Neural Pathways are the routes that signals travel from one neuron to another. We are creating new connections between neurons, or widening and deepening existing ones. This process is known as neuroplasticity.
When we practice something repeatedly, we reinforce the neural pathways associated with that activity, making them stronger and more efficient, whether that’s good or bad.
They can be compared to a deer path through the woods or a Grand Canyon. A deer path is relatively narrow and shallow, while a Grand Canyon is much wider and more open. Changing neural pathways is like changing the size and shape of a path. When we learn new information or develop new skills, we are essentially modifying our neural pathways. Changing our neural pathways is not an easy task, but it is possible. With effort and time, we can rewire our brains to think and respond in new and different ways.
Different breathing techniques can alter neural circuits in different ways. For example, the Wim Hof breathing method stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the fight-or-flight response. This can lead to increased alertness and energy levels.
Conversely, practices like the Buteyko method help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest and digest functions. This can lead to a feeling of relaxation and calm.
Breathwork is a powerful tool for breaking neural loops that may be holding us back from overcoming mental health issues and reaching our full potential.
By focusing on the breath, Breathwork can help to reset the nervous system and rewire neural pathways associated with maladaptive behaviors or thought patterns.
Our breathing happens in a rhythmic way, without our conscious control most of the time.
This breathing rhythm is a type of wave or oscillation. In the brain, there are a whole range of other oscillations—gamma waves, delta waves, theta waves and so on—that help the brain synchronize activity.
“Over the past decade or so, it’s become apparent that rhythms at the frequency of breathing are present throughout the brain,” says Jack Feldman, PhD, distinguished professor in neurobiology at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“And these rhythms are not about breathing for oxygen and carbon dioxide regulation; they are found in regions involved in emotional function and cognitive function. These rhythms seem to be playing a role in this kind of signal processing.”
According to Feldman’s hypothesis, by purposefully altering our breathing rate we can effectively interrupt the persistent neural oscillations related to emotion and cognition.
This disruption may create an opportunity for individuals suffering from a mental health condition such as depression to break out of their “locked-in” neurological patterns and introduce new signals into their brain circuitry that could help reduce symptoms.