Master the Body-Breath Connection: Unlock Whole-Body Resilience with Innovative Breathwork Techniques in Body by Breath. An interview with Jill Miller
When Jill Miller began writing The Roll Model, her first book, she sent out a call to action through her community: share your stories with me. The response was huge, and Jill spotted a common thread through practitioners’ incredible stories of healing. Many rollers were able to support physical well-being through soft tissue self-therapy, and, more markedly, all practitioners reported strengthened their emotional resilience.
Jill was thrilled. She had first hand experience using these tools during her personal struggles living with anxiety, depression, and compulsivity, and through her face off against an eating disorder. Now she poured through countless testimonials that her therapeutic soft-tissue approach not only amplified physical wellness, but bestowed practitioners with renewed emotional resilience and an improved overall sense of well-being.
Discovering the Science Behind Emotional Resiliency
Fueled to understand the science behind her students’ energetic transformations served as the inspiration for Body by Breath. Jill shares, “I needed to find out WHY people felt so much better on every level by using my approach, and in researching it all, I was able to distill the elements that lead to these well-being transformations.”
Jill discovered that “Mental health does not live in your head; it’s a bodywide phenomenon and breathwork gives you access.” Using breath, practitioners can inspire self-treatment and healing through medicines stemming from the inner compound pharmacy of the body. Body by Breath, Jill explains, offers an opportunity “to optimize your own prescription pad as a self-healer and reframe the healthcare model into something more self-manageable.”
The onslaught of information and pace of the modern world, coupled with the residue of a global pandemic has taken a serious toll on our physical and emotional wellbeing, while often taxing our healthcare system to its limits.
In a study from The Lancet, the global incidence of Major Depressive Disorder increased by 53.2 million additional cases, and the global incidence of Anxiety by 76.2 million in 2020. This isn’t a temporary issue; the greater than 25% (WHO) uptick of global unrest and stress has lasting health implications. Stress is known to cause side effects including headaches, memory and cognition problems, intestinal upset, insomnia, fatigue, changes in sex drive, and negative impact to the immune system–along with high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, sexual dysfunction, and chronic GI and health conditions in the long-term.
Stress is not the only body thug. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) named Long Covid the #1 disease to watch in 2023. Both Long Covid and Stress share a common quality: the potential to manifest tensional changes in the diaphragm and impact all of the physiological processes that revolve around the breath.
The Diaphragm – Your Second Brain
Body by Breath reveals the diaphragm’s role not only in breath–but as a physical center and as a “second brain” that regulates–and disregulates–neural, digestive, and musculoskeletal systems. Part 1 chronicles the newest science on breath and well-being. Part 2 curates exercises that allow practitioners to “feel” how the diaphragm is an actor-director of the “diaphragm hub,” a term borrowed from the book that denotes how the diaphragm inter-connects and signals many systems of the body.
“Because it takes direction from both the somatic and the autonomic nervous systems, the diaphragm is the link between the conscious and unconscious minds;” and, Jill adds, a healthy diaphragm is important to well-being. Jill quietly and poetically describes the reasons behind why she chose to include visual and experiential content, why she felt both were necessary, “The diaphragm is already in the dark.”
Few of us are granted access to a deep understanding of the diaphragm or its role in “breathing, as a postural muscle, a gut massage, or a lymph pump.” And also, Jill continues, “the diaphragm itself is inaccessible. It’s inaccessible in that you can’t really feel it because biological design left the muscle naked, barren of muscle spindles that would provide the proprioceptive feedback to our brain to tell us about its position.”
The issue is, states Miller, “If your diaphragm is stiff for either known or unknown reasons, in other words, muscular or fascial restrictions in the neighborhood of the diaphragm, you may have a challenge inducing the relaxation response. So much of the book focuses on being able to manipulate, massage, and adjust tensions, either known or unknown in the neighborhood of the diaphragm.” Many of the exercises in Body by Breath directly touch the diaphragm, others affect the breath through the vagal nerve pathway.
Benefits of Improved Vagal Tone
Why should you care about your vagus nerve? In a word, it’s about resilience.
Branches of the vagus nerve wander through and animate the face and neck, and innervate the lungs and the subdiaphragmatic viscera – namely organs of the gut – to provide sensory information to the body. Jill smiles, “If you’ve ever had a ‘gut feeling,’ that’s the vagus.”
“The vagus is an important nerve for regulating your heartbeat, rate of respiration, and digestion. The vagus turns the dial down on our sympathetic, fight-or-flight response and ramps up our relaxation response,” Jill explains.
The vagus nerve is the major nerve of the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS) that stimulates the relaxation response. Activating our PSNS stimulates our internal compound pharmacy, a cascade of internal responses that support healthy immune function, recovery, and overall well being – without any unwanted side-effects.
Body by Breath also describes the vagus’ role in communication and social engagement, as a predictor and protector against cancer, glucose regulation, inflammation, and emotional stress including anxiety, fear, and PTSD – and against Long Covid.
Built on four pillars–Breathe, Roll, Move, and Non-sleep Deep Rest – exercises support the attainment of conscious relaxation
The Body by Breath methodology is different. Built on four pillars – Breathe, Roll, Move, and Non-sleep Deep Rest – exercises support the attainment of conscious relaxation through these tools – and with other principles including the “5 Ps” of Parasympathetic Bliss: Perspective, Place, Palpation, Pace of Breath, and Position.
Jill describes how she thoughtfully utilizes “Position,” one of the “5 Ps,” in her most requested pose: “In the upper trap release, your pelvis is a little bit higher than your heart, and your heart is a little bit higher than your head and neck. This position sets off a cascade of responses in what’s known as the baroreceptor reflex. When your heart and pelvis are slightly higher than your brain, these sensors in the side of your neck sense that more blood is rushing towards your brain. The brain can’t tolerate more blood than it needs. This feedback loop travels through the vagus to the brainstem and ends up slowing down your heart rate, constricting the blood vessels and slowing down your breathing. Just by shifting your position so that gravity is aligned with your relaxation response, we add this additional element of free relaxation [to the myriad benefits of self-massage].”
“The thing that’s really exciting is that we can directly influence the vagus with the pace of our breathing, with pressure in the different zones the vagus innervates, through position and through humming or singing,”states Miller.
These exercises help you feel better; they lessen pain–but also “feel better” as in sense your internal processes by strengthening your inward “seventh sense” known as interoception, which Jill helps readers clearly process.
Learning to listen body through Interoception, your “Seventh Sense”
Interoception is your body’s subtle sensing system. Miller explains, “It’s your ability to pick up on the messages from your physiology. It’s as intuitive as actually feeling that you need to pee or feeling the movement of air come out of your stomach and out your mouth in a burp. And some researchers expand that our interoception is also our ability to feel our own and others emotions – that there’s also an overlap with empathy and mental health research. Body by Breath helps you connect interoception into your fascial system as well, but all these practices are subtle. Over time, interoception amplifies your ability to sense the subtle things about your body. And that’s very, very important for emotional intelligence. It’s also very important for being able to recognize how other people are feeling, so that your communication with them can improve.”
How Breath Helps A Good Night’s Rest
Jill delves into how interoception is key in terms of managing sleep disorders. “It allows you to sense the melatonin wave. If you can pick up on when your brain starts to release this cascade of neurochemicals, you’ll be able to fall asleep quickly and sleep deeply. But if you bypass it, pushing through it because you want to finish a couple more documents or you want to watch another episode on Netflix or you want to subdue it by caffeinating yourself or eating, you’re going to miss the big sleep freight train and have to hop on to a push car later – and that push car is stressful, interrupted sleep.”
Body by Breath also supports practitioners in finding better sleep through the first three pillars as well as conscious relaxation, similar to meditation, with Non-sleep Deep Rest, also known as NSDR.
For many, deep states of conscious relaxation may seem out of reach, but NSDR is, Miller shares, “done really as the cherry on top for when you work your way through the other tools that have attenuated and adjusted your tolerance for relaxation, so that non-sleep deep rest actually is very fulfilling. And by the way, our non-sleep deep rest is not a traditional, upright, stillness type of meditation.”
Body by Breath may offer a more tolerable way to move towards mindfulness and empower the relaxation response than traditional, still-based meditation.
Some studies suggest that between 17% and 53% of the total population is stillness-based meditation intolerant. For these restless meditators who find stillness near impossible, Body by Breath provides tolerable options of managing the relaxation response through movement, breath, roll outs, or exercises.
An Introduction to Body By Breath Practices
Breathe, roll, and move with Jill and experience the relaxation response in your own body.
Bridge Lifts are a highly effective way to enhance breath, stretch the diaphragm and activate the relaxation response. This exercise from Jill will become your instant breath classic.
The Lateral Rib Hammock
Effortlessly decompress the upper back and gently traction the ribs while activating “Zone 2” of the vagus nerve. This double Coregeous Ball exercise stimulates the relaxation response and helps you feel better fast.
Learn More About Body By Breath
To learn more about Jill’s new book Body by Breath come visit the BBB launch site. For those interested in delving deeper into relaxation practices and the science of wellness, Body by Breath can order on Amazon.