What would you say if I told you that you already possess a powerful tool that is, without a doubt, among the most effective antidotes to stress, and that can improve your cardiovascular health, completely shift your mood and flood your body with chemicals that make you feel completely alive. It doesn't cost a cent, and can be utilised any time, anywhere. This tool is so simple and pure that it is often overlooked. Today we dive into the power of breathing.
Bodywork : Belly Breathing
If you watch a newborn breathe it is quite incredible. Their natural breath is deep, what is known as diaphragmatic breathing, using the diaphragm to pull are into the lungs. Watching them you can see the the belly expand and chest rise, and the belly contract as they exhale.
For most adults, this breathing is no longer natural. We have slowly become shallow, or thoracic breathers. We inhale through the mouth, hold, and take in minimal air. This change takes place over time and is often more dramatic in women.
Holding in the belly makes diaphragmatic breathing difficult, forcing shallow thoracic breathes. This kind of shallow breathing tells the body that you are in a state of stress. This then activated the sympathetic nervous system to prepare us for response to whatever threat it assumes we are facing. The danger here is that prolonged reaction makes stress habitual for the body, and therefore the mind, locking us into a permanent "flight or flight" mode.
When in this state many of our natural body processes are hindered; such as digestion and immunity. Yes, the way you breathe can directly affect both how you body processes and stores energy as well as how many white blood cells (immune cells) you produce to help you fight off illness and infection.
Prolonged shallow breathing can also cause tension in the neck and shoulders, resulting in neck pain, headaches, poor posture, shoulder slumps and increased risk of injury.
On the other hand, diaphragmatic breathing has been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce heart rate, decrease stress and improve energy levels. Science also shows a direct link between nasal breathing and cognitive function.
To re-learn this type of breathing, lay on your back. Place one hand on your stomach and one on your chest. Take a big deep breath and push out your belly as far as you can. The hand on your tummy should move whilst the one on your chest stays still. When you exhale you should feel the stomach pull back in and the hand on your chest remains still.
So, let's think about tight clothing too! Next time you squeeze into clothes that restrict your breathing, check in and ask, is looking that little bit thinner in your outfit-du-jour really worth the stress and strain it is causing you? Instead, relax your belly, breathe deep and feel the benefit. Consider giving yourself room to breath by saying see ya later to restrictive bras too!
High Vibes with Deep Breaths
Wim Hof - otherwise known as the ice man - has been developing a technique for decades that he claims makes the human body more resilient to both physical and psychological stress. He is an eccentric man who absolutely "walks the walk" by using his methods to help him trek snowy mountains without a coat and has even earned him the world record for the longest time spent in an ice bath.
He has named his protocol the Wim Hof Method and it is receiving international acclaim, with those who practice the method reporting improved athletic performance, reduction in symptoms of chronic disease, improved happiness, decreased anxiety and regulation of appetite, cravings and weight. The most essential part of this practice is a specific breathing exercise which alternates periods of hyperventilation and periods of breath retention.
In all honesty I originally thought he was a total crazy. But as always I love to use myself as a human guinea pig, so I gave it a try. To my surprise, I loved it. Today I use this breathing practice on mornings when I wakeup on the wrong side of the bed (or when my anxiety is through the roof) and need something quick powerful to lift my spirits.
It is a powerful breathing exercise than can cause intense physical and emotional reactions such as lightheadedness, tingling in the hands and feet, tears or laughter. Afterwards however you can expect to feel energised, awakened and even euphoric. The first time I did it I felt lightheaded during but incredible after. The second time, I cried. If you want to try it out, click here.
Note: This breathing should feel strenuous but never too uncomfortable. Don't force anything. If it becomes too unpleasant simply stop. Please know your own body and do not attempt this if you have known heart or lung conditions. Consult your doctor if you are unsure. This email is not intended to provide medical advice.
Now here's a challenge! With winter approaching it's a great time to consider the benefits of a cold shower, but why is cold seen as gold by the devotees of the Wim Hof Method?
The Wim Hof Method consists of three pillars: breathing, meditation and cold exposure.
After just a few weeks of practicing the Wim Hof breathing I was feeling truly fabulous and had noticed an incredible improvement in my anxiety and sleep. Up until this point I had effectively been ignoring pillar 3: cold exposure.
As a beach lover who grew up on the equator, I absolutely despise being cold. You can find me on the street in full winter attire on just a slightly chilly day, and if the water temperature falls below a warm 25 degrees there's no way even a toe would go in. But this dramatic improvement in my anxiety (something that I was really struggling with at the time) inspired me to (skeptically) look deeper into what all the fuss was about.
Turns out the cold is good for much more than ruining a sunny beach day - who knew! Cold exposure can dramatically decrease inflammation, speed up muscle recovery after physical exercise, speed up metabolism, improve sleep, focus and again, even boost your immune response.
At the time I was living right by Sydney's Coogee Beach, so I reluctantly dragged my shivering self down to the ocean pool to give it a try. I would jump straight in and count to 30. Oh man was it hell. I hated every second and it seemed like it lasted a lifetime. But then something amazing happened. After I got out my body felt so alive, like I have never felt before.
It was similar to the rush of endorphins after an extremely strenuous exercise, but much stronger. I was blown away that something so quick could have such a powerful effect. I was hooked from day one.
Again, please don't take this as medical advice. I am simply sharing one of the many wellness practices I have experimented on myself.
If you want to give it a try but you are not near an ocean during winter thats totally fine, you can try starting your days with a cold shower. It is awful, but amazing. This may seem like a wellness contradiction but hear me out. Starting your day with a tiny act that takes huge mental triumph to accomplish is so powerful. You braved through a cold shower - now you can accomplish anything the day throws at you!
To try: Start with just 15 seconds of cold water at the end of your regular shower and work your way up to a minute or more over several weeks. It helps to concentrate on taking long, deep breaths to relax your way through it. Smile and use your mental strength to get through. Then feel the sense of accomplishment and endorphins flood your body.
Recently, I have been doing a morning pool dip here at Springfield - burr! A true love hate relationship. Me may work it into some of our upcoming wellness retreats once isolation lifts.