“When someone says “breath into your <non-lung bodypart>” through intent or visualization, what is actually happening physiologically?”
Good question. It is mostly a visualization exercise.
And by that I’m not just meaning visual only, but with a focus on feeling.
I don’t know if this has been studied, but I would be willing to bet we could use an MRI or some sort of instrument to find greater blood flow or something going on there.
If anyone is aware of specific research around this, please do share.
So on that, I would argue that while the breath in the traditional sense doesn’t reach there, energy/qi will.
(And if we think about it more systemically, the oxygen you breath in is going into the lungs, connecting via the hemoglobin in the blood cells which then travels the whole body to that part in question. And carbon dioxide from that part is carried back to the lungs to be breathed out. So isn’t the gaseous breath actually getting there in reality?)
Here’s a bit of a deep dive on how I think about this stuff:
It is often said that breathing is the only thing that can be controlled both consciously and unconsciously.
You’ve heard that before, right?
While it is a major thing, this statement is not completely true.
Your eye movements can be controlled both consciously and unconsciously.
Your thoughts can be controlled both consciously and unconsciously. (And the truth is most people think that they think consciously but that is hard work and not done as often as most people think! In other words, very little thinking is consciously done. Mostly its just habits and reactions.)
Notice that what we’re talking about here is all related. Visualizing your breath going into a body part is consciously thinking and breathing. (Notice that certain eye movements may help and assist with this…I’d advise trying looking down and to the right with an unfocused gaze, even if you have your eyes closed.)
And the other day I talked about superpowers in relation to breathing.
Your heart rate is only controlled unconsciously, right? For most people this is true.
But it is not exclusively true. If you train the ability to bring it into conscious awareness, using a combination of breath, visualization, thought patterns you can begin to control this.
…even stopping the pulse as the Mighty Atom and lots of Yogis have demonstrated over the years.
More recently, Wim Hof and his students demonstrated the activation of the innate immune system through breathing exercises. This system is deemed beyond conscious control by Western medicine.
I look forward to the day when medicine and science drops its materialistic philosophy and we can really start to better investigate this stuff.
In the meantime, I wouldn’t wait for it.
Breath into your balls (as Elliot Hulse likes to teach)
Breath into your muscles (before a lift)
Breath into your toes (see what happens)
Breath into your cancer (not claiming anything here, but visualization has been used by some with this diagnosis to overcome it…)
Use your experience to be your guide.
And know that this is some advanced work! A good place to build a foundation is with Outside the Box Breathing.