Posted on 06 April, 2017

The Neurons that Watch your Breathing for Stress

By Jacob Andreae in Mix104.9, Mindset, Lifestyle, Mental Clarity, Sports, Performance, Success, Radio Show, Balls 'n' All The Neurons that Watch your Breathing for Stress

[Image source: Boston Magazine]

This week on Balls'N'All, we talk about neurons. There are 175 neurons in the brain, and they are switched on to your breathing. They use your breathing for instruction on how to make you feel, whether that be nervous or relaxed or anywhere in-between. Listen in to hear how you can control your emotions by starting with your breathing. 

The Neurons that Watch your Breathing for Stress

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Transcribed Text:

Jackson - Now Jacob, you are the expert on all things and today we’ll be talking very briefly about breathing and stress, and I’ve always been interested in the relationship between breathing and stress. You see a lot of yoga vision, and they do those breathing activities and a lot of hippies love their breathing and they talk about how important it is to have four deep breaths out and whatever, and you’re telling me now off air that there are 175 brain cells that spy on your breath and alter your state of mind. Tell us a little more about that…

Jacob - Yeah. So I came across this research yesterday, actually scrolling through facebook and I was on Dave Asprey’s page who’s the guy behind ‘The Bulletproof Coffee’ and then I went in to try and find a bit more information coz I thought it’s got to be a bit more to it than just what you read on facebook and it was in the journal ‘SCIENCE’ and it stated that there are… scientists have found that there are 175 neurons in the brain which actually spy on the breath which are able to alter the brain, and so they can calm you down or they can excite you.

Jackson - Very, very interesting stuff. I’m so fascinated by the brain, I mean, you hear all about placebo stories and I suppose people, everyday humans achieving incredible feats based on the fight or flight response or people… I know there’s those that have been incarcerated and locked up for a period of time and they’ve learnt new skills just by drumming it over and over again in their brain even though they haven’t actually done the skill, and… is the human brain still very untapped? This is something you would know a lot more that I about. Is there still so much more potential in unlocking the power of the human brain?

Jacob - Oh yeah definitely.The brain, as everyone says all the time, is the world’s most super, super computer. It’s amazing what the brain can do. You can have a brain injury and the brain can overcome that and just start using another part of the brain to start doing different activities. So while… this is what I was actually thinking about yesterday actually. While there are 175 neurons in the brain - so a neuron is a nerve cell, so you’ve got cells through your body and a neuron is just a nerve cell in the brain, or the spinal column, is also a part of the… so you’ve got the central nervous system which is the brain and spinal column and the peripheral nervous system which is all the other nerves outside of that, so you’ve got these neurons which are your nerve cells in the brain, and then… I actually think that what, or what I wouldn’t be surprised about, is that those 175 neurons could be replaced by different neurons if something was to happen to them so if you had a brain injury that they somewhat... another part of the brain could take over for that and start looking into the breathing and alter your state of mind, as a result.

Jackson - I read an article a couple of years ago about former AFL player Mitch Morton and he was talking about how he didn’t get the best football out of himself when he was playing at West Coast and Richmond because he put so much pressure on himself to perform and it got to the stage where he was just about throwing up in his car on the way to training such were the expectations and the nerves that he had, and impressing the right person and it’s what I’m sure would be a common issue for those playing in the AFL or even most standards of football really when they’re on the periphery of senior selection and they take their football very serious, and it can have a detrimental effect that’s for sure. And it just got me thinking that that must be a common thing, so maybe not to that extreme but certainly to some extent. I mean, if you’re on the best 22, playing a good game might keep you in the side for a couple more weeks and playing a couple of bad games might end up getting you de-listed by the end of the season which of course has the financial ramifications, your dream is almost out the window, and it’s really serious stuff, so my question to you Jacob, do you think that side of football, the psychology side, do you think we’ll see, as the years progress and people are more open to that side of things, do you think we’ll see more money and resources poured into that area, where suddenly a sports psychologist and a top rank sports psychologist that can do this and that, will just about be the most in demand people at sporting clubs?

Jacob - Oh look… a lot of athletes can do it themselves now so yeah, it may be that there’s a greater demand for psychologists to do this sort of thing but athletes can go ahead and do it of their own back right now. So Maverick Weller, who was at Gold Coast Suns, moved to St Kilda now, he started doing meditating and concentrating on his breathing and that sort of thing but essentially meditating, when he was trying to get into the Gold Coast Suns side and he was struggling to get in and to stay in and that kind of thing, and now it’s just a part of his everyday routine so you’ll see him before a game meditating. He’ll meditate at home you know during the week so meditating for him has become very important. And I believe he attributed a lot of his success in terms of him getting regular games now at St Kilda to that meditation. So it seems that yogis have known something that maybe all the rest of us haven’t for a very long time in that meditation can actually really benefit you and that you know, now there’s science to prove, you know… people have always sort of known that breathing helps to relax you and when someone’s feeling angry, you know you do it as a teacher, you’re working with kids and a child’s getting angry you say “take a deep breath” you know or “take 3 deep breaths” or whatever it might be and it kinda relaxes you. And you can control your heart rate too with breathing. But yeah, now there’s actually science to go with that and say well there’s actually these 175 neurons which are spying in on your breath to determine you know, are you breathing in an excited state - does that mean we need to activate your fight or flight you know response or are you breathing in a normal rate or are you breathing at a very slow relaxed rate, does that mean we can sort of switch off our adrenal glands and stuff like that which kinda… which release cortisol which is a stress hormone and stuff like that, all the different things which go on in the body.

Jackson - Really interesting stuff. You did mention Maverick Weller’s story and that’s a fascinating read, I think that article came out maybe last year or the year before and yeah, very fascinating, one of the better football stories I’ve read for a little while. And speaking about another athlete that I’m quite fond of - Conor McGregor. He’s another one that uses visualization and all those techniques that are probably foreign to a lot of fighters. I mean there’s still that stigma about meditating and say what you want, if I walked in to any football club, the majority of country football clubs, laid out my little hippie mat and sat down and started meditating in the change room they’d think that I’m a bit of a fruit loop so yeah. I mean there’s still a little bit out of the public eye all that meditation stuff but I think the more we see elite athletes doing it the more we might see it filter down to lower standards and lower leagues and all that sort of stuff. But do you believe in visualization? I mean, is there a more to it than that? I mean do you literally just sit there and calm yourself and think about these outcomes and feel the good emotions? I mean there’s a lot of talk about the Law of Attraction and a lot of people I suppose have marketed different books about the Law of Attraction to their advantage and a lot of it is a little bit sensationalized and you’re not too sure exactly what to take of it. Some people swear by it of course. Have you ever used it in your personal life and do you think that it works?

Jacob - Oh definitely yeah, I’ve definitely used it and I, you know, believe that visualization works because what’s happening is when you visualize something happening well you’re reducing the anxiety, and anxiety is a fear of, often unwarranted, fear of something in the future happening, so when you visualize you’re actually putting yourself into that position in the future so it becomes more familiar when you do experience that… that event. But what’s happening actually inside you is that the neural pathways are being activated, so when you visualize doing something all the pathways in the nervous system are actually being activated as if you were doing it, and there was this interesting research and I don’t… this was a long time ago I came across this and I can’t remember where I found it or what it was in but - it was stating so... someone was doing a bench press, for example, they had different groups doing bench press, and they were looking at their strength improvements, and the group only simply just visualized that they just sat there and thought about doing bench press, then there was the second group who just did bench press but they didn’t actually think about it, they didn’t visualize it, and a third group who both did the bench press and thought about it. And it was something along the… I can’t remember exactly but it was something along the lines of the group who simply just thought about it had a 5% increase in their strength, they didn’t do any other… they didn’t do any bench press but they improved their bench press scores by 5%, then the group who did the bench press I believe they had an improvement of 15%, and then the group who thought about it and did the bench press had an improvement of 20% - so you can see that there was a 5% improvement just by simply thinking about it. And that’s what’s happening so you're not activating the muscular system which is where you’re developing most of the strength but you’re actually activating the neural system which is sending the message so your big… your nervous system is getting better at sending that message along all the little nerve cells in order to tell your body what to do so when it then activates that motor pattern in the future it’s much more effective at doing it.

Jackson - I certainly believe it to a certain extent but there’s some massive claims out there by these Law of Attraction gurus and… I mean… you can’t blame their messages for rubbing people up the wrong way when they say stuff like “well, if you want the life of your dreams, if you want to be a millionaire just envision it” and like I do think that the success behind most people lies with a vision. Normally those that just go with the flow and do whatever may not achieve as much as someone who has a goal, or has a very clear successful vision in their mind but if I wanted to manifest, as they like to call it, a million dollars, how would I go about doing that? I mean, it’s not as easy as me just sitting here and saying “I want a million dollars” and then people say “No! Don’t say the word want because then you’re always sending the message to the world that you want it, you need to act like you’ve got the million dollars” but at the same time if I went straight from here and spent $500 buying coffees for everyone in Mitchell Street it’s probably not going to be a wise investment and I’d feel a little bit nervous resting back and saying “That’s alright, I’m a millionaire” wink, wink, to the world. So surely there’s a lot more to it than that?

Jacob - Well there’s… so you’re probably getting a little bit mixed up with visualization and just having a vision. So I’m talking about a visualisation where you’re actually activating the neural system. Having a vision and manifesting something is a little bit different and there’s no science to back it up but there’s certainly a lot of case studies out there of people saying this is what happened. And I'll tell you what I believe was a very interesting story. So I was listening to a podcast from a guy called James Wedmore on manifestation and I thought to myself: ‘oh come on I’ve heard so much about this, let’s put this to the test. OK. This afternoon when I get home…’ I was listening to it in my car. ‘This afternoon when I get home there’s gonna be a hundred dollars in my letterbox!’ I don’t know if there was something in that maybe the fact that I said there's going to be and didn’t say want - as you said don’t say want! And I thought it was a little bit crazy but I truly… I think the key is you have to truly believe it. Let me get to this… do you think there’s gonna be $100 in my letter box when I got home that day?

Jackson - Well… the suspense…

Jacob - So I got home and I was so excited to check the letterbox to see, you know kind of… You know, I was believing that there was going to be. I opened that letterbox up and I pulled out… Guess what I pulled out? I pulled out two $100 sport.... sport vouchers it was. So I was like I think you have to be open to how… if you are gonna take this Law of Attraction and Manifestation on, you have to be open to how it’s gonna show up in your life. And you have to be… what they say is that you have to be clear on exactly how it’s gonna show up. So for me, I said it was gonna be $100 in my letterbox, essentially there was, there was two lots of $100, so there was $200 in my letterbox because I didn’t have to go and pay the sports for my kids to go and do sport - the government was giving me 200 bucks of free money. So, you know, so there was these two $100 sport vouchers in there and when I say you have to be very clear on what you want - I’ll give you a very quick other little story from this James guy that I was talking about… So he said he wanted to be more adventurous in his life. Lo and behold, a couple of days later one of his mates comes to him and hands him tickets to go skydiving and he hated jumping out of a plane, you know, the idea of jumping out of a plane and he hated heights and all the rest of it, but he ended up going and doing it. He initially said: “No! No! I’m not doing it! That just scares the bejesus out of me! There’s no way I’m going to go and jump out of a plane!” And… then anyway… his mate kinda called him out, put him on facebook, called him a wuss, and in the end he felt like he had to do it. And you know how you get those stories where people… you know, like… they don’t want to do something like that and they go and do it and it’s the best thing in their life? This is not that story! He said he hated it! The whole way down he was… you know, absolutely petrified. Got down, got to the bottom, he was safe on the ground. Still hated the experience and still hates it to this day. So what he was saying is that you have to be very clear on what you want so that when you do put something out to the universe as you would say with manifestation, you have to be clear on how that’s gonna show up. So… but you have to be open to how it might show up.

Jackson - What do you mean by have to be open?

Jacob - Well, so what I mean by, so I said I want a hundred dollars in my letterbox… you know, if I was to say no, there wasn’t a $100 note sitting in my letterbox then that doesn’t work...

Jackson - I think I understand where you’re coming from here… but my counter-argument - and we will move on from the Law of Attraction because we could probably talk about it all day and people would be getting very bored - but I don’t think that it always works. I think that a lot of people clutch at the straws a little bit, so I mean if I said right now: ‘Alright, I want to be rich” you know… or not “I want to…” or whatever… I did the right terminology to manifest richness… and I walked outside and saw a dollar on the ground, I’d probably be jumping for joy “oh, it worked, it worked” but really, come on, sometimes there’s just little tiny coincidences in life isn’t there?

Jacob - Oh, is rich just about money?

Jackson - Oh now you’re getting philosophical again Jacob. But let’s say I wanted to have an abundance of money and I found a dollar coin - that’s hardly an abundance of money but I feel as though these Law of Attraction gurus and books would put an example like that in their publication.

Jacob - Yeah probably but you know, this is where you’re using both the left and the right side of your brain, so your analytical side and your creative side so at the same time I think that everyone’s going to accept that if you want to have lots of money then you need to go out and you need to work hard for it at the same time. Not necessarily work hard coz if you’re loving something then you probably don’t feel as if you’re working hard but you do need to work for things and the harder you have to work for something the more they mean so you know I think most people would acknowledge that you can’t just sit there and wish for winning a lottery.

About Jacob Andreae

About Jacob Andreae

I write and speak about Fitness, Nutrition and Mindset. 

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