Business yoga

Breathe Your Way to Vitality & Stress Reduction

I’m a skeptic.  I’m not into the latest diet craze, exercise routine, electronic device or trendy clothing designer.  I don’t own a purse that costs more than the monthly home mortgage.  But I am into science and I love what research continues to teach us about our experiences as human beings.  I was skeptical but intrigued when a master level yoga teacher challenged a group of us to take 5 minutes each day to breathe deeply to see if it changed our lives.

The intrigue led me to try it…5 minutes/day of deep breathing for a year.  Can’t be that hard, right?  Establishing any new habit takes a few starts and stops but eventually I was on my way to doing it.  Not only was I skeptical breather, it felt as if my body was a reluctant breather.  The first order of business was trying to make my breath smooth using what’s called “ujjayi” breathing (it’s like saying the word “ha” as you inhale and exhale but with your lips closed).  I built up slowly to an inhale of 10 seconds and an exhale of 10 seconds.  I added a brief pause of 1 second in between the inhale and exhale.  I was on my way.

When I did the breathing challenge in the morning, I noticed that my energy level felt steadier through a busy and hectic workday.  This was powerful for me because it gave me the strength to kick my afternoon diet Coke habit.  It also helped me cut down on “fatigue-snacking”.  I also felt more productive and focused at work.

I also felt calmer in the midst of the typical workday stresses.  While impatience is one of my defining qualities, I was able to be more patient in all areas of my life.

I noticed that when people were pushing my buttons, I was able to be more present with it without reacting to it.  I was able to choose my words and subsequent actions more carefully.

If I had a particularly stressful day at work, I would do another 5 minutes of breathing in the early evening to reduce some of the mental chatter and agitation.  The ability to de-stress toward the end of the day was important for overall better sleep.

The breathing challenge yielded important things for me – more energy, greater focus, higher productivity, less stress, better health habits, more patience, speech that was less likely to create more problems and better sleep.   Imagine if we could put these results in a pill and sell it over the counter?

The person who provoked me into this breathing challenge became my teacher (Gary Kraftsow) and I continue to learn from him how breath practice can be refined for a variety of health conditions.  My work with people for one-on-one therapeutic yoga also continues to refine my understanding of how individualized approaches often yield the best results.   Breath practices are particularly helpful for physiological health issues, stress, anxiety, and depression.

I’ve stayed steady with a breathing practice for a long time.  I appreciate being provoked into trying it.  Are you ready for your own breathing challenge?  If you try the 5 minutes/day breathing challenge, I’d love to hear from you about the challenges and the results.

Breathe on!

Working Inward with Yoga: Dealing with Life’s Messes and Stresses

“The body keeps the score.” Bessel A van der Kolk

This simple quote reveals so much about what we are just beginning to understand about the science of chronic stress.  Dr. van der Kolk, a researcher who studies the effect of yoga on stress and trauma, is reminding us that the body stores up life’s messes and stresses.

Stress enters through our senses (what we hear, see, smell, and feel) and the nervous system.  All that we perceive is processed through the brain.  The brain is then involved in little or large reactions that are physical, physiological, mental and emotional.   We store up knowing how to flee the tiger, deal with a long, uncertain period of unemployment, make the next deadline, or deal with the next difficult person.

The problem with chronic, unrelenting stress is that if we don’t discharge and unwind, our body runs on what I call “reaction overdrive.” Chronic stress often plays out in body tension and pain, headaches, sleeplessness, fatigue, mental fog, increased blood pressure, elevated heart rate, gastrointestinal problems, anxiety and depression.

Yoga helps reduce stress and the symptoms of stress by:

  • Gentle, breath-supported movement that helps dislodge the issues from the tissues
  • Breath practices that re-train and tune the nervous system to be able to handle life’s normal stresses without going into overdrive
  • Yoga philosophy teachings on the nature of the mind that can help usunderstand and work with thought patterns
  • Mental techniques, including self-inquiry and meditation, that help us identify and change disruptive, negative thoughts, attitudes and behaviors
  • Other techniques such as the use of sound/chanting to calm the nervous system and focus the mind

Breath-supported gentle movement is often the doorway in to feeling embodied again after periods of chronic stress.  The body begins to feel as if it’s connected to the brain.  And once that connection is more fully established, it provides avenues to begin to explore more deeply the sources of stress, how we react to them and how we can develop more productive, life-affirming thoughts, attitudes and behaviors.

We can live life’s messes and stresses over and over again, building up a toxic load for our body, mind and spirit or we can take steps to deal with past stress and the day-to-day stresses through positive action.