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Breathe Your Way to Health

Last week we discussed how increasing muscle mass through practicing asanas (postures) will tone the body, improve metabolism and reduce stress. But maybe asana practice isn’t your thing – although I encourage you to try it. It is also possible to experience yoga’s benefits through pranayama which is mindful, controlled breathing.

Yoga, which includes asana, pranayama 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 our health.

Catch Yourself BreathingTad_Seated

Many of us hold our breath and/or are chest (shallow) breathers. When we do breathe we don’t take a full breath engaging our bellies. Sometimes that’s due to stress or because our culture wants to see flat bellies. There are various reasons.

It’s interesting to play a game called “Catch Me Breathing”. It goes like this. At random times throughout the day bring your attention to your breath. Ask yourself, “Where is my breath?” Is it in the 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? Maybe you’re a little more relaxed and calm?

There are a variety of breathing techniques and patterns in yoga which have a range of benefits and outcomes. A consistent benefit 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.

Next week we’ll explore the how’s and why’s of Kapalbhati Pranayama (Breathing). Have a lovely week and Breathe Easy.

Joanne Thompson

Joanne Thompson

Founder/Owner at Yoga for Self

Health is a precious gift and my goal is to help you live a healthier, happier life through yoga. Every private session is uniquely designed just for you. For a free telephone consultation call me at 303.818.4181. Discover whether personalized, private yoga instruction is right for you.
Joanne Thompson

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