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Breath

March 25, 2013
breath

breath

From our first cry to our last gasp, breath is the foundation of life. Yet, most of us, from moment to moment, day to day, pay little, if any attention to our breath, unless it is compromised in some way.   We hold our breath when we are frightened. We breathe harder when we push ourselves physically. Our breath evens out sweetly when we are calm and content. Sometimes we match our breath with a loved one, when in held in their arms.

At SmartCare, we recognize breath as the cusp of the mind/body connection, as the core of integrated health. A number of health issues can be identified by a patient’s breath, such as liver and kidney disorders, asthma, diabetes, tuberculosis, pulmonary disorders and gastrointestinal infections. Similarly, breath is also affected by behavioral health issues, especially anxiety and depression.

And so, focus on the breath, and learning breathing techniques and practices, are beneficial to both physical and behavioral health issues. Breath practice is being introduced to treat health issues as disparate as insomnia, allergies, menopause, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, and pain management. More commonly, breath practice is supported for stress reduction, panic attacks and other anxiety disorders, and depression.

Proper breathing fills our blood with oxygen, which maintains our health at its optimum level. Shallow breathing can’t oxygenate our blood efficiently. Consequently, toxins pile up in the cells, leading us to feel sluggish, worn out, possibly even depressed. Eventually organs could even begin to malfunction. Alternately, deep breathing triggers our parasympathetic nervous system, neutralizing stress and eliciting a calming feeling. That calming feeling is also helpful in pain management: when we breathe deeply, we oxygenate the blood, which causes our brain to release endorphins. It is these endorphins that help decrease levels of pain. Breath could just be one of the best tools we have to profoundly improve overall wellness.

Of course we are breathing constantly, but when our health is not optimum, we might consider looking at breath to determine if it deserves some attention. Pranayama is a yoga term meaning “control of the breath.” The word is two parts: Prana and yama. Prana represents life force and energy, while yama represents the ability to control and lengthen that breath / energy. Though it’s often associated with rapid breathing, Pranayama is all about control of the breath. Simply bringing our attention to our breath can have a significant impact.
And although breathing is second nature to most of us, breathing for optimum well-being does take practice and commitment. Here are some suggestions to try:

*Dr. Andrew Weil, in The Art and Science of Breathing, offers a 4-7-8 breathing technique for stress reduction.

*For a Mindful meditation breath practice, Daniel Scott gives us guidance on Mastering the Full Yogic Breath.

*And here is a breathing meditation demonstration from Julie Rader.

Even if we take smaller steps to focus on our breath – perhaps to stop and breathe between bites while we eat; “stop and smell the flowers” along our daily route; pause to breathe while on public transportation or in line at the bank rather than checking your phone messages or e-mail.

“When the breath wanders the mind also is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed the mind too will be still, and the yogi achieves long life. Therefore, one should learn to control the breath.”
— Svatmarama, Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Pamela Sachs Bryson, LCSW

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