The Eldercare Advocate: A Calmer You; A Path to A Healthier You
A calmer mind can help you respond to stressful situations in a way that is less harmful to your body. There is even research which indicates that the stress one experiences may play a role in one’s hair turning gray
There is evidentiary research that becoming calmer and achieving inner peace has powerful benefits on overall health and wellness. There are many ways and practices to help on the path to achieving an improved level of calm but one of the simplest is breathing.
Breathing is an autonomic nervous system response that is controlled by the respiratory center in an area at the base of the brain. We do not have to consciously control our breathing; it is an involuntary function. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t have the ability to control it. We actually CAN control our breathing. In doing so we can use it as a valuable tool to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety which in turn can help us feel more calm. Thus, breathing exercises can be beneficial to your mental and physical wellbeing.
There are even those that believe that merely being around a person who has achieved inner peace can have a positive impact on their own mood or level of calm. This is reflected in the statement: “the tension was so thick you can cut it with a knife”. This implies that that one is able to feel the tension in the environment which can cause a heightened response in our own body and influence our behavior. Thus, it stands to reason, that being around a person who is more calm can help inspire a feeling of calm within ourselves.
There are a variety of breathing techniques that you can practice to help you achieve a greater feeling of inner calm or peace.
1. Abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing is the basis of all breathing exercises. Did you ever notice that when a baby sleeps their abdomen moves up and down? Did you ever notice that when you are laying down, in the most relaxed position, when you breathe your abdomen goes up and down.This is because this is how the body’s optimal brething functioning. It is the deepest form of breathing, when the most breath completely fills our lungs and every cell in our body becomes oxygenated.
To begin, sit down in a comfortable position, put one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Take a deep breath in through your nose. If done correctly the diaphragm will inflates fully so that air goes to completely fill the our triangle shaped lungs all the way to their base. The breath should push the hand on the stomach out, while the other hand on the chest does not move. Try setting aside time 10 minutes each day to using this technique to take six to ten slow, deep breaths per minute for approximately ten minutes. You may experience immediate benefits such as a reduced heart rate and/or blood pressure level. After regularly practicing this for six to eight weeks you may see other advantages. This technique can beneficial if utilized prior to stress causing events.
2. A Basic Calming Breath involves initially taking a long, slow breath in through your nose, first filling your lower lungs, then your upper lungs, holding the breath for a count of “three” and then slowly exhaling through pursed lips while you simultaneously think about relaxing the muscles of your face, jaw, shoulders and stomach.
3. Dr. Andrew Weil, the founder and director of the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, is a proponent of the 4-7-8 breathing technique also known as “relaxing breath”. The technique is as follows: breathe in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds and exhale for 8 seconds. Focusing on long deep controlled breaths in a specific rhythm is also a core practice of many meditation and yoga practices which also promote relaxation. The scientific evidence supporting this technique is limited; however, individual people have reported that achieving this type of rhythmic breathing has helped them reduce anxiety thereby creating a sense of relaxation which leads to sleep. Achieving an inner calm obviously helps us in reducing our anger responses as well. How many times have we heard the expression “count to 10’ before we respond. This is meant to serve the same purpose. Paired with purposeful, controlled breathing, this can go a long way to helping us achieve inner calm and respond more favorably to a variety of challenging situations that we all face whether in our personal or work lives/environments.
4. Alternate Nostril breathing is a yogic practice of breath control which has been demonstrated to be beneficial. In 2016, Vogue magazine declared “Breathing Is the New Yoga”, which is the primary technique in the Art of Living’s Happiness Program known as Sudarshan Kriya which we know as meditation. There are over 65 independent studies which show that Sudarshan Kriya is effective in reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol, increases mental focus, enhances levels of immunity and decreases depression and anxiety, with quick and lasting effects.
In Sanskrit, Alternate Nostril Breathing is called Nadi Shodhana Pranayama, which translated means “subtle energy clearing breathing technique”. Alternate Nostril Breathing helps calm the mind, reduce anxiety, and bring a feeling of relaxation to the entire body. If performed for just a few minutes, Alternate Nostril Breathing can instantly reduce stress and fatigue, but can also be used to reduce stress before high-stress situations such as job interviews, performances or public speaking events. Some people describe the burst of energy they feel from alternate nostril breathing as similar to the jolt they get after drinking a cup of coffee. This can help you achieve a heightened sense of awareness or help you to be more focused.
Though alternate nostril breathing can be done as part of or is integral to it can also be done as its own practice to help quiet and still your mind. This technique may be helpful for caregivers who can use it to help manage the stresses that often accompany being in that role. You may also find that practicing alternate nostril breathing helps you to be more mindful of the present moment.
An overview of the procedure:
· Sit in a comfortable position with the spine long and the hips relaxed. Release any tension from your jaw. Close your eyes.
· Take a deep breath in
· On an exhalation, take your index finger and close the right nostril and breathe out through the left nostril.
· Then without moving your finger, breathe in through the left nostril.
· Then release that finger and take your opposite hand and use your index finger to close the left nostril.
· Then breathe out through the right nostril.
· Then Inhale through the right nostril. Release the finger on your left nostril, close the right nostril with your index finger of the opposite hand and breathe out through your left nostril.
· Repeat the process.
· These two full breaths are called one round of Alternate Nostril Breath.
· Perform 5 to 9 rounds of this alternating breath between the nostrils.
· Remember to always inhale through the same nostril you just exhaled through.
It may take a few tries before you get the coordination of inhaling, exhaling and moving your fingers back and forth between nostrils. This is not unusual so try not to get frustrated. Keep at it and you’ll get it.
Additional interesting information about alternate nostril breathing:
There was a study completed in that found that people who practiced alternate nostril breathing lowered their perceived stress levels.
Yogic breathing practices are also believed to improve lung function and respiratory endurance. This was based on a small study done in 2017 in which the effects of pranayama practice on the lung functions of competitive swimmers was found that it had a positive effect on respiratory endurance.
We know the benefits that lowering your heart rate can have on cardiovascular health. According to a study completed in 2006, engaging in a slow yogic breath such as alternative nostril breathing significantly decreased heart rate and average breathing rhythm. Research from a 2011 study found that an alternative nostril breathing program performed over a period of six weeks had a positive impact on physical and physiological fitness-based performance. The breathing technique was found to have a positive influence on blood pressure, heart rate, and vital capacity.
Additional studies found that different types of yogic breathing could have beneficial effects on neurocognitive, respiratory and metabolic functions as well as on the nervous system.
Though safe for most people, there are medical conditions in which alternate nostril breathing may be contraindicated. (i.e., COPD, asthma, other heart or lung conditions) In the event you have any of those conditions or concerns, you should consult with your doctor to find out if it is safe for you to practice alternate nostril breathing. As with any other practice, if you experience any adverse affects, such as shortness of breath, lightheadedness, dizziness or nausea while using this technique, you should discontinue immediately.
Life can be stressful for everyone at times. Daily life events, professional and family responsibilities, personal and professional relationships, taking on new roles as a parent, caregiving for a loved one, serious life changing events or medical conditions, the list goes on and on. There is a difference between the stress from immediate short-term situations in which the body releases hormones that are part of a normal physiologic response so it goes into a heightened state of alert so it can react as in the fight or flight response. (i.e., increased breathing and heart rates) That is entirely normal.
However, stress reactions to a variety of other situations can be harmful to our health. Symptoms associated with that type of stress may include anxiety, irritability, depression, insomnia, headaches, muscle pain or tension, fatigue, sleep problems, and changes in general behavior.
Too much stress can also negatively impact general habits and behaviors. It can lead us to make poor food choices and leads to poor exercise habits. Stress can either increase or reduce appetite, most often it increases appetite and the food choices we make under stress tend to be of the more unhealthy variety, sweeter, fattier, higher calorie foods.. Psychologists have related eating to the stressed individual’s need of some manner of control over situations as well as deriving pleasure or some form of comfort. Professionals have been known to liken eating to smoking; smokers tend to smoke more cigarettes when feeling stressed just as as individuals eat more under the same circumstances. Individuals also tend to feel fatigue or weariness with chronic stress.
Conscious breathing can help you find an inner peace and help you defend against daily frustrations and stress Once you select a method that is right for you and begin to practice it regularly, not only in “times of trouble” as the Beatles Song, you’ll most likely experience a shift in how you are feeling, especially if feeling stress and frustration has been like a constant but unwanted “friend”. You might notice that you’ve become a little more resilient, and approach a variety of situations with a greater sense of peace and relaxation, are less fatigued at the end of the day, have more restful and peaceful sleep and therefore awaken with more energy and find others responding to you in a more pleasant manner.
Listen to the Jan. 27. 2020 episode of Voices for Eldercare Advocacy on the Voice America Empowerment Channel for the interview on finding inner peace with someone who has achieved this in his life and helped many others achieve the same by teaching meditation over the past 15 years.