in at just the right frequency, you can force the cycles in sync, and boost your heart rate variability. Uh, and why are we doing that again? Because that allows us to affect the function of our autonomic nervous system “via vagal afferents to brainstem nuclei,” like the locus coeruleus, activating “hypothalamic vigilance areas,” or at least according to the “neurophysiologic model” postulation. I mean, duh.

Uh, and why are we doing this again? It’s not just to cure hiccups. Practicing slow breathing a few minutes a day may have lasting beneficial effects on a number “of medical and emotional disorders,” including asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, and depression—though in the U.S. of A., we’ve put it to use improving “batting performance in baseball.”

Now, to date, most studies have lacked proper controls, and used fancy biofeedback machines to determine each person’s resonant frequency, but for most people, it comes out to be about five-and-a-half breaths per minute; so, a full breath in and out, about every eleven seconds.

When musicians were randomized into slow-breathing groups with or without biofeedback, slow breathing helped regardless. Same with high blood pressure. You can use this technique to significantly drop your blood pressure within minutes. The hope is if you practice this a few minutes a day, you can have long-lasting effects the rest of the day, breathing normally.

Practice what exactly? Slow breathing, five or six breaths per minute, split equally between breathing in and breathing out should do it. So, like, five seconds in, then five seconds out, all the while breathing “shallowly and naturally”—you don’t want to hyperventilate. Natural, shallow breaths, but just breathing really slowly. Try it the next time you get hiccups. Works for me, every time.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credits: Dimitris Vetsikas via pixabay and Luiz Carlos via Wikipedia. Images have been modified.

Doctor's Note

For more tips, watch my video on How to Stop Hiccups.

And, because slowing down our pulse in general may also have beneficial effects, I encourage you to check out:

Every time I’m amazed by ancient wisdom, I have to remind myself of the video I did on toxic heavy metals—Get the Lead Out. So, though traditional healing methods may offer a plethora of insights, they still need to be put to the test.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

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