Making Every Breath Count
Breathing properly is THE most accessible and affordable change we can make for our health. Here’s a quick overview of our March 31st “Highway to Health” breathwork discussion from guest blogger Nicole Dreiske.
Be sure to tune in April 28 at 8am ET when Nicole and I tackle healthy screen use for social distancing and check out her excellent book, THE UPSIDE OF DIGITAL DEVICES: How to Make Your Child More Screen Smart ® , Literate and Emotionally Intelligent.
The biggest, most oxygen rich parts of our lungs are lower than we think – between the breastbone and navel. So we need to breathe from the abdomen, the gut, instead of “stress breathing” that pulls up through the shoulders and neck.
HOW TO BREATHE BETTER
Put one hand on your belly and one on your chest, between your collar bones.
Breathe slowly and deeply, focused on the abdomen. Your belly should expand in an exaggerated way on the inhale, your top hand should be still. This is the sort of breath you should aim for.
Then do one or two “stress breaths” so you know how that feels. Just breathe upwards into the chest, so your top hand moves but your bottom hand is still. This is the kind of breathing you want to eliminate.
To strengthen abdominal breathing, here are two exercises recommended by Dr. Belisa Vranich.
1. Sit on the edge of a chair with your feet flat on the ground and your back straight.
2. Breathe through your mouth. Inhale, leaning forward while expanding the belly.
3. Exhale, contracting the belly as you move upright into the straight position. When doing this, breathe out until you are completely empty.
Repeat 5 times. Then go 5 more times. The movement will help situate the breath low in the body.
1. Lie on your back and place a book on your belly. Start with a 2.5 lb book.
2. Take a deep belly breath so you can see the book rising up in your peripheral vision.
Repeat 25 times. You can then add heavier books gradually. This will strengthen your core breathing muscles.
Box Breathing is highly beneficial and is used by everyone from athletes to Navy SEALs, from monks to police officers, and nurses.
Box breathing can reduce stress and improve your mood. That makes it an exceptional treatment for conditions like panic disorder, PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and depression.
It can also help treat insomnia by allowing you to calm your nervous system at night before bed. Box breathing can even be efficient at helping with pain management.
Lastly, it can be particularly helpful if you have a lung disease such as COPD.
You can practice box breathing for only a minute or two and experience the immediate benefits of a calm body and a more relaxed mind. Plus, you can give box breathing a try anywhere unless you’re driving in heavy weather or construction and you can’t spare any attention.
HOW TO PRACTICE BOX BREATHING
1. Let out all of the air in your lungs to the count of four.
2. Keep your lungs empty for a count of four.
3. Inhale for a count of four.
4. Keep your lungs full for a count of four.
Instead of counting to four, you can do the silent repetition of a 4-count affirmation, like “I feel so calm” or “I feel peace now,” or even just “O-o-m-m” stretched out to four counts can work.
There are variations such as the 4-7-8 (breathe in for four, hold for seven, out for eight) that are beneficial for a wide variety of conditions.
BOX BREATHING APPS
There are actually apps that can help you practice box breathing and other types of paced breathing. What’s great about these apps is that they can add a visual element to your practice. So if you’re a visual learner, here are a few apps for box breathing and other types of paced breathing exercises:
Box Breathing App: This one can be downloaded for Apple or Android devices and has nine levels of use so you get a good grasp on the practice of box breathing to make it part of your daily routine.
Breathe 2 Relax: This app is also available for both Apple and PC users and has a wide range of timed breathing exercises to use. The app was developed by the National Institute for Telehealth and Technology, which is an organization within the U.S. Department of Defense. Plus, it has a graph feature that can help determine where your stress originates.
Universal Breathing: Available for iPhone and Android users, this app has a variety of visual exercises that work with your breathing. The exercises become increasingly challenging, as you continue with the app. So, if you love a challenge and are easily bored with an app that can feel repetitive, this one may be for you.
DAVID ELLIOTT’S BREATHWORK
A “breathworker” for 25 years, David Elliott has combined various affirmations and meditations with his breathing method, but his three-point breath has done wonders for many people.
Elliott says that one of the reasons his work is so effective is that it stimulates the hypothalamus. The main role of the hypothalamus is to keep the body in homeostasis as much as possible. But the hypothalamus is also part of the limbic system and plays a role in the sympathetic nervous system. So when you’re using breathing to stimulate the hypothalamus, it can produce dual benefits –homeostasis and feelings of comfort and well-being.
It’s good to start Elliot’s breathwork lying down, so you can feel the parts of the body that should be moving while you breathe. Later, you’ll be able to do it virtually anywhere.
Lie down. Put one hand on your belly, just under the navel, put the other hand on your heart. Breathe through your mouth:
1. Breathe into belly
2. Breathe into the heart/chest
Inhale to the belly, inhale to the heart, exhale. Let the breath ‘fall’ out, you don’t have to push it.
This is a fluid, circular breath to get energy moving in the body and support homeostasis. If your mind gets too active and you start to get concerned, let yourself know, “It’s safe for me to breathe.”
We love comments and queries, so feel free to give us a shout out about your own breathwork!
Nicole Dreiske is an alternative healthcare expert, educational innovator, and the author of THE UPSIDE OF DIGITAL DEVICES: How to Make Your Child More Screen Smart ® , Literate and Emotionally Intelligent.
Text © 2020, Nicole Dreiske, All Rights Reserved
Cover photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash
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