Without empathy, there is little hope for collaboration or unity. This human emotion is expressed when we are able to understand someone else’s complex emotions as well as our own. Empaths and Sensitives might be in the regular practice of expressing empathy, but for many people it is a learned skill. How do we express more empathy with ease? Researchers from the Department of Psychology at Cambridge University say it’s as simple as taking deep breaths.
The State of Interoception
When we breathe deeply, this causes a state of interoception. Their published study describes how people who induce interoceptive states are more empathetic than those who aren’t as aware of their internal functioning. Oddly, when we sit and breathe, and create emotional awareness in ourselves, it allows us to better understand the emotional states of others.
An interoceptive state is described as one that allows sentient emotional awareness. This Current Opinions in Neurobiology abstract describes interoception as such:
“This interoceptive system, associated with autonomic motor control, is distinct from the exteroceptive system (cutaneous mechanoreception and proprioception) that guides somatic motor activity. The primary interoceptive representation in the dorsal posterior insula engenders distinct highly resolved feelings from the body that include pain, temperature, itch, sensual touch, muscular and visceral sensations, vasomotor activity, hunger, thirst, and ‘air hunger’.”
For people who are often disconnected from their own bodily sensations, this is excellent news. It means that simply by sitting and breathing while being aware of bodily sensations, we can begin to uncover deeply held emotions within our own physiology. This, in turn, gives us greater emotional intelligence in general, which we can apply as empathy toward others.
This new study also gives support to the idea that the body as a whole is intelligent — that our brightness is not relegated to just the functioning of the brain. Consciousness permeates every cell within us, and as those cells become more consciously aware, they translate to greater awareness of what is “out there,” also.
It is also the first empirical test of its kind to prove that simply breathing deeply can change our social web. Why might this be true?
Yogis are well aware that there is a “muscle” in the brain that is involved in being more compassionate. Certain traditions, in fact, spend decades strengthening this muscle with very specific meditation and breathing practices in order to express more empathy and compassion.
The Right Supramarginal Gyrus – The Compassion Muscle of the Brain
The right supramarginal gyrus is the area of the brain that helps us to distinguish our own emotional state from that of our friends and loved ones.
When this part of the brain is functioning properly, we understand the difference between our own emotional state and that of other people. When it is not functioning properly, we might project our own emotional state into a situation with little regard for anyone else’s emotional state. This often leads to conflict and the inability to find resolution.
We can build this muscle by simply breathing deeply. Yogis often retain the breath to stimulate the nervous system in a way that trains the brain to relax through discomfort. This allows the right supramarginal gyrus (along with other areas of the brain associated with compassion) to grow stronger. This also creates more coherence between the breath and the heart’s functioning, which literally makes it easier to express and receive love.
Developing more empathy, and thus better emotional problem solving skills is as simple as taking a few deep breaths!
You can also try the HeartMath’s Quick Coherence technique offering the same effect (a simple set of steps in which you focus on the heart and breathe into and out of it):
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