Improved states of mental clarity after a Breathwork practice is consistently reported anecdotally as well as through research studies, but is there a known physiological mechanism behind using the breath to enter a state of optimal flow … and on demand?⠀
The ‘Flow State’ describes a feeling where you become fully immersed in whatever you are doing.
The autonomic nervous system has two main branches. The sympathetic branch activates what is often termed the fight or flight response. The second, parasympathetic branch, promotes resting, digesting and rejuvenating.⠀
Studies have shown increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system during improved task performance and the flow experience, showing us that some degree of increased stress is actually desirable for peak task performance.⠀
It was also found that the flow state lies in a delicate balance between not too much / not too little stress. Essentially lying halfway between boredom and anxiety, with too little stress leading to feeling sluggish and too much stress leading to anxiety.⠀
A study from Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience investigated a small area of the brainstem that produces a hormone noradrenaline, that highly relates to our stress response. When we are stressed we produce too much noradrenaline and we can’t focus. When we feel sluggish, we produce too little and again, we can’t focus. There is a sweet spot of noradrenaline in which our emotions, thinking and memory are much clearer. Researchers found that by focusing on and regulating your breathing you can influence noradrenaline and essentially optimise your attention levels.
So the next time you know you need to be fully engaged in an activity and want to experiment with flow-on-demand, try some conscious connected breathing!