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The Six Bridges View Back Cover
January 15 , 2010:
The 6 Bridges is the formal Coherent Breathing relaxation method. When combined with Coherent Breathing, it yields internal relaxation, specifically relaxation of the vascular system. Daily use gradually eliminates tension held in the nervous system and with this the release of low threshold muscle motor units throughout the body.
There are 10 anatomical zones of the body that possess the unique attribute of being explicitly controlled by both autonomic (subconscious) and somatic (conscious) nervous functions. They may be generalized as the face, tongue & throat, hands, pelvic floor, feet, and "breathing" - the diaphragm and intercostals. "Explicit" dual control refers to the fact that bridges function both unconsciously - autonomically, and consciously - somatically. This is to say, that when not "consciously" engaged, bridges, like all other aspects of the anatomy, function automatically under control of the autonomic nervous system. However, during times of non-fight, flight, freeze, conscious influence takes precedence over unconscious influence, allowing us to exert a very fine degree of control over them.
An example is blinking the eyes. We can blink the eyes when we wish. But when we are not paying attention to it, the autonomic nervous system takes care of blinking.
The important thing about the "bridges" is that they allow conscious access to autonomic function, autonomic function otherwise being "subconscious" and not readily accessible within our waking awareness. While "breathing" is the foremost of the bridges, they all possess strong influence over relative sympathetic/ parasympathetic balance. For example, clenching your fists increases relative sympathetic influence and decreases parasympathetic influence. Likewise, relaxing your hands, increases relative parasympathetic influence and decreases sympathetic influence.
Sympathetic dominance is characterized by "loss" or "atrophy" of parasympathetic function. Countering the effects of sympathetic dominance requires that we regain parasympathetic function. (Maximizing HRV range requires that the parasympathetic aspect of the HRV cycle reach full prominence.) Each of the bridges, in effect, act as an emergency brake relative to parasympathetic prominence, i.e., they seem to "store tension", or more likely, we are simply able to sense the inherent tension of the autonomic nervous system via these points. In any case, when they are tense, they limit parasympathetic prominence. By consciously relaxing them, significant gains may be made in parasympathetic prominence and overall HRV amplitude. (For more information about The Six Bridges refer to The New Science of Breath.
This recording is specifically designed to facilitate relaxation of the six bridges. The exhalation phase consists of 5 descending notes, and the inhalation phase a single ascending note. Click here for an audio sample. Begin by exhaling coincident with the first 5 consecutive notes and inhaling coincident with the sixth single note. ("Pulsing" your exhalation is a very effective was to elicit the release of tension (as parasympathetic emphasis is elicited with each "pulse". However, do not pulse your inhalation - for the same reason.) After a few minutes, begin sequencing through the bridges from top to bottom:
2) tongue & throat
4) diaphragm and intercostals
5) pelvic floor
Place your attention on the bridge of interest during each exhalation. Allow it to relax deeper with each descending note. Relax the focus during inhalation. Relax each zone for 5 or more consecutive rounds. Then begin sequencing through them, i.e. face, tongue & throat, hands, etc., changing from one bridge to the next with each exhalation. Again, relax the focus during inhalation.
Play the recording at a relatively loud volume. The sound should be very clear yet comfortable.
You will likely begin to feel groggy, but continue to focus on the exercise and do not allow yourself to fall asleep.
The Six Bridges is also a very effective accompaniment to hatha yoga and for eliciting relaxation of any area of the body.