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Balance your mind (DW#685)

Have you ever heard of, or tried, alternate nostril breathing?It’s an ancient yogic technique that’s been shown to effect brain waves and reduce anxiety and stress while inducing a calm, balanced mind.

Research from UCSD indicates that the nasal breathing cycle corresponds to the dominance of the left or the right hemisphere of the brain. The study suggested that the "cycle of hemispheric dominance" could be manipulated by using breathing techniques: "Closing the right nostril and forcibly breathing through the left nostril produces greater EEG activity in the right brain and vice versa. These changes in the pattern of EEG dominance occur almost instantaneously; at most, they require periods of about five minutes."

Here’s how alternate nostril breathing works. Please note that it sounds much more complicated than it is in practice.

Place your right thumb over your right nostril and rest your pointer finger on your forehead. Inhale through your left nostril. I like...

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Breathing breaks (DW#684)

Yesterday we talked about how shifting our breathing pattern can help us manage our impatience.

Of course, we do not need to wait until we are feeling impatient in order to breathe intentionally.

In fact, a great way to instill calm and emotional regulation in ourselves is to practice taking micro-breathing breaks all day.

A breathing break is simply a reminder to become aware of your breath and to breathe intentionally for a few moments at a time.

You may notice that pausing for a couple of minutes every hour for a breathing break relaxes and energizes you and it clears your mind. The rest of the hour that follows the breathing break will be more focused, productive and pleasant.

So go ahead and set an alarm for a breathing break every hour and notice the amazing impact that it has on your day in terms of calming and focusing your energy.

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Breathe into your belly (DW#682)

A very simple way to slow and elongate your breath is to practice breathing into your belly.

As you inhale (through your nose, remember?), watch your belly blow up like a balloon. Fill up the balloon as much as you can and then watch it deflate as you exhale.

(Even young children can be taught to breathe like this by keeping a stuffed toy on their belly. As they breathe in, the stuffed toy will rise and and fall as they breathe out. You can also keep something light on your belly to raise your awareness of your breathing).

Breathing like this allows up to seven times more oxygen into your blood and your system than shallow breathing. That’s right. SEVEN TIMES.

Breathing like this counteracts the loss of flexibility in the lungs that happens with age.

As we grow older, we tend to lose more and more flexibility in our chest and lungs. If measures aren’t taken to counteract this disposition, we experience and constriction in the chest area. We become more hunched when we...

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Slow down (DW#681)

In the last post, we talked about how we can manage our stress response through breathing.

Today let us talk about what researchers call the "resonant rate" of breathing. This is the optimal breathing rate—the rate at which you flip the switch to your parasympathetic nervous system and slow down your heart rate. When you breathe at the optimal rate, your PNS calms down and your brain waves settle into a calm, healthy and happy rhythm.

Do you know how fast you are breathing as compared to the optimal rate? Before going any further, go ahead and open the stopwatch on your phone and measure your breath for 30 seconds and then multiply by 2.

How many breaths a minute did you clock in? Mine was 15 and I thought I was relaxed at the time.

According to researchers, the optimal breathing rate is between 3.5 to 5 breaths per minute. In other words, each breath should last between 12 to 17 seconds.

That is way, way slower than most of us breathing at the moment. And we are not going to...

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Flipping the switch on stress (DW#680)

Let us talk some more about how our breathing is related to our stress levels.

As you may know, our nervous systems have two parts: the parasympathetic nervous system(PNS) and thesympathetic nervous system(SNS). The parasympathetic system takes care of the "rest and digest" side of things while the sympathetic system takes care of "fight or flight" stuff. In short, we have the relaxation response and the stress response.

We obviously need both and each have an important role to play in our functioning and wellbeing.

Here is the problem though: modern life has thrown us into a near-constant state of arousal and hypervigilance and for most of us, our sympathetic nervous system works overtime, leading to all stress, dysfunction and burnout. In other words, our PNS and SNS become unbalanced, one working overtime and other lying dormant.

How can we learn to balance these two for optimal wellbeing?

The fastest and simplest way is to become intentional about breathing.

Try this now:

Take a...

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Exhale for longer (DW#679)

We have all heard the term: take a deep breath when you are stressed. And so, we do. And wonder why it does not work to calm us down.

It is because we only focus on the inbreath and do not pay attention to the outbreath.

If we are not exhaling properly, not only can we not calm down, we are also not detoxifying fully. Did you know that breathing is responsible for 70% of our body’s detoxification? Compared to this, elimination and sweat only take care of only 30%!

And when we do not detoxify properly, we are not fueling our cells properly. This pattern results in compromised wellbeing on many different levels.

So, go ahead: squeeze your diaphragm. Make sure to get all the air out before your next inbreath. Focus on the exhale and the inhale will almost take care of itself.

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Breathe deeply (DW#678)

The second rule of optimal breathing is to breathe deeply.

When we are stressed, our breath becomes very shallow, reaching only until our chest. When we breathe like this, it is a signal to the body to be on high alert.

Breathing like this fuels the flight or fight mechanism of our nervous system. We body gets more tense and we cannot relax. If we are in a situation of danger this mechanism really helps us by driving the oxygen and energy where it is needed, to our arms and legs: to fight the situation or to run away from danger. It does this by turning the energy away from organs that do not need it in the present situation . . .our brains, the digestive system, the lymphatic system that repairs the body.

Breathings shallow is less than useful (and destructive) when there is no danger or only imagined danger.

This is why it is important to practice breathing deeply.

So, go ahead and use your diaphragm – an important and much underutilized muscle in our body.

Fill up the lower...

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Breathe Through Your Nose (all the time!) (DW#677)

The first rule of optimal breathing is to breathe through your nose. All the time. Yes, even when working out and sleeping!

Here’s why:

1) Our nose filters, humidifies and conditions the air we breathe in ways that our mouth simply is not designed to do.

2) Our ancestors did not breathe through their mouth except when they were in danger or under the most extreme instances of physical exertion. For example, when they were being chased by tigers or being hunted for food!

3) We tend to "overbreathe" when we breathe through our mouth. That is, we take fast, short and shallow breaths. This rhythm disrupts the oxygen to carbon dioxide ratios in our body. Surprisingly, it is carbon dioxide that actually gets the oxygen out of our red blood cells and into our tissues and organs. When we breathe through our nose, we balance the oxygen and carbon dioxide ratios in our body, and the oxygen can get to where it is needed.

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Attending to the basics (DW#675)

If you are a perfectionist, you have already started researching the "best" and most "perfect" self-care routines. You may have downloaded some apps and trackers and telling yourself that once you have done enough research and have a handle on best practices, you will start your routine. (Please do not ask me how I know this . .)

If this describes you, please STOP right now.

Instead of making self-care an elaborate and unattainable practice that takes up three hours of your time, keep it super simple. Start with your most basic needs for now.

What is the most basic self-care routine that can have a major impact on our wellbeing?

Breathing.

Yes, yes, of course we are already doing it but in order to make it part of self-care, we need to be a little bit intentional about breathing.

Over the next couple of days, just notice how you are breathing. Is it shallow or deep? What happens to your breath when you are stressed or anxious?

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Gratitude Journal Prompts part 5 (DW#651)

41. What is your favorite season and what do you like about it?

42. Describe your oldest friend. What do you like most about this person?

43. What is your favorite charity and why do you support it?

44. Write about a challenging person in your life (i.e. someone you frequently disagree with) and the qualities you like about this person.

45. What book are you most grateful for having read? How has it impacted your life?

46. What is something that comes easily to you, but is challenging for others?

47. What freedoms are you most grateful for?

48. What are 3 things that you are grateful for having learnt? Who taught them to you?

49. Who is the people you are most grateful to have in your life right now, apart from family?

50. Who are three historical figures that you are grateful you know about?

[Some of these prompts have been curated and adapted from 120 Gratitude Journal Prompts https://www.developgoodhabits.com/gratitude-journal-prompts/]

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