2020 has brought us many challenges and many lessons. A global respiratory pandemic brought the world economies to a screeching halt. A Black man is brutally suffocated by law enforcement and recorded on video saying “I can’t breathe” for several minutes, sparking weeks of protests against racism and police brutality in the US and around the world. Wildfires up and down the West Coast burn thousands of acres, and smoke smothers the sun and our lungs for weeks throughout California and beyond. These catastrophes may seem unrelated on the surface, but
they share a prominent theme:
the Importance of Breath.
One of my impactful teachers in chiropractic school, Dr. William Ruch pointed out this anatomic phenom to the class one day. The sympathetic ganglion chain (a chain of nerve cell bodies which regulate the sympathetic nervous system: our fight/flight/freeze response, which has effects on the heart, lungs, blood vessels, digestive system, immune system… and more) sits right along the costovertebral joints- where the ribcage joins the spine. The costovertebral joints are the only joints in the human body that are in constant motion due to expansion and contraction of the ribcage with each breath. Dr. Ruch posed this query: why would the sympathetic ganglions be located alongside the only joints in constant motion? He didn’t have a definitive answer, but through his extensive knowledge of anatomy, and decades of clinical experience, he knew it must be important for the ganglions to be exposed to that near-constant motion. Ribcages and thoracic spines that don’t function correctly correlate with sympathetic nervous systems that don’t function correctly. This can mean heart arrhythmia, high or low blood pressure, asthma, shortness of breath, anxiety, depression, headaches, digestive issues of all kinds, immune system inefficiency or inadequacy… shall I go on?
To link this to the Subtle Body, the Sympathetic chain is said to correlate with the 4th Heart Chakra in Ayurvedic and yogic traditions. The Heart Chakra represents themes of compassion and love, as well as being the central chakra uniting the lower chakras associated with how we relate to ourselves and others, and the higher chakras which are more about spiritual connection and expansion. The heart chakra is at the heart of it all.
With so many people so locked up and guarded in this area, is it any wonder our society is showing a lack of compassion and love?
There are many techniques for opening your heart chakra, mobilizing your ribcage and down-regulating your sympathetic nervous system. Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Diaphragmatic breathing (try a this simple breathing meditation: inhale for a count of 6, hold for a count of 7, exhale for a count of 8- repeat several times until your feel a shift in your physical, mental and/or emotional state).
2. “Power Pose”- stand in a “Superman” or “Wonder Woman” stance for several breaths, several times throughout the day.
3. Yoga! As a starting place, there are lots of “Heart Chakra” flows readily available on YouTube. Consider seeking out a flow guided by a POC, in order to help decolonize yoga.
4. Lie on a foam roller, rolled-up yoga mat, bolster cushion or similar. Align yourself so your spine is centered length-wise on your prop. Allow your arms to fall open in a T-position, or as close to that as is comfortable for you, with your palms up. Close your eyes and breathe.
5. And of course: Get adjusted! Receiving innate-centered adjustments to this area has been, for me personally, some of the most powerful and profound experiences of my life.