Limbic Healthy Breathing | Majid Ali MD
Essentials of Limbic Breathing
There are three essential components of limbic breathing, two mechanical and one energetic:
(1) diaphragmatic ventilation
(2) prolongation of expiration after a momentary pause following inspirations
(3) an energetic component that begins with simple autogenic suggestions of energetic tissue expansion and ends with heightened awareness of tissue energy and profound physiological benefits.
As for the first element, diaphragmatic breathing, simply stated, is a natural mode of breathing controlled by the movement of diaphragm, the muscular sheet that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity. The diaphragm muscle contracts to push down the abdominal viscera and expand the chest cavity, with a resultant rush of air into the lungs to fill the expanded space in that cavity. The mechanical steps of the second element of prolonged breathing are illustrated in Figures 8-10. The third energetic component is an experiential element with clearly demonstrable electrophysiologic effects.
A Healthy Baby Sleeps With Limbic Breathing, A Baby With Pneumonia Sleep With Cortical Breathing
A sleeping baby breathes “limbically” through the abdomen — the lungs expand passively as the abdomen rolls out. By contrast, a baby with pneumonia “chest-breathes” — the chest wall heaves up with each breath while the abdominal wall retracts. Most adults develop the poor practice of breathing like a baby with pneumonia — they breathe “cortically” through their chest. The difference between the abdominal breathing and “chest-breathing” can be readily and fully appreciated by doing the following simple experiment. Ask a companion to gently place her/his hands on the lower part of your rib cage in the back and try to sense the difference between two types of action
1. Take a very deep breath by fully raising your shoulders and upper chest; and
2. Push your abdomen forward fully while keeping the shoulders still.
Now ask your companion to tell you if she/he feels any difference between the two types of breaths. Your companion is likely to grin and say she/he indeed felt a clear difference. Your lower rib cage retracted and moved up in the first step, and it expanded and moved out and down during the second step. Next, you reverse the roles and ask your companion to take the same two breathing steps while your hands rest gently on her/his lower rib cage in the back, and you try to sense the difference between the two breathing steps. You will recognize that there is a much greater degree of expansion of the lower lung fields with the limbic breath and only minimal expansion of that region with chest (“cortical”) breathing. You can see with your mind’s eye how the air rushes in to fill the lower and more voluminous lobes of the lungs with limbic abdominal breathing and does not do so with cortical chest breathing.
The Palm Method for Initial Training in Limbic Breathing
Most adults chest-breathe as a matter of poor habit. When I teach limbic breathing, my patients have no difficulty in understanding the basic mechanics of limbic diaphragmatic breathing. Then I demonstrate to them the simple steps of limbic breathing by focusing on the forward motion of my abdominal wall when I breathe in and the slow and sustained roll back of my abdomen with expiration. My shoulders and chest wall do not move during either the breathe-in or the breathe-out phase of my ventilation. They observe me closely. Then I ask them to simply copy the movements of my abdominal wall without moving their chest muscles and shoulders. More often than not, they do exactly the opposite of what I demonstrate to them. They immediately take a deep and forceful breath, lifting their chest wall and shoulders, and pulling in their abdominal wall. I point out the mistake in that and demonstrate the correct method again. They try again and repeat their earlier mistake. Again, I describe in simple words the right method and give them another demonstration of the limbic breath-in process. They try again, repeat and recognize the mistake and look
puzzled. I repeat my demonstration. They try again, repeat the mistake, and become frustrated. Such is the habit of their chest muscles! It amuses me to see that confusion and frustration on their faces month after month (with different individuals) as they recognize their mistakes but cannot seem to make the necessary correction on their own. Such is the hold of cortical breathing on them! To help my patients overcome the initial confusion and frustration with limbic breathing, during the early years of my teaching autoregulation, I developed a simple method which I designated as the
“Palm Method” (Palm-On-the-Abdomen Method) for initial training.
The Palm Method has the following four steps:
First, I instruct my patient to sit on the edge of the chair, rest the left hand on the left knee and to gently place the right palm over the lower abdomen. Left-handed individuals can reverse that order if desired.
Second, I ask my patients to push the palm resting on the lower abdomen as far out as the can, unmindful of any movement of the shoulders, rib cage, or abdomen.
Third, when the palm over the abdomen is pushed out as far as possible, I ask the patient to hold the breath for a second or two.
Fourth, I ask the patient to slowly, and in a step wise fashion, allow the palm on the lower abdomen to move back in
Pause Between Inhalation and Exhalation
During the development of the method of limbic breathing, I recognized that for most of my patients a momentary pause between inspiration and expiration was useful in learning the basic steps. So, I incorporated a momentary pause (one or two seconds) between the two phases of respiration. Some years later, when I studied ancient as well as some modern texts on therapeutic breathing, I found clear differences between various methods. For example, the traditional Indian pranayama emphasizes a pause between inhalation and exhalation. In the Rebirthing method, by contrast, there is considerable emphasis on connecting breathe-in and breathe-out phases of breathing. Intrigued by those belief systems, I tested the two methods. I was not able to validate any clinical benefits of one method over the other. So, I stayed with the method using a momentary pause, which seemed to facilitate initial training.
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Breathing Through One Or the Other Nostril
Some ancient traditions recommend that one nostril be used for inhalation and the other for exhalation. I have not been able to validate any benefits of breathing in through one nostril and breathing out through another, or by using the two nostrils on an alternate basis. However, I did make an interesting and clinically useful observation. Doing tests with breathing through a single nostril at a time is an excellent way to find partial or complete blockage of one or both nostrils. In cases of nasal allergy, septal deviation, or nasal polyps, the difference in inhalation through two
nostril can be dramatic, and underscore the importance of taking appropriate corrective actions. In patient education, I divide training in Limbic Breathing in the following three stages:
Beginner’s Limbic Breathing, Intermediate Limbic Breathing, and Advanced Limbic Breathing.
Beginners’ Limbic Breathing
There are two objectives in the training for Beginner’s Limbic Breathing:
(1) to learn to become sensitive to and comfortable with the mechanical step cycle of breathing limbically
(2) to learn how to use simple autogenic suggestions to warm hands by repeating the simple phrase My hands are limp and loose).
In the Beginner’s Limbic Breathing, the breathe-in phase is even and short. It is followed by a brief period of holding the breath for a second or two. Next follows a period of slow, even, and sustained breathing which may last for twice as long as the breathe-in period. The Beginner’s limbic breathing is schematically illustrated in Figure 8.
Intermediate Limbic Breathing
In the Intermediate Limbic Breathing, we again have two principal objectives:
(1) to learn to prolong the breath-out period to 10 to 15 seconds, using a step-ladder approach
(2) to learn to bring forth clear energetic perceptions not only in hands but also other parts of the body, such as warming in eyelids, ears, and feet, all at once and simultaneously.
The Intermediate limbic breathing, as the name implies, is a phase between early and advanced training. Many of my patients found it difficult to do the pulses and feel energy while they learn to merge the breathe-in with the hold period and the hold period with the breathe-out period. The idea of using a step ladder approach as an interim step came to me while working with a patient. The Intermediate limbic breathing is schematically illustrated in Figure 9.
Advanced Limbic Breathing
In Advanced Limbic Breathing, again we have two objectives:
(1) to achieve the state of limbic metabolism (as described above)
(2) to achieve higher states of consciousness manifested by one or more of the following observable phenomena:
(a) an altered state of the breathing rhythm, with deep and even breathe-in, a smooth and imperceptible slowing to a complete stop (the hold period), and a very prolonged and sustained breathe-out period;
(b) an altered state of the brain wave activity, with a predominance of the alpha-theta rhythm;
(c) an altered state of the heart function, with a regular, slow, and even rhythm of the heart;
(d) an altered state of circulation, with open arteries, with warmth, heaviness, flushing, a sense of “swelling”, and awareness of an intensity of energy in all parts of the body
(e) an altered state of the muscles in limbs and torso with dissolution of all tension and strain in these tissues. All meditators become familiar with this phenomenon early on during their training in the various modes of breathing. With
continued practice, autoregulation with limbic breathing integrates profound clinical benefits of deep, slow and even breathing with those of improved circulatory patterns and energy perception. The mechanics of Advanced limbic breathing are schematically illustrated in Figure 10.
The effects of self-regulation on many neurophysiological and metabolic functions of the body have been examined with many methods, such as transcendental meditation (TM). Here, I summarize the results of two such illustrative studies. Esch and his German co-workers examined the effect of four different autoregulation approach on limbic morphinergic processes. The methods included were acupuncture, meditation, music therapy, and massage therapy. They found that frontal/prefrontal and limbic brain structures play a role in response to selfregulation, including:
(1) functional improvements involving left-anterior regions of the brain
(2) reward and motivation circuitry
(3) neuroendocrinologic responses
(4) autonomic functions.
Those observation were extended by Paul-Labrador et al. who focused on the effects of TM on a variety of components of the metabolic syndrome and coronary heart disease (CHD). They conducted a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial of 16 weeks of TM or active control treatment (health education), matched
for frequency and time, at an academic medical center in a total of 103 subjects with stable CHD.
The outcome parameters included:
(1) blood pressure
(2) endothelial function measured by brachial artery reactivity testing
(3) cardiac autonomic system activity measured by heart rate variability
(4) lipoprotein profile
(5) insulin resistance calculated as follows: fasting plasma glucose level in milligrams per deciliter multiplied with fasting plasma insulin level in microunits per milliliter. They concluded that the use of TM for 16 weeks in CHD patients improved blood pressure and insulin resistance components of the metabolic syndrome as well as cardiac autonomic nervous system tone compared with a control group receiving health education.
In closing, I add here brief comments about the clinical relevance of limbic breathing.
I have observed the best short-term clinical benefit of this type of breathing with
(1) heart palpitations;
(2) headache (including migraine);
(3) abdominal cramps;
(4) leg cramp;
(5) chronic neck and back pain;
(6) miscellaneous acute pain syndromes
(7) anxiety reactions.
Among the long-term clinical benefits of limbic breathing
(1) acute coronary ischemic syndromes
(2) bronchial asthma,
(3) Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis
(5) spinal stenosis
(6)herniated discs in the neck and low back.
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