Breath – our life relies on it, and yet it usually takes running up the stairs, a congested nose or a sweaty workout to notice it.

It turns out our breath is an incredible tool for us to thrive in mind, body and spirit. We asked Dr. Genieve Burley, TurF Teacher, to help us answer the simple question of why we breathe, and how we can use our breath to live an enormous life. 

First thing’s first: Anatomy talk – what’s actually going on in there?

When you inhale, the diaphragm descends, which massages an important nerve, cranial nerve 10 (better known as the vagus nerve). The vagus nerve runs through the throat towards the belly and gets stimulated with deep breaths. It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, bringing the body into relaxation. This explains that calm, grounded sensation you feel after taking a few deep, clearing breaths.

Breath occurs naturally, or unconsciously – it’s how we can stay alive when we are not paying attention to breathing, like during sleep. However, we also have conscious control of the breath. When we take over the control of the breath from the involuntary to the voluntary, it creates a switch of focus in the brain. This is really helpful in terms of anxiety, stress and repetitive thoughts. Our brain can only focus on so much at a time, so if we are to maintain voluntary control of the breath, our focus has to remain there. You’ll consistently hear teachers cueing breath in class, especially during those moments of pause like meditation.

Our lungs are efficient, only using a fraction of the volume of the lungs when at rest. Doing breath work, deep breaths, short powerful breaths, breath retention, and exhale retentions will strengthen the diaphragm and our lung’s capacity to clear CO2 waste and draw more oxygen into the bloodstream. It’s important to train the lungs and the chemistry of our oxygen and CO2 levels for optimal health. In fact, there is a great amount of research being done on tolerance to carbon dioxide and increased immunity. The benefits of training these different systems are innumerable!

Breath and the TurF Philosophy.

We create an experience beyond the body in all of our classes at TurF. We use breath with movement to awaken our senses and connection to the brain. Breathing has an immense impact on our lives and as a result, we dedicate a moment to breathing in every class. You’ll find our community opening and closing each class and leading and finish each move of the body with breath.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where Genieve will discuss the connection between breath and Mind and Body.