By Andi Pyatt
“The Well” is a recurring column to remind us of the power we possess in mind, body and spirit.
A few days ago, I found myself in a very uncomfortable family situation. I remember hearing my child’s voice in distress while I was on the telephone speaking to him. The maternal gene fully activated and all I could think about was the fastest way to get to his side. As I physically approached the situation to support him, I was reminded that the situation required finesse and savvy. The cognitive dissonance was intense. Every cell in my being wanted to physically defend my child, however, I understood remaining calm was the only way to protect both he and I. Despite the commotion, I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply through my nose until I could feel the sensation of expansion through my entire torso then I slowly exhaled fully through my nose. I repeated this cycle 5 more times, opened my eyes and began to see clearly. Once again awareness of my breath, as so many times prior, was my saving grace.
Andi Pyatt is an educator, entrepreneur, wellness professional, and author. (Courtesy Photo)
In yoga the breath is considered the ‘life force’ of an individual. There are countless studies highlighting the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits of breath awareness and control. Deep intentional breathing has been shown to do the following:
- Increase Energy-The increase of blood oxygen saturation allows for our organs to function optimally. This keeps us running like a well-oiled machine allowing for greater efficiency.
- Lower Blood Pressure– Exhaling fully activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This causes our vascular system to relax and dilate allowing for blood to circulate freely throughout the body.
- Decrease Stress– Deep breathing allows the body to enter into a state of homeostasis which lowers cortisol (stress hormone) and increases endorphins ( ‘feel good’ hormones).
- Improve Immunity- Proper breathing stimulates the lymphatic system to detoxify the body while allowing oxygen to carry necessary nutrients throughout the body. This process creates an environment to health where viruses cannot thrive.
Due to the fast paced and stressful nature of our society, we have adapted a shallow breathing technique that is not conducive to our health and well-being. This surface breathing is taxing our systems. While there are various breathing techniques, deep belly breathing is a technique that develops a keen awareness of the mind-body connection. It requires the breath to flow in and out of the nose while engaging the diaphragm. Ready to try it? Find a quiet place to sit. Place your feet firmly on the ground. Place one hand on your chest and the other hand on the upper portion of your abdomen. Imagine a balloon inflating and deflating. As you inhale through your nose feel your hands rise. Hold the inhale for a brief pause then exhale through your nose until as your hands lower towards your spine. Repeat this process at least five to six times. With each exhale imagine a body part fully relaxing. Begin with the top of your body and finish with feeling your feet sink firmly into the earth beneath you. Bring your arms to your side. Take note of how your body feels. What are you thinking about? What sensations are flowing through your body? Practice this process of deep belly breathing multiple times throughout your day.
Changing your habits requires effort. Be gentle with yourself during this process. I have been actively shifting my breath awareness for the past 3 years. My practice includes a silent chant of the energy I wish to engage in the moment. Some days I whisper the word “love” to myself as I breathe. Other days I whisper the word “power”. The day I ran to help my child I whispered his name. In that moment of reclaiming my life force, I remembered what was real and true, that I have the capacity to keep us both calm and healthy during times of discomfort.
Andi Pyatt is an educator, entrepreneur, wellness professional, and author (Julia Belle) of the new children’s book, Sunflower’s Breath. She holds an undergraduate degree in Psychology/Neuroscience from Williams College and a graduate degree in Health Science from The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
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