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Mental Health Awareness Month: Take A Breath

Mental Health Awareness Month: Take A Breath

Take a breath….

Breathing is one of those things we all do, yet we rarely think about it; when a system like the respiratory works without us having to think about it or make it happen, it’s called “involuntary.” The respiratory system has the unique ability to work all on its own without our help, unlike the muscular system, which works voluntarily.

This month is Mental Health Awareness Month and it’s a perfect time to tune in and tap into how powerful our breath actually is.

When we breathe, we get this precious gift called life. We can survive 21 days without food, seven days without water but can only go one to three minutes without oxygen. And at the 60-second mark, brain cells are already dying. Yet after 20 years of teaching yoga to others, there is one thing I have come to find, many do not like to breathe. I would often notice few would appreciate the art of breathing practices (pranayama) in yoga. You could see people start to fidget, become distracted, and even get annoyed at the idea that they weren’t “doing anything” during their yoga class. Yet without the ability to breathe, nothing on the yoga mat would even be possible. 

Meditation Bundle Hope Zvara

Breathing is a tool. Those that learn to harness the device and tap into its vast abilities to improve, help and even heal the body get to reap the benefits of increased vitality, health, and happiness. But time and time again, I have observed others choose pills, alcohol, and even violence to manage what we all call stress or our emotions rather than tap into this tool we are all born with and have access to us at any given time. 

Stress can alter just about any system in the body if we allow it to. 

Stress management sign mother trucker yoga blog

Stress can:

  • Raise our blood pressure
  • Increase our heart rate
  • Increase our body temperature
  • Leave us in physical pain
  • Can decrease our immune system
  • Give us stomach discomfort
  • Make it difficult to sleep
  • Can affect your libido 
  • Tense your muscles 
  • Cause weight gain 
  • Burden your nervous system
  • Leave shallow breathing

When is the last time you felt the effects of any of the above and thought you should practice deep breathing? 

When my oldest son was small, and he’d get stressed out, the first thing I would have him do is deep breathing. Three deep breaths, I’d say, and we’d do them together. He’s now nearly a teenager, and I have observed him repeatedly defaulting to deep breathing when he is stressed, angry, frustrated, or can’t sleep. He automatically uses this incredible tool we all walk around with every day but rarely tap use voluntarily. 

The average American breathes with less than 18% of their lung capacity. That’s what I like to call clavicle breathing. It’s no wonder we are a stressed-out, upset, unhealthy out of touch society. I say these are the very things I have felt before yoga and learning how to tap into my breathing. And the same things I think when I’m not in my body, using my breathing, and feeling grounded in my skin. 

How do we breathe?

The average person takes about ten breaths per minute; that’s an average of 22,000-24,000 breaths per day. That’s a lot of breathing. And when we breathe, we inhale necessary oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide and toxins that our body wants to remove. When we breathe, our lungs expand and take in air, and our diaphragm lowers and expands as well, taking in oxygen to then be distributed out to the millions of cells throughout our body that need that fresh oxygen to live. 

Dr. James Hoyt, a pulmonologist, says, “Our respiratory muscles don’t have the luxury of being out of shape.” Yet how many people can say with certainty that they use them, work them, build them like their bicep regularly? There is a saying, “use it or lose it,” and it fits here with our breathing. 

 A recent study in the Journal of Neurophysiology may support this, revealing that several brain regions linked to emotion, attention, and body awareness are activated when we pay attention to our breath.

And, also nearly every system in the body is connected to our respiratory system or breathing. 

  • Our metabolism increases when we practice deep breathing.
  • Our autonomic nervous system regulates when we deep breathe.
  • Our digestion can settle and improve when deep breathing.
  • Our muscles relax and get total oxygen, helping them not to cramp.
  • Our lymphatic systems become stimulated, hand and hand, with our immune system, both stimulated when we breathe.
  • Our body is fully oxygenated when we deep breathe.

And one of our deep breathing’s most impressive features is that it stimulates our vegas nerve. 

What is the vagus nerve?

The vagus nerve is the longest of the cranial nerves, extending from the brainstem to the abdomen through multiple organs, including the heart, esophagus, and lungs. It controls the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which contains your relaxation response. Most people never breathe deep enough to stimulate this impressive nerve. We need the vagus nerve to be alive and working because the vagus nerve controls your mood, heart rate, digestion, and immune response. Stimulating your vagus nerve can help to regulate many functions in your body.

Vagus nerve stimulation has been linked to treating epilepsy, improving digestive conditions, reducing inflammation, and managing anxiety disorders. The journal Frontiers in Neuroscience reported in 2018 that the poor function of the vagus nerve could lead to mood and anxiety disorders. But most importantly, when you stimulate the vagus nerve, you can reduce anxiety, stress, and mood disorders. All of this can happen when you learn to breathe more deeply and more often. 

WAKE UP, PEOPLE! BREATHING IS FREE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Where does your breathing fall?

Clavicle Breathers: Those that breathe only into the upper chest, throat, and shoulders. These breathers often have lifted shoulders and a tense neck. 

Chest Breathers: Those that breathe into the center of the chest. 

Abdominal Breathers: Those that breathe deep into the belly and feel their lungs and abdomen expand freely. 

We have forgotten our unique ability to help and heal ourselves. When you were a baby, no one had to tell you how to breathe, yet there you were, breathing so deeply that your entire torso was expanding and contracting every breath you took. I have listened and watched my children as infants, and now adolescents get upset and even cry only to default to their breathing to calm them down. It’s in you; you have done it; you have just forgotten how to do it. 

Deep Abdominal Breathing Technique:

  1. Sitting tall or lying down comfortably, place one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart/chest. 
  2. Exhale completely through your mouth and hear your breath move out of your body. 
  3. Inhale through your nose and move your breath deeply into your lower hand (belly) and feel it expand. Continue to move your breath up to notice your upper hand (chest) rise. 
  4. Exhale slowly move the air out, feeling your belly collapse and your chest lower (in any order). 
  5. Soften your jaw and relax your body, focus on fully emptying your belly when you exhale and fully expanding when you inhale. 
  6. Work yourself up towards a count of four counts on the inhale and eight on the exhale. 
  7. Repeat this for two to five minutes. 
  8. Anytime your mind wanders, bring it back to your breathing. 
  9. Allow yourself to hear your breath each time you inhale and exhale. 

How to do deep abdominal breathing

Continue this practice daily in the morning to wake up, when you are feeling stressed, waiting in traffic (minus the hands-on your body), or before you go to sleep to help you relax. 

You have tools to help you breathe, relax, fall asleep. The real question is, are you using them? 

Deep Abdominal Breathing Benefits:

 Various deep abdominal breathing forms have been linked to cardiovascular benefits, including increased blood flow and improved blood pressure. Deep breathing is also a helpful tool for relaxation and sleep. Taking deep breaths can also help you manage stress and improve cognitive function like brain fog and lack of focus and concentration.

If every tool you are reaching for is outside of yourself, let me ask you, have you tried the tools you were born with? The tools you were given and are the very tools that make this life possible? The tool I am talking about is your breathing. 

Try This:

For one week, practice deep abdominal breathing at least one time a day. Work to practice it at the same time each day. Set the alarm on your phone or in your calendar and make it a priority. All too often, we say something doesn’t work or help, and we have never really tried it, let alone given it the attention required to see results. 

After seven days, come back and let us know how you did. What changed, what you noticed or found. 

Now take a deep breath and start living! 

Resources:

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/what_focusing_on_the_breath_does_to_your_brain

https://www.uchealth.org/today/understanding-breathing-and-the-importance-of-taking-a-deep-breath/

https://www.healthline.com/health/facts-about-stress#25.-Past-experiences-can-cause-stress-later-in-life

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.n

https://www.consumerreports.org/mental-health/ways-to-manage-stress/ih.gov/29593576/
Try This! Pause F.O.R. Peace Breathing to Relieve Stress

Try This! Pause F.O.R. Peace Breathing to Relieve Stress

Have you ever been told to “take a deep breath” when something in your life has caused you to feel frustrated or overwhelmed? Chances are, you have. If you haven’t, you’ve definitely given this advice to someone else at some point or another. But why? 

Stress in Life

With the ever-increasing demands and challenges in our daily lives, it’s easy to see why many of us suffer from high levels of stress. Stress activates your sympathetic nervous system, releasing hormones in the body that spark the “fight or flight” response. This response triggers the release of hormones that prepare your body to either stay and deal with a threat or flee to a safer place. 

To deal with the stressors in our daily lives, many of us turn to things such as alcohol, food, exercise, or television shows to distract us. Why? Well, the answer is pretty simple–we don’t seem to have the proper tools or knowledge to be able to manage stress more effectively. And because breathing happens naturally, many of us don’t give the concept of breathing much attention.

However, breathing slowly and deeply can create a relaxation response within the body. Breathing exercises bring life back into your thirsty body, mind, and soul. It cleanses you, relaxes you, and it makes you whole.

What is F.O.R. Peace Breathing?

Pause F.O.R. Peace Breathing was introduced to me when I first started on my yoga journey. It wasn’t fancy, it wasn’t complicated, and it didn’t require any equipment. All it needed was you and your willingness to step back and breathe.

When you stop and take a breath in a stressful situation, you stop the hormones released by the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) and start to live again. It is a simple tool that you can use every single day to prevent and release stress when it starts to bubble up.

Steps of F.O.R. Peace Breathing

Pause F.O.R. Peace Breathing un-complicates what our minds often make complicated. It makes you STOP and use the tool you were born with to deal with stress in your life. 


What Does “F.O.R.” in Peace Breathing Stand For?

1. FOCUS

Focus on one, long, deep breath. Inhale deeply, feeling your diaphragm and belly expand (not your chest). Exhale through your nose or mouth for the same count, or longer. Be fully conscious of this breath.

2. OBSERVE

Observe your mind. Does it wander during this breath? Where does it go? Can you try again to be right here, right now?

3. REFOCUS 

Refocus if you need to. Bring your mind back to your breath. If your mind wanders, return to one deep breath.


The next time that you are feeling stressed, uncertain, foggy minded, and in desperate need of relaxation, Pause F.O.R. Peace  Breathing and take a breath. You will be thankful you did!

Today, I will Pause F.O.R. Peace Breathing and enjoy the power of my breath. I encourage you to join me, friends. What can it hurt?

If you’re looking for more ways to enjoy the power of your breath, check out these resources:

Meditations for Stress Relief

5 Simple Solutions When Life Feels Like A Mess

 

6 Principles for Functionally Fit Exercise

6 Principles for Functionally Fit Exercise

As the creator of the Core Functional Fitness Program, I have over a decade of experience teaching and practicing functionally fit exercise. These 6 Principles are key to truly developing your functionally fit practice.

Functionally Fit Exercise Hope Zvara

1. Three Dimensional

 In order to do the things we need to in life, we have to move in a multidimensional form. In order to improve our overall health and ability to live and function, our yoga class should too. This involves moving in three planes of motion:

Sagittal, which moves front to back (lunge)

Frontal, which moves side to side (like a triangle), and

Transversus, which cuts the body in half, top to bottom (a movement like a twist or cross of the midline).

Challenge yourself as a teacher or practitioner, and move in as many ways as possible.

2. Gravity

When we step onto the mat, we need to take into consideration that gravity is always around us and upon us. Try to play with gravity in as many different positions and movement patterns as possible. See what happens. Especially when it comes to the pelvic core and gravity, we will see the body respond differently. This can be a great way to test and build your balance.

3. Dynamic

We often think of “dynamic” as complicated or having a lot of moving parts. But dynamic can also be movement using multiple forms.

Here’s what I mean by this: When you step into a lunge, your arms always go forward and up, but what about moving your arms out to the sides or back by your hips? This way, you give yourself a dynamic range rather than always putting your body through the same performance.

Dynamic can also mean moving in and out of a pose at variable speeds and levels, depending on your ability. This type of dynamics can offer the muscles a less stressful way to release, and it gives the mind time to get to know the new body part or range of motion discovered.

4. Individualized

 It is important to understand that each individual’s needs are unique. Believing that everyone in a class should be doing something exactly the same is not only crazy but also harmful. If we consider men and women, our bodies are drastically dissimilar. Testosterone and estrogen act different on muscles and the build of a person’s body. Bone size, shape, and spacing, as well as tendons, muscles and ligaments, all are very different from men to women.

5. Breath

This seems like a simple concept considering the average person takes a breath anywhere from 21,000-24,000 times a day. The reality is that most people are shallow breathers and, on top of that, hold their breath. If you have the desire to improve your physical body and get healthy, it really needs to start with your breath.

Weak breath flow has a slew of negative consequences, including poor digestion, asthma, anxiety, depression, headaches, muscle cramps, and even pelvic floor dysfunction. So before you step onto a yoga mat, into a physical therapy clinic or a Zumba class, get educated and learn how to breathe; your body will thank you. There are also several breathing meditations that can teach you to tune into your breath and help you grow your breathing practice.

6. Acknowledging the Mind and Spirit

We are not just a body bouncing around from point A to point B. One of the reasons I love yoga is that yoga understands that this physical body is the most superficial form of the self. There is so much more to understand than just what you see physically.

Usually, when you have a physical symptom or issue, that “issue” has been going on for quite some time. The physical body is the soul’s last attempt to get us to listen. When I exercise or step onto my mat, it is just as much a spiritual experience as prayer or meditation, if not more. Because now there is an honoring of the body involved that I have to act on and respect … something that I can very well translate into my everyday life.

 

If you are interested in growing your core and practicing these principles of Functionally Fit Exercise, practice along with my Core Functional Fitness Course.

Core Functional Fitness – Functional Foundation

Core Functional Fitness Hope Zvara

  • 14 modules of step-by-step instruction as lecture, application, and exercises to be functionally fit
  • Certificate of completion and the opportunity to continue toward teacher certification with Hope Zvara
  • BONUS 60-page PDF foundational manual for your ongoing reference and application
  • BONUS recordings of CoreXpert Q&A sessions with Hope Zvara
  • My training comes with a 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee!

 

 

This article was featured in the April 2013 edition of Nature’s Pathway’s Magazine Southeast Wisconsin Edition. 


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