The Power of Breath: A 21-Day Challenge
What if there was a drug that worked by getting at the root cause of almost all possible chronic illness and it had zero negative side effects? What if while treating one symptom, you would be targeting all symptoms? What if this drug had been scientifically proven in numerous studies to have amazing results and only positive effects on the mind and body? Would you try it?
We all know that taking deeper breaths is good for us, but do you really believe it? Do you have a regular, daily breathing practice? I'd like to challenge you to 21 days of 5-minute daily breathing practices. Do you have time? Are you willing? Let me do a little more convincing before we get to the details of the practice. There are many directions we could go when discussing why a daily breathing practice is beneficial, but let's look at how it affects something called autonomic balance.
Autonomic Balance--Primal Body Function
The autonomic nervous system controls our unconscious body functions like heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, states of arousal and sleepiness, and much more. Research has shown that imbalance in this system is the leading cause of many chronic illnesses. Part of the peripheral nervous system, the autonomic nervous system consists of the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches. Optimally, these systems work together in a balanced way since we need them both to survive and be well. The sympathetic branch is invoked any time the body needs to deal with a physical or mental stressor. The parasympathetic branch basically acts as the brakes to any process triggered by the sympathetic. Working to balance stress-related responses, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated by slower, deeper breaths and mindful states.
Whether we are aware of it or not, our hectic lifestyles put many of us in chronic stress. This stress creates over-toned sympathetic and under-toned parasympathetic systems. This imbalance can lead to dysregulated blood sugar, high blood pressure, hormonal imbalances, sleep disorders, digestive issues, anxiety, and depression.
The breath is often described as the doorway to the autonomic nervous system because it is the one function that can be 100% autonomic or consciously controlled. Specifically--longer exhale breath has been proven to have a profound effect on parasympathetic response. How amazing that one of our most powerful tools for physiological regulation is readily available at any moment in time!
Are you willing to give it 21 days? It takes patience, dedication, and vigilance to commit to a practice like this. It's not like going out for a run or attending a yoga class. This is just you, your breath, and your commitment to yourself.
You are worth it.
The 5 Minute Practice
You will need:
A quiet place to sit
Patience and self-compassion
It is important to know that everyone (not just you) has a busy mind. Your thoughts WILL interrupt you. You will feel fidgety at times. This is perfectly normal. Think of this as a practice of beginning again and again. Have compassion for yourself as you return to the task at hand. When I notice my thoughts trailing off, I tell myself, "That's not now." Then I lovingly return to my breath. Come up with a phrase that works for you.
Set your timer for 10 minutes.
Sit with dignity in a tall, open position that does not feel forced. Hold the attitude of importance in your body.
Notice your natural breath first, as it is already happening. Observe the ebb and flow.
Feel the space that your breath is taking up in your lungs, your ribs, your entire thoracic cavity.
Invite your breath to expand your lungs/ribs 360 degrees, front, back, and sides expanding and contracting.
Breathe in for the count of 4 and out for the count of 4. Do this for a little while to feel the pattern.
Begin to slowly increase the exhale, first to 5, then 6, until you get to 8 count exhale.
Stay with this twice as long exhale for the remainder of time. Do not force anything.
Notice if your body begins to tense. Invite your mind and body to relax.
When your timer goes off, pause for a few moments as you watch your breath return to its normal state. Observe, sense, and feel.
Here is an audio guide for you to use if you’d like. I’d love to hear how it goes for you. I will be starting my own 21-day challenge today. Let me know if you are joining in!
Author of Embodied Posture: Your Unique Body and Yoga
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