"Practicing regular, mindful breathing can be calming and energizing and can even help with stress-related health problems ranging from panic attacks to digestive disorders."
-Andrew Weil, M.D.
What could be more natural than breathing? Most people don't realize that breathing, something each of us experiences around 20,000 times each day, can deeply influence our health and happiness on many levels. Our daily lifestyles can be very chaotic and a fast paced life leaves many of us feeling fatigued, anxious and depressed about our daily experience. At times this can leave us unable to cope with the many stresses of daily life. While these symptoms may be negative they are also our body’s way of telling us to slow down and to take a few deep breaths. A daily breathing ‘recharge’ or ‘reboot’ is something we can all benefit from.
Building self awareness is very beneficial when we seek to enhance the quality of our daily life. Before we discuss specific breathing techniques, let’s try to build our awareness of ourselves when we breathe. What kind of ‘breather’ are you- chest or belly- nose or mouth? By changing the way we breath can reduce stress, benefit our immune response thus improving our quality of life.
Try a simple breath awareness exercise: Place one hand on your chest and one hand on you abdomen. Take a normal breath while looking down. Now, if the hand on your chest rises first, then you tend to breathe from your chest. If the hand on your abdomen rises first, you are more of a belly breather. To find out whether you are a nose or mouth breather, unless you already know, just ask a friend or your partner or some in your family. Chances are they’ve noticed if you’re a mouth-breather.
We may also notice that we breathe from the chest and neck when we experience times of stress. When we experience long-term low grade stress shallow chest breathing can become our normal mode of breathing over time which reenforces the cycle. Yet, in as little as two minutes, our bodies will respond positively if we take the time to consciously observe the way we breathe. Deep breathing into the belly, through the nose provides the greatest benefit for calming mind, relaxing the body and helps us to increase our energy during the day. When we breath in this manner we know that science suggests we have improved nitric oxide levels just one of the many supporting constituents of our body's ability to repair from stress.
Let’s practice a very simple deep breathing exercise. We will do away with fancy names and complicated exercises. This is just basic daily deep breathing and with practice you may find that you are letting yourself breathe a little deeper each day while your body and mind are reaping all the health benefits!
Simple deep breathing
The most basic thing to remember is that your breath begins with a full exhalation. We can’t fully inhale until we empty our lungs completely. It is also important to breathe in through your nose as we fill the lungs with fresh air.
Sit in a comfortable position with your hands on your knees. Relax your shoulders and close your eyes slightly so that we are more aware of our body. On your first exhalation, breathe out slowly through your nose, counting to five. Contract your abdominal muscles while drawing in your diaphragm to help your lungs fully deflate. At the bottom of your breath, pause for two counts; now inhale slowly to the count of five. Expand your belly as you breathe all the way in. Notice how your belly is expanding instead of your chest. Now close your eyes and repeat 5–10 times. Think of your diaphragm as the pump and imagine your belly as a flexible balloon filling with air, as if your lungs expand down into your abdomen.
Focus on listening to the sound of your breath. It’s very common that your mind wanders during this practice, but don’t worry. Just let that thought be and refocus on your counting. If you can count 24 deep breaths you are making great progress. As your awareness of your breath increases, you’ll find that it becomes easier to breathe deeply.
Give yourself the opportunity a few minutes each day to calmly be with yourself, to relax your mind for a moment and allow yourself to just simply breathe.
Gyrotonic® offers an alternative or complement to the linear and often more compressive work traditionally performed in the gym. It is a holistic movement system that gently guides you to greater flexibility, strength, stamina, range of motion and fluidity. Incorporating principals from yoga, tai chi and swimming, Gyrotonic can be ideal for those who do not think of themselves as athletic. Yet, it is also perfect for athletes, looking to improve their performance.
A series of rhythmic exercises performed on equipment and guided by a trainer, help clients find a deep sense of mind-body connection that brings a meditative present-moment experience. The result? While you’re ‘working’, you are absolutely focused. Time flies. This is the very definition of joy.
It is three-dimensional, working the joints in their full range. A weighted pulley system offers resistance and assistance to help clients more deeply connect to supporting muscles and fascia system. Improving the fitness of the connective tissue helps heal and prevent injury, while improving posture. Good posture not only looks better; it has been linked to better overall health and a positive outlook on life.
Gyrotonic is non-judgmental. Working one-on-one, clients are able to get a diagnostic of their own bodies; where the body seems stagnant and unresponsive to the mind’s most insistent commands and where the body is connected -- fluid, graceful and strong. It’s appropriate for all ages and fitness levels. Heed your body’s yearning to move. To be embodied is a gift in itself.
Dietary Recommendations to Help Prevent Cardiovascular Disease
The first step in preventing heart disease is to eat a healthy diet. Increase your consumption of whole foods rich in phytonutrients, plant molecules that give your body the nutrients it needs. Here are some practical tips:
1. To avoid the blood sugar imbalances that increase your risk for heart disease, eat protein with every meal, even at breakfast. This will help you to avoid sudden increases in your blood sugar.
2. Use lean animal protein like fish, turkey, chicken, lean cuts of lamb, and even vegetable protein such as nuts, beans, and tofu.
3. Combine protein, fat, and carbohydrates in every meal. Never eat carbohydrates alone.
4. For the same reasons, avoid white flour and sugar.
5. Eat high-fiber foods, ideally at least 50 grams per day. Beans, whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fruit all contain beneficial fiber.
6. Avoid all processed junk food, including sodas, juices, and diet drinks, which impact sugar and lipid metabolism. Liquid sugar calories are the biggest contributors to obesity and diabetes and heart disease.
7. Increase omega-3 fatty acids by eating cold-water wild salmon, sardines, herring, flaxseeds, and even seaweed.
8. Reduce saturated fat and use more grass-fed or organic beef or animal products, which contain less saturated fat.
9. Eliminate all hydrogenated fat, which is found in margarine, shortening, and processed oils, as well as many baked goods and processed foods.
10. Instead use healthy oils, such as olive (especially extra virgin olive oil), cold pressed sesame, and other nut oils.
11. Avoid or reduce alcohol, which can increase triglycerides and fat in the liver and create blood sugar imbalances.
12. Don't allow yourself to get hungry. Graze -- don't gorge -- by eating every three to four hours to keep your insulin and blood sugar normal.
13. Try not to eat three hours before bed.
14. Have a good protein breakfast every day. You can start with a protein shake or may use eggs. Some suppliers offer omega-3 eggs, which are ideal.
15. Include flaxseeds by using two to four tablespoons of ground flaxseeds every day in your food. This can lower cholesterol by 18 percent. Flax is tasty in shakes or sprinkled on salads or whole grain cereal.
16. Drink green tea, which can help lower cholesterol.
17. Use soy foods such as soymilk, edamame, soy nuts, tempeh, and tofu, which can help lower cholesterol by 10 percent.
18. Eat at least eight to ten servings of colorful fruits and vegetables a day, which contain disease fighting vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory molecules. (vi)
Lifestyle and Exercise Changes for Heart Health
I encourage 30 to 45 minutes of cardiovascular exercise at least six times a week. You may try interval training (also known as wind sprints) if you are feeling stronger. I also encourage strength training to build muscle and reduce body fat composition.
Exercise is a necessity, not a luxury, in preventing almost all chronic disease, from heart disease to cancer, from dementia to diabetes, from osteoporosis to osteoarthritis. You cannot age successfully without it. It is how we are designed.
Stop Stressing Out Your Heart
Stress alone can cause a heart attack. It is often the trigger that leads to the cascade of events that causes that final, fatal heart attack. But all along the way, it contributes to heart disease by creating inflammation, raising your cholesterol and blood sugar, causing high blood pressure and even making your blood more likely to clot.
Therefore, finding ways to manage stress, to relax, and to find the pause button is essential for dealing with nearly all chronic health conditions, including high cholesterol.
Learn to reduce stress by doing regular relaxation exercises such as yoga, tai chi, meditation, breathing, guided imagery, or whatever it takes to engage the relaxation nervous system, which can lower cholesterol, reduce your overall level of inflammation, balance your blood sugar, increase metabolism, and help with your overall health.
Try classes, buy tapes, try therapy, or just go out and have fun. But you must do something to switch daily out of the alarm response to maintain your health.
Read More: Huffington Post