Full Belly Sisters: Self-Care Challenge - Day 5: Take a Deep Breath

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Self-Care Challenge - Day 5: Take a Deep Breath

Okay, just a few more days of our self-care challenge. How are you doing? Are you finding that you've made your self-care goals a bigger part of your daily routine? Or do you feel like you're losing a bit of steam? Don't stress...today we're going to just take a breather...
(photo credit: CourtDEEZ)
When I attended the Institute of Integrative Nutrition to become a Holistic Health Coach, we had numerous speakers from the upper echelons of the fields of health and nutrition -- everyone from Marion Nestle to Deepak Chopra. But the one who really knocked my socks off was Dr. Andrew Weil, the Harvard-educated M.D. who is a pioneer in integrative medicine and holistic health.


Dr. Weil stood on the stage at the fabulous Jazz at Lincoln Center. He closed his eyes and breathed. Yes, you read that right: he breathed.


I marveled at his focus as he settled in the spotlight and closed his eyes.  It seemed to me like such a vulnerable position to be in: to stand alone on a stage in front of over 1,000 people with your eyes closed. But as I watched him and saw how centered and relaxed he was, I realized that he wasn't vulnerable; he was powerful.


Now, he wasn't doing just regular in-n-out breathin'. He was demonstrating a breathing exercise he calls the "4-7-8" or the "Relaxing Breath." From his website:


Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count ofeight.
  • This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Note that you always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in position the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation. The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is important. If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise up but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice you can slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply.


The power in this particular technique lies in counting out an extended exhalation which triggers the relaxation response and helps to slow your heart rate if it's racing away due to stress or anxiety. I find it helpful when I wake in the middle of the night, thinking of the million things I need to do the next day; this exercise quiets my mind, so I can rest (so I can have the energy to do those million things the next day!).


Of course, this isn't the only way that you can use breath for self-care. Yoga breathing brings more oxygen to your blood and your brain and is considered integral to controlling your "vital life energy;" pilates uses lateral breathing to engage your abdominals and support movements. And think of how powerful that surge of oxygen is when you tilt your head out of the water while swimming. Certainly we can't forget how effective controlled breathing can be during labor and childbirth, either!
My husband posing while I stop to do some hypnobirthing breathing en route to the birthing center


We all breathe; if we stop, we die. But let's remember: as automatic as breathing is, we can still control it and improve its quality. So, the next time you're feeling stressed, overtired, anxious - whether you're at your desk, in bed, or in a roomful of shrieking toddlers - take a deep breath....breathe in and breathe out...


credit: UntiltheEnd89


How are you doing with your personal self-care challenge?




New to the Seven-Day Self-Care Challenge? Check out our previous posts:
Self-Care Challenge - Make Yourself a Top Priority
Day One - 50+ Ways to Start Taking Care of Yourself

Day Two - A Restorative Yoga Pose for Everyone

Day Three - Move Your Body!

Day Four - 101 Ways to Cut Yourself Some Slack!
Day Six - Bottoms Up!
Day Seven - 10 Tips for New, Breastfeeding Mamas



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