Breathe pigment into your white patches
Do you know how truly important proper breathing is to your overall well-being and that it has the potential to heal your body? Besides running this site I am also a yoga instructor. Though most of our session time is filled with a range from simple poses to down-right contortionist positions, throughout I constantly cue my students to breathe properly. As important as each pose is to aiding flexibility, strengthening, and posture, the emphasis to deepen and lengthen of breath stimulates the relaxation response — the opposite of the fight-or-flight adrenaline boost of the stress response.
How do I know it can potentially heal your body? 15 years ago, about the same time vitiligo began appearing on my skin, I was diagnosed with hypothyroism. I was prescribed a daily dose of synthroid and took it diligently. Until, that is, I began doing yoga 4 years ago. For whatever reason, call it a ‘knowing’ if you will, one day I stopped. I am not recommending that you stop any medical treatment you are on; I had many reasons for the halting my medication, none of which may apply to your circumstances.
For 2 years, I followed a routine of practicing yoga a couple of times per week and every night I practiced mindful breathing , focusing on each of my chakras, as I fell asleep. One day at lunch I discussed my vitiligo and hypothyroidism with a friend of mine who is a doctor. Needless to say, he was appalled that I had ceased taking syntroid and insisted that even though I felt fine, I should come in for blood work just to be sure.
It was a long week awaiting the results. “I don’t understand how, Nathalie, but it seems your thyroid is working perfectly on its own now.” Dr. Marcel’s words were music to my ears. Maybe it was simply a medical fluke that my thyroid healed itself, but I believe that it was directly linked to mindful breathing.
If you read my post about “My 3 Words for 2011”, you may remember that My 3 words are: action, focus, simplify. This year, I plan to continue practicing mindful breathing while focusing attention towards healing my vitiligo. By no means is my life filled with complications, but there is an awful lot of chatter that goes on in my head, thinking- always thinking, and being in the moment as I breath will shut this out as well.
So, are you ready to give proper breathing a try?
Mindfulness skills training can be very helpful in reducing symptoms of many illnesses, both physical and mental. This mindful breathing exercise is a great way to start a mindfulness practice.
Time Required: 10 minutes
What You Need:
- A quiet space
- Comfortable clothing
1. Sit in a comfortable position on the floor or in a chair. Sit upright, with your back straight (but not uncomfortably so).
2. Gently bring your attention to your breath. There’s no need to change how you are breathing in any way, but just notice each breath as you inhale and exhale.
3. Be aware of the sensations in your body as you breathe; observe what parts of your body move as you breathe.
4. If other thoughts come in to your mind as you practice, acknowledge them and then gently shift your awareness back to your breathing again.
5. Continue for 2 to 3 minutes or more, as you like.
Don’t just take my word for it
“The Relaxation Response,” was developed by Herbert Benson, at Harvard Medical School, over thirty years ago. As a cardiologist, Benson regularly saw patients with high blood pressure. Then one day, he encountered practitioners of Transcendental Meditation (TM) who claimed they could lower their blood pressure by their daily meditative practice.
So Benson decided to conduct research to see if TM produced effects in the body that were measurable in the laboratory. From his research, he found “…that the repeated mantra replaced the arousing thoughts that otherwise keep us tense during most waking hours. Result: lower metabolic rate, slower heart rate, lower blood pressure and slower breathing.”
Benson then theorized that these observed changes in the body were not the result of a particular mantra but could be produced by using other words. He tested his theory by measuring the physiological responses of meditators using new words instead of the TM mantras. Benson found that it didn’t matter what words were used; different words produced the same positive changes in the body.
Here are Benson’s directions for evoking the relaxation response:
(1) Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
(2) Close your eyes.
(3) Deeply relax all your muscles, beginning at your feet and progressing up to your face. Keep them relaxed.
(4) Breathe through your nose. Become aware of your breathing. As you breathe out, say the word “ONE,” silently to yourself. Breathe easily and naturally.
(5) Continue for 10 to 20 minutes. You may open your eyes to check the time, but do not use an alarm. When you finish, sit quietly for several minutes, at first with your eyes closed and later with your eyes opened. Do not stand up for a few minutes.
(6) Do not worry about whether you are successful in achieving a deep level of relaxation. Maintain a passive attitude and permit relaxation to occur at its own pace. When distracting thoughts occur, try to ignore them by not dwelling upon them and return to repeating “ONE.” With practice, the response should come with little effort. Practice the technique once or twice daily, but not within two hours after any meal, since the digestive processes seem to interfere with the elicitation of the relaxation response.
Mindfulness is a meditation technique which has been scientifically proven to reduce the symptoms of stress and improve the quality of life in persons suffering from a variety of physical and mental conditions.
According to Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, “Mindfulness is the foundation of happiness…Mindfulness is the practice of stopping and becoming aware of what we are thinking and doing. The more we are mindful of our thoughts, speech and actions, the more concentration we develop. With concentration, insight into the nature of our own suffering and the suffering of others arises. We then know what to do and what not to do in order to live joyfully and in peace with our surroundings.”
Here are Thich Nhat Hanhs’s directions for mindful breathing:
“To practice mindful breathing, just observe the natural rhythm of the breath. Please do so without forcing it to be longer, deeper, or slower. With attention and a little time, your breath with deepen naturally on its own. Occasionally, your mind will wander off. Our practice is simply to take note of this distraction and to bring our attention gently back to our breath. If you like, you may use the sentences listed here to help you in focusing your attention. During the duration of several in and out breaths, follow your breath from beginning to end. Use the keywords at the end of each pair of sentences to help you maintain your awareness:
1. Breathing in, I am aware only of my in breath. Breathing out, I am aware only of my out breath…In, Out
2. Breathing in, I am aware that my in breath grows deep. Breathing out, I am aware that my out breath grows deep…Deep, Deep
3. Breathing in, I am aware that my in breath goes slowly. Breathing out, I am aware that my out breath goes slowly…Slow, Slow
You can practice mindful breathing in any situation: while sitting, lying down, standing, driving, or working. Breathing consciously will bring more awareness and concentration to whatever you are doing.”
The Science behind mindful breathing
Mindful breathing [MB] may reduce negative reactions to repetitive thoughts more effectively than practices such as progressive muscle relaxation [PMR] or loving-kindness meditation [LKM], according to a study published in the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy (2010; doi10.1016/j.brat.2010.06.006). The study was an effort to understand why mindfulness-based interventions are helpful in reducing feelings of stress and increasing positive feelings of well-being.
Researchers from Simmons College in Boston and Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, North Carolina, decided to test whether MB has a unique effect on “decentering”—the ability to view thoughts as “events” in the mind rather than necessarily being reflections of reality or an accurate self-view—by comparing this technique with two other stress management approaches, PMR and LKM. For people with a history of depression, decentering is a useful technique that can help them stop focusing on repetitive negative thoughts that are unproductive and that can lead to a depression relapse.
Investigators recruited 190 students at a women’s college and randomly assigned them to one of three groups for a 15-minute stress management exercise: MB, PMR or LKM. Before and after their session, participants completed questionnaires. All participants reported on measures of decentering, frequency of repetitive thoughts during the exercise and degree of negative reaction to those thoughts.
Data analysis showed that participants in the MB group experienced more decentering than subjects in the PMR and LKM groups. In addition, MB group members showed a weaker association between frequency of repetitive thoughts and a negative reaction toward those thoughts, in contrast to PMR and LKM group participants.
Study authors believe that these findings suggest that mindful breathing may assist in reducing reactivity to repetitive thoughts. Greg Feldman, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Simmons College and the lead study author, said, “Practicing mindfulness meditation may allow people to become aware of negative thoughts passing through their minds without necessarily becoming distressed by them. As such, this particular approach to stress management may help people gain perspective on the repetitive worry, self-criticism and rumination that can contribute to a range of mental health problems, including depression.”
For more mind-body exercise tips, see “Mind-Body-Spirit News” in each issue of IDEA Fitness Journal