The brains environment is like a closed body of water, with specifics avenues of filtration. If left stagnant, the clouded waters of the brain can limit proper functioning and healing. If you want to ensure that your brain's environment is healthy, pay close attention to how fluid moves in the body.
Multiple studies have demonstrated that breathing significantly influences cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) and blood flow into and out of the brain. Its noted that CSF flows into the brain during inhalation, as blood flows out, while the opposite is true of exhalation. What this means is that breathing-in causes CSF to build or pool in the brain and it drains in deep cervical lymph nodes during the exhale. During exhalation, blood is flowing into the brain providing nutrients and other select or small molecules that the CSF will eventually (hopefully) drain.
In the cases of people with dementia, CTE or other diseases based on an accumulation of proteins in the brain, lack of proper drainage may be a contributing factor in the progression of disease. Limited research suggests that learning how to breath properly will eradicate the prevalence of these diseases but, learning how breathing moves bodily fluids may help us to understand why breathing is important in combating these diseases.
Not only does breathing greatly influence the direction of your fluid flow, it also dictates the speed that fluid can move throughout the body. Increasing the force of your breathing can move fluid faster but repeating forceful breaths has a diminishing return on health. This is because forceful breathing leads to lower blood levels of CO2. This decrease of CO2 in the blood causes smooth muscles in blood vessels, lymphatic vessels and even the lining of the stomach to constrict or get tighter. Chronic tightness of these smooth muscle walls is a burden on the walls themselves as the increased pressure makes it difficult for them to repair themselves fast enough, leading to atheroscoloris (in blood vessels), poor absorption (in the gut) and other serious conditions.
I'm warning you against chronic forceful breathing so that you can understand that breathing harder is not the solution to increase blood flow, breathing better is. Breathing better means breathing specific to your energy needs, its a balancing act between your body and environment it interacts with. For instance, at rest your should be breathing softly and deeply. This type of breathing keeps you calm and peaceful in the mind while also providing your body with the energetic state it needs to heal. If you are exercising at max capacity (or performing a powerful breathing technique like Wim Hof style superventilation) than forceful breathing is fine, but its important to understand that you can't keep breathing hard if you intend to recover.
While the force of breathing and your breathing patterns matter, the mechanics of your breathing is equally as important. The motions of your rib cage and diaphragm act as a fluid pump in the body. Allowing your ribs to open and close completely gives your diaphragm the ability to express its full range of motion, leading to more robust fluid flow in the body (most importantly in the brain).
So how do we relate this to brain health? Besides that fact that slow and deep breathing increases your ability to heal, breathing with depth also influences how efficiently fluid moves and in some cases if it even moves at all. To understand what I am saying I want you to try this short experiment:
First try breathing in a few inefficient ways and note how you feel:
- inhale with your shoulders by pulling them up to your head and let them fall on your exhale
- feel free to tighten your neck muscles to over-exaggerate the poor mechanic
- notice how little your lower ribs and belly move
- Now try breathing without letting your ribs move
- you may notice more belly moves but maybe your breaths aren't very full
How does that feel?
Now, try breathing with relaxed neck and shoulders, focus on your ribs opening and closing:
- With you hands at the side of your ribs inhale wide and exhale together
- With one hand on your sternum and the other on your belly button, try to breathe your hands forward and slowly apart.
Notice a difference?
Hopefully, this helps you understand how important breathing is in regards to your brain health. If you still have questions, feel free to contact me through my website or through social media. I look forward to helping you improve your brain health!