Respiratory System Plasticity

The Samahita Blog

Respiratory System Plasticity

Paul Dallaghan
By Paul Dallaghan

The respiratory system is now known to be plastic, characterized by ongoing changes in the neural control system. These changes are based on previous experience and long-lasting expressions.

This intrinsic feature of the respiratory control network extends well beyond the development of a child’s respiratory system into adult life (1). This is a sword that cuts both ways, however, as it could either exacerbate any maladaptive responses to poor and obstructed respiratory functioning, or it could confer greater advantages when breathing is trained enhancing respiratory plasticity.

“The central respiratory control has been shown to couple with sympathetic activity, and when particularly maladaptive due to poor respiration, can influence the development of hypertension…..”

Anatomical and Functional Influence of the Respiratory System

  1. Cardiovascular system
    The respiratory apparatus functions as a pump in a closely interrelated role with the cardiovascular system, so together they eliminate CO2 and metabolites from cells while deliver oxygen and nutrients to those same cells.
  2. Sympathetic system
    The central respiratory control has been shown to couple with sympathetic activity, and when particularly maladaptive due to poor respiration, can influence the development of hypertension (2).
  3. Diaphragm, intercostal muscles and heart
    Breathing exercises are consciously controlled respiratory events, trained in a graded manner over time, to influence the function of the respiratory diaphragm, intercostal muscles, and as a result pulmonary function and health. Each ebb and flow of inspiration and expiration expand and contract the lungs and by default impact the heart.
  4. Organs
    Additionally, the movement of the diaphragm with varied intercostal activity, depending on the depth of the inhalation, alternates intrathoracic and intraabdominal pressure providing a massage stimulation to the visceral organs.

  1. Cardiac, sympathetic, and respiratory systems
    This mechanical process of respiration influences the rhythm of cardiac, sympathetic, and respiratory systems. Each inspiration creates a negative thoracic pressure that increases venous return and heart rate through cardiac stretch receptors.
    Simultaneously, pulmonary mechano-receptors and baro- and chemo-receptors provide sensory input in a feedback loop to central respiratory processing. Better trained respiratory muscles for example via breathing exercises, as part of a regular comprehensive yoga practice:
    – augment plastic adaptation of the respiratory system
    – improve heart and lung function
    – potentially aid enteric function through pressure from improved diaphragm movement
    The benefit is not only during the time of practice but, based on the learned plastic effect, leads to an improved respiratory function across a 24-hour period. This improved functionality not only increases daily well-being and sleep quality but as a byproduct of efficient mechanical respiration improves oxygen delivery and uptake across a 24-hour period.
  2. Spinal Column
    Finally, trained respiration with optimal diaphragmatic usage influences the spinal column as the crura of the diaphragm are attached directly to the spine at approximately T11 to L3, where they also overlap with the attachment of the psoas muscle, considered crucial for posture. Each inspiration contracts the diaphragm and when working more deeply pulls on these crura to stimulate the spinal column and its intervertebral discs.
By understanding and working with its neuroplasticity we can create a robust and plastic respiratory system to support this anatomical and functional influence over the rest of the body. A daily breathwork practice is a great way to create this advantage.

Link to Main Article:
The Power in Yoga’s Approach to Upgraded Breathing

Paul Dallaghan’s expertise with breathwork, body and meditative practices comes from three sources: over 25 years of daily dedicated practice and teaching these techniques; immersion in the original culture through one-on-one direct training in practice and study of ancient texts; doctoral scientific research at a leading US university (Emory) on yoga and breath in terms of stress, health and aging. Paul occupies a unique space to impart genuine teaching and science on these practices, acknowledged by his teacher and lineage (Kuvalayananda) in India as a Teacher-of-teachers and a Master of Breath, identified to carry the tradition (Pranayama). This places him as the only master-level yoga and breath practitioner currently immersed in scientific academic research on breathwork, stress and health. His sincere and ongoing role is to teach, write and research to help put out experienced and authentic information on these areas in a world full of confusion and conflicting messages both off and online.

For more on his background see his bio.

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