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Healing Power of Breathwork

Posted May 01 2011 8:31am
As I mentioned in my last post, I've been feeling anxious lately and it's really effected my sleep. One thing that always helps when I'm feeling frazzled is to sit in my comfortable chair, enjoy some peace and quiet, and focus on my breathing. (and try to not let my thoughts interrupt my calm state of being) I used to have the habit of doing this for five minutes in the morning and five minutes before I would go to bed. But somehow I just got out of the routine. I really have no excuses, so I'm now trying to get back into my quiet time groove.


In order to get motivated, I decided to listen to a cd that I found very helpful. It's called, "Breathing: The Master Key to Self Healing" by Andrew Weil, M.D. The first cd is a lecture where Andrew Weil talks about the importance of breathing and gives tips. The second cd has different exercises for you to try and he walks you through them. 


Andrew Weil is an integrative doctor who believes the body can heal itself when given a chance. He uses the best alternative and conventional methods to heal this patients. His first option of course is to go the natural route, such as dietary changes, stress reduction, herbal remedies and breathwork. He got interested in breathwork by studying yoga (pranayama) and osteopathic physicians. He did some experimenting himself and then began prescribing it to patients. He's seen amazing results! Patients have improved digestion, improved circulation, gotten rid of insomnia, and diminished panic attacks. He practically recommends breathwork to all his patients now since stress is the primary cause of most illnesses. He believes that breathwork is a powerful technique to center your mind, help you work more effectively, and deal better with everyday challenges.


 Breathing is the only function we do completely consciously or unconsciously. Imbalances of the autonomic nervous system are the root of many health problems. The ANS affects heart rate, digestion, respiration, etc. Whereas most of the actions are involuntary, some such as breathing work in tandem with the conscious mind. It is divided into two subsystems: the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for stimulation of "rest and digest" activities) and the sympathetic nervous system ("fight or flight" which allows your body to function under stress). They both usually work in flow.  However, most people have overactive sympathetic nervous systems due to their stressful, busy lives. When your sympathetic nervous system is constantly in fight or flight mode, it can lead to high blood pressure, irregular heart beats, insomnia, cold hands, etc.  Breathwork increases the parasympathetic tone and your heart rate slows down and your blood pressure lowers. 


Breathwork really is the master key to good health. Best of all, it's free, requires no special equipment, simple, free of toxins, and it's right under your nose! 


Here are some tips he provides in the cd:


1. Observe your breath. Just pay attention to your breathing. If your mind wanders onto your thoughts, just bring it back to your breath. It will help keep your mind in neutral.


2. Try to focus on making your breath deeper, slower, quieter, and more regular. He believes these are qualities of good breathwork. (Instead of rapid, shallow, noisy and irregular, which show you're in a state of mental upset.) Over time your breath will change, and you'll feel better and at ease. 


3. Change the way you think about breathing by starting with an exhalation first. By doing this you can learn to take greater control of your breathing.


4. Practice abdominal breathing, allowing your belly to go out as you take a deep breath. He also recommends it's good to practice breathwork in comfortable clothes that aren't restricting so you can do this!


5. Practice anytime in the day. He likes to practice in the morning before he meditates, before he goes to sleep and another session in the day if there is a special need for it. He recommends that you practice a few minutes two times a day, every day. When attempting to change rhythms you need to be consistent. 


After listening to his cd, I was determined to schedule in time to practice my breathwork. I've been practicing for two days so far. I even practiced today after I went to gentle yoga. I really got my breathing on! My routine has been to practice in the morning after I eat breakfast, get ready and walk my dog. That's always the part of my day where I can get panicky with my to-do list. So it's a good time for me to center myself. I immediately feel calm and focused. At night, I practice while sitting up in my bed. I definitely fell asleep quicker and was more at ease. If I wake up in the middle of the night, I try to do some breathwork instead of looking to see what time it is. If I find I'm getting frustrated at a traffic or a slow driver, I take a few minutes and focus on my breathing, with my eyes open of course. I really want to set this as a goal for myself. Do I think it will cure me? No. I don't think there is one magical thing that can cure CFS. But it certainly can help me deal with the stresses of living with a chronic illness. 

I encourage you to practice and let me know how it goes. I'm currently trying out a different strategy each day and plan to post more about technique and strategy another time. This post is already long enough. I'm almost out of breath. 

If you're interested in checking out this cd,  click here
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