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In the busy-ness of our everyday lives, we often forget one of the most powerful tools we have to create physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness. Breathing. It seems so simple, yet so many of us breathe in ways that actually cause an increase in physiologic and emotional stress. The adage “breath is life” is finding ground in the medical community, with an increasing number of evidence-based studies showing the link between breath awareness practices and improved health. Indeed, these practices have the ability to positively impact multiple symptomologies, from test anxiety to high blood pressure, the common cold to chronic pain. Further, because breath awareness techniques have the ability to alter brain functions such as brain wave patterns and how parts of the brain “talk” to each other, breathing techniques can set the stage for new understandings, emotional integration, and spiritual development.

The link between specific breathing techniques and health outcomes lies in our innate ability to affect our nervous system function by simply breathing. Just taking a moment to be aware of the sensation of your breath as it moves in and out begins to switch your body out of stress and into relaxation. This happens because calm, focused breathing both mechanically and biochemically stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the branch of your autonomic nervous system sometimes called the “rest and digest,” or “tend and befriend” nervous system. Its activation has been linked to positive health benefits such as decreased heart rate, lower blood pressure, decreased pain, and increased immune response.

The polar opposite of this state of relaxation occurs with the activation of the other branch of the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic or “fight or flight” nervous system. Chronic activation of this part of the nervous system can contribute to multiple health problems such as cardiovascular disease, GERD, weight gain, and anxiety. Given the hectic, busy nature of our lives, we spend a large amount of time in “fight or flight,” and not nearly enough in “rest and digest.” Subsequently, our culture is seeing a precipitous rise in stress related chronic illness. Many of these states of illness, however, can be positively affected by practicing breath awareness as a stress management tool, effectively altering the nervous system balance between “rest and digest” and “fight or flight.”

In the upcoming workshop, Breath Awareness for Stress Reduction, we will explore and experience three powerful breath awareness techniques: Simple Breath Awareness, Diaphragmatic Breathing, and Extended Exhalation. These evidence-based techniques, when practiced over time, can truly lower your physiologic stress levels, allow you to access your “rest and digest” nervous system, and decrease chronic illness indicators. Moreover, they set the stage for more in depth explorations of meditation as a tool for health and wellness. Whether used independently or as an introduction to meditative practices, breath awareness can be an effective tool to reach your wellness goals. So, go ahead, Just Breathe.

References:
1. Bergland, C. (2013 Feb.). The Neurobiology of Grace Under Pressure. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201302/the-neurobiology-grace-under-pressure, accessed 03/22/17.
2. Med Sci Monit. 2013; 19: 61–66. Published online 2013 Jan 21. doi:  10.12659/MSM.883743
3. N.A., (n.d.), Stress. Retrieved from: http://umm.edu/health/medical/reports/articles/stress, accessed 03/22/17
4. Neurol Sci. 2017 Mar;38(3):451-458. doi: 10.1007/s10072-016-2790-8. Epub 2016 Dec 19
5. Pain Med. 2012 Feb;13(2):215-28. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4637.2011.01243.x. Epub 2011 Sep 21




Carin Nielsen, MD Integrative MedicineIf you are interested in learning how I can help you manage chronic illness risk factors and access your own unique lifestyle of wellness through wellness management, health education, health coaching, workshops, and clinical meditation instruction or if you would like to schedule a consultation, please contact the office of Integrative Medicine - Carin Nielsen, MD at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 231-638-5585.
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