Kelly Spencer - Happy Healthy YOU
(A wellness column by Kelly Spencer: writer, life coach, yoga & meditation teacher, holistic healer and a mindful life enthusiast!)
It is the first things we do in this world. It is the last thing we do in this world.
Both professionally and personally, I have experienced the incredible power of witnessing both of these experiences in another being. What about between these two historic events, of the first and last breath? Is our breath an automatic function of the body that we pay no heed to? Or could it be one of the most powerful tools we have to access our own peace and health?
Breathing has such an important job as our body and all other functions depend on our breath for sustainability. We can exist short term without eating and drinking; but without our breath, our livelihood is limited to moments.
If you have given birth you will know that the quality of breath assisting you through the experience is crucial. If you are versed in anxiety, you understand the necessity of slow deep breaths to navigate to the other side of it. If you are an athlete, you know the propensity of being short of breath and the ease you find through proper breathing.
Dr. Andrew Weil, a Harvard MD, author and internationally recognized expert on mind-body interactions says, "If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly."
Many studies show that we can actually harness the calming, aligning and healing capacity of our breath. When we are born, we breathe with our belly and diaphragm and as we age and experience life, we start to chest breathe. When we can return to our initial method (abdominal breathing), of inhaling deeply to all parts of the torso, we reach the lowest parts of our lungs. This is where the “stale air” hangs out and where the oxygen exchange is most beneficial.
“Breathing is the only bodily function you can do either consciously or unconsciously. Studies have linked focused breathing with reducing hot flashes in menopausal women, relieving chronic pain and reducing symptoms of PMS. Some hospitals have begun teaching relaxation breathing to patients treated for a wide range of conditions,” states Carol Krucoff, journalist and yoga therapist.
Adapted chest breathing (using mid and upper chest only) can cause muscle tension and shallow breaths with an increased rate of respiration. When we stay in a pattern of chest breathing, we take in less oxygen to the lungs, and therefore the entire body. We can become moody, tired and sleepy more easily. This type of breathing can also spike our cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone in our adrenal glands often referred to as our “stress hormone.” Higher and more prolonged levels of cortisol in the bloodstream have shown to have negative effects on the body such as: suppressed thyroid, blood sugar imbalances, decrease bone density, decrease muscle tissue, higher blood pressure, lower immunity, slower healing, increased abdominal fat, higher levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) and more.
When we take the time to mindfully breathe and make a conscious decisions to take slower and fuller breaths, within a few moments we can receive the benefits of this. Slow, deep breathing is a powerful anti-stress technique, slowing the heart, blood pressure decreases, muscles relax, anxiety eases and the mind calms. Our body receives more oxygen circulation for optimal brain and bodily function and cortisol levels regulate. Our nervous system aligns and our digestive function is aided.
Even our brain waves balance after a few moments of mindful breathing. They transition from our more hyperactive Gamma brain waves, to asymmetrical active Beta waves, to our smoother, calmer Alpha brain waves. In an Alpha state the two sides of the brains hemispheres are more balanced.
Breathing mindfully is also known to increase intuition, coping skills, self-awareness, creativity, self-love and self-acceptance, benefiting yourself and your interpersonal relationships.
When should you do mindful deep breathing? Do it now, any time, when you wake in the morning, at your desk at work, sitting on your couch, lying in your bed or anywhere or anytime you think about it. Set an alert on your watch or smart phone once an hour and take 60 seconds to breathe in and out, deeply, slowly and completely.
How do you do mindful, deep breathing? Take a moment, eyes open or closed, and breathe into through your nose and feel your abdomen expand and fill out. Let the breath (same inhale) fill out the ribcage and the chest, all the way to under your collarbone. Pause for a moment, and then slowly breathe out through the nose in the reverse order. As the breath is slowly released on your exhale, deflate the chest under the collarbone, the rib cage and finish your exhale with the belly deflating. You can even use your abdominal muscles and pull the belly button in toward the spine, then up toward the heart as the last of the air is expelled. This will assist to release all old air and bring some core muscle awareness. Take a slight pause with the belly pulled in and up. Then as you feel the urge to start breathing in again, start slowly with a breath in through the nose and fill the belly and so on. Keep repeating this pattern for a few breaths or a few minutes.
The healthy benefits of mindful, slow and proper breathing are trifold: Body, mind, and heart. Start your happier and healthier living right now.
“Smile, breathe and go slowly.” - Thich Nhat Hanh
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