The nervous system ensures that the body reacts quickly and adequately to stimuli from outside or from within our body. Our senses, our nervous system and our muscles work closely together. Sensory impulses – smells, flavors, sounds, images and bodily sensations – are directed to the central nervous system (the spine and brain). There they are processed, stored and converted into impulses for the musculoskeletal system and internal organs such as respiratory muscles, airways and lungs.
Importance of breathing
Breathing is like a power switch to the autonomic nervous system. This system has two sections with opposite functions. The parasympathetic nervous system stimulates relaxation and restoration. That is why it is also called the ‘feed and breed’ system. The sympathetic nervous system sends stimulating signals to the organs to get them ready for action, and is also known as ‘the fight or flight’ system.
Our lungs are covered with nerves that extend both parts of the autonomic system. However, the different nerves are concentrated in different parts of the lungs. Many nerves connecting the parasympathetic system are located in de lower lobes. That is why long and slow breaths are relaxing. When breathing slowly, molecules of air are sent deep in the lungs, activating parasympathetic nerves which send messages for the organs to rest and digest. And with long breaths out, molecules stimulate an even more powerful parasympathetic response.
The nerves of the sympathetic nervous system are spread out at the top of the lungs. So when breathing short and fast in the upper chest, the molecules of air activate the sympathetic nerves which send messages to ‘fight or flight’. This sympathetic response is activated within a second. The body redirects the blood flow from organs like stomach and bladder and sends it to the muscles and brain. Adrenaline peaks, heart rate increases, blood vessels constrict and heart rate speeds up.
The body is built to stay in a stage of sympathetic response only for short burst and only on occasion. After excitement it takes an hour or more to return to a state of relaxation. Disordered breathing however, with many short breaths in the upper chest over het long period, constantly switches on the sympathetic nerves, which makes people ending up light-headed and anxious and feeling exhausted.