Breathe Your Way to Health
By: Joanne Thompson
Yoga, which includes asana (postures), pranayama (breathing practices) and meditation, reduces stress because it activates the parasympathetic nervous system. When we’re under stress our bodies are designed to secrete hormones that give us the energy to “escape”. Being chased by a tiger comes to mind. But, what worked well for our ancestors can cause serious harm to modern humans.
Research conducted at UCLA – San Francisco and the University of Virginia examined the impact of chronic stress on fat stores in the body and stress related weight gain. When we feel stress, our bodies release cortisol which gives us quick energy to react in an emergency. Chronic stress makes the body produce too much cortisol.
Physiologically, the body stores these extra hormones as fat primarily around our bellies. Furthermore, fat tissue, especially around the belly, decreases the body’s sensitivity to insulin. The body demands more and more insulin, which can ultimately result in insulin resistance and pre diabetes. So finding ways to effectively deal with stress is very important to your health and your waistline.
Catch Yourself Breathing
Many of us hold our breath and/or are chest (shallow) breathers. When we do breathe we don’t fully engage our diaphragms and bellies. Sometimes that’s due to stress or it can be due to our culture’s obsession with flat bellies. There are various reasons.
It’s interesting to play a game called “Catch Yourself Breathing”. At random times throughout the day bring your attention to your breath. Ask yourself, “Where is my breath?” Is it in my chest or belly or am I holding it? Try to move your breath to your belly if it’s not there already.
Then take several belly breaths, moving your belly away from your spine on inhale and toward your spine on exhale. Make your exhale a little longer than inhale. Be sure to place your undivided attention on each breath, especially exhale. How do you feel?
There are a variety of breathing techniques and patterns in yoga which have varying benefits and outcomes. A consistent message across the board is that deep, mindful breathing helps support the central nervous system and counteracts stress by calming your mind and balancing your body.
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