Breath work is at the very foundation of self-care practices. Let’s explore the importance of breath, learn how it impacts the body and mind, and then discover the techniques of how to breathe correctly.
Deep breathing is the very foundation of good health. So how does our body respond to oxygenation? It all starts with the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. They are the two branches of the autonomic nervous system that regulate internal organs and glands. The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems work together to keep our bodies functioning, but they have very different functions. The parasympathetic nervous system takes our body into “rest and repair” mode. It slows our heart rate and our breathing, increases blood flow to organs of digestion to stimulate the digestive process, and allows the body’s immune systems to function optimally. The sympathetic nervous system takes our body into “fight or flight” mode. It increases our heart rate and our breathing, increases blood flow to skeletal muscles to give you the strength needed to fight or flee, and it suppresses immune function. Focusing on deep breathing enables us to down-regulate the sympathetic nervous system, allowing the parasympathetic nervous system to become dominant. In other words, taking deep belly breaths using your diaphragm “turns on” your parasympathetic nervous system, allowing you to go into rest and repair mode and release stress and tension from the body.
In contrast, when you fall into a pattern of shallow breathing, breath holding, or hyperventilating, that triggers the sympathetic nervous system, kicking off “fight or flight” responses throughout your body. When your body is subjected to chronic stress you go into fight or flight mode, depressing your immune system and resulting in conditions like high blood pressure or constipation. So if you find yourself in a stressful situation, take a long, slow, deep breath. Let your parasympathetic nervous system take over before you do long-term damage to your body.
Deep breathing also improves the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs, helping you clear out mucus and other fluids and improving overall lung capacity. Deep breathing also works to strengthen the diaphragm, a major respiratory muscle located under the lungs.
Athletes often use deep breathing techniques to bring much-needed oxygen into the bloodstream to improve performance, i.e.: speed and endurance. Deep belly breathing delivers the maximum amount of oxygen to your cells. When your cells are fully oxygenated, it increases your energy, stamina, and physical performance.
Deep belly breathing also helps reduce both chronic and acute pain. When we hurt, our first instinct is often to hold our breath to still our body. But deep breathing through the pain is actually a much more effective choice. For example, the Lamaze method teaches breathing techniques to reduce pain during childbirth.
Deep breathing to increase cell oxygenation is also important for helping to heal health opportunities. Many diseases, like cancer and viruses, are anaerobic. That means they cannot survive in an oxygenated environment. When you oxygenate your cells, toxins are discharged through the breath. Research on heart patients indicates that certain breathing techniques can help prevent repeat heart attacks.
How does breathing impact the mind?
The organ in the body that uses the largest amount of oxygen is the brain. Taking slow, deep breaths whenever attention drifts oxygenates the brain, and brings back focus. Shallow breathing often feels tense and constricted, while deep belly breathing helps restore a sense of calm and relaxation. That calm brings about an emotional awareness and allows you to release negative and/or suppressed emotions that are connected with health opportunities like low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, or addictions.
The Techniques of Breathing
Effective deep breathing just takes a little practice. First, put one hand on your abdomen, just below your belly button. Feel your hand rise about an inch each time you inhale and fall about an inch each time you exhale. Your chest will rise slightly, too, in concert with your abdomen. Remember to relax your belly so that each inhalation expands it fully. As you exhale slowly, let yourself sigh out loud.
Once you have practiced deep breathing, you can move on to regular practice of breath focus. As you sit or lie comfortably with your eyes closed, blend deep breathing with helpful imagery and a focus word or phrase that will help you relax. Imagine that the air you breathe in washes peace and calm into your body. As you breathe out, imagine that the air leaving your body carries tension and anxiety away with it. As you inhale, try saying this phrase to yourself: “Breathing in peace and calm.” And as you exhale, say: “Breathing out tension and anxiety.” When you first start, 10 minutes of breath focus is a reasonable goal. Gradually add time until your sessions are at least 20 minutes long.
Here are three different deep breathing techniques you can try:
Deep Belly Breathing (diaphragmatic breathing). You can do this breathing exercise while sitting or lying down.
- 1. Relax your face, neck, jaw, and shoulder muscles.
- 2. Rest the tip of your tongue behind your top front teeth.
- 3. Straighten your back.
- 4. Close your eyes.
- 5. Breathe normally for several minutes.
- 6. Place one hand on your chest and one on your lower abdomen.
- 7. Breathe deeply through your nose, feeling your chest and ribs expand when you inhale. Your stomach should expand outward against your hand.
- 8. Exhale, feeling your stomach gently contract inward.
- 9. Breathe slowly and deeply in this manner 9-10 times.
Yawn-to-a-Smile Breathing. This breathing exercise opens up the muscles in the chest, which allows the diaphragm to fully expand. It also strengthens the arms and shoulder muscles.
- 1. Sit upright with a straight back.
- 2. Stretch your arms up to shoulder height. You should feel the muscles in your back stretching.
- 3. While your arms are at shoulder height, open your mouth wide, as if you were yawning.
- 4. Bring your arms back to rest on your thighs, while turning your yawn into a smile.
Humming While Exhaling Breathing. Humming or chanting “om” can help pull oxygen into the lungs with each breath. Many also find it can be calming.
- 1. Sit upright with a straight back.
- 2. Place each hand on the sides of your lower abdomen.
- 3. Keep your lips closed, and gently rest your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
- 4. Breathe deeply and slowly through your nose, keeping your lips closed and your tongue in position.
- 5. Allow your fingers to spread wide on your stomach as it expands.
- 6. Keep your shoulders relaxed. Do not let them rise up.
- 7. Once your lungs feel full, exhale while humming or chanting. Make sure to keep your lips closed.
- 8. Repeat for several breaths.
At OHI, we believe the benefits of deep breathing are so important that we teach guests the principles of breathing in a variety of classes — Alpha Class, Conscious Breathing, Emotional Detox, Mind-Body Connection, and Vocal Toning. Each class incorporates deep breathing in different ways, so whether you use it as a relaxation technique, a meditation technique, or a vocal toning technique, incorporating deep breathing into your wellness journey is easy to do. Visit our website at www.optimumhealth.org, and call us at (800) 588-0809 to make your reservation.
Relaxation Techniques: Breath Focus, July 2008, Harvard Women’s Health Watch, health.harvard.edu
“The Best Breathing Exercises for Covid-19: Before, During, and After Infection”, written by Corey Whelan, medically reviewed by Angelica Balingit, MD, healthline.com, April 13, 2021
“What is Breath work?”, healthline.com
I bid bright and buoyant summer greetings to our OHI community. As the season fully opens in all of its splendor, the world is beginning to open up as well. People are getting out more and more each day, as some states are relaxing their Covid-19 restrictions. And, yet we are still struggling to make sense of the future before us.
As I write this, the CDC is reporting that Covid-19 cases and deaths have been in a steady decline since January. They also report that 48% of adults in the U.S. have received both doses of the vaccine, and 60% have received one dose. The goal of herd immunity is stated to be 70% of the population with antibodies from either the vaccine or from having recovered from the infection, which might be achieved over the summer. And, here at OHI, we now have the ability to conduct Covid-19 testing in-house which means we can test our entire on-campus community three times per week, get results within hours, and if everyone tests negatively our guests will not have to wear masks (except when receiving a massage or colonic). Our staff will continue to wear masks.
You may recall from our January newsletter, how we looked at two ways of protecting ourselves during our current circumstances and beyond by using Situational Awareness and Self-Care. In the spring issue I expanded on how we can remain safe by keeping mentally and physically healthy by staying socially connected, and doing so by utilizing Safety Bubbles. In this issue, I want to address how we can intelligently and safely move forward into our new abnormal.
How to Move Forward in the Era of Covid-19
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” 2 Corinthians 5:17
I share this Bible verse with you because we are indeed entering a new era, but there is no need for us to do so in fear. There are several ways you can cope successfully. I will share four tactics for moving forward in this article.
1. Move Forward with Purpose. I have written about this before because it is key to living a meaningful life. The first step is to stay focused on your objectives and intentions – your purpose. Covid-19 is just an obstacle, don’t let it throw you off course. Move forward without fear which can shut you down, and damage your health. Next, ask yourself, “What can I do today to move toward my goal?” Visualization is a great way to stay focused on your purpose. Imagine seeing yourself reaching your dream. The best way is to practice mindfulness which I will discuss below.
Rediscovering and working on your purpose awakens the spirit within you. Find your purpose by asking these guiding questions: “What inspires me?”, “What gives me hope?”, “What gives me joy?”, and “What touches and heals my heart?”
Sure, Covid-19 is a problem, but other than practicing your safety techniques, it is one that is out of your hands. Identify the issues you do have control over, and work on those. It would be wonderful if everyone followed the safest guidelines for bringing the world back to normal, but the best we can do is to live them ourselves, or as Mahatma Gandhi observed, “Be the change you want to see.”
2. Practice Mindfulness to Stay Focused on your Purpose. Mindfulness is about living in the here and now, releasing the past, and allowing the future to stay in the future. There’s an old saying, “Wherever you are – be all there.” In other words, be in the present and live that moment fully even if it’s a simple task. Being mindful eliminates fear, anger, depression and anxiety while opening the door to peace and happiness.
Here are some techniques for practicing mindfulness:
- Focus on your breathing without thinking of anything else, if your mind wanders come back to your breathing.
- Focus on a particular object such as the pen on your desk or the leaf on a plant, if your mind wanders come back to the object.
- Practice body scanning. Mentally visit each part of your body from head to toe and pay attention to how it feels. Relax and release any tension before moving on to the next part.
- Pay attention to whatever you are doing without allowing thoughts to go elsewhere. For example, when washing your hands observe the feel of the soap, and the warmth of the water.
- Instead of doing common activities by rote, such as driving, eating, or showering focus on the activity itself.
- Take your shoes off and feel the ground.
- Practice listening to people instead of thinking about what you want to say. Mindful conversation is giving someone your full relaxed attention.
Don’t judge yourself for where your thoughts may go, just bring them back to the present.
3.Cultivate Your Critical Thinking Skills. In our new abnormal it is becoming more and more important for us to validate information. Critical thinking means you make a judgment call after examining and evaluating the information you have received. It means testing it, applying scientific methods, and then interpreting it.
“Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.” 1 Thessalonians 5:20-22
If a story in the news makes you frightened, angry, anxious or depressed, your emotions are a signal that someone might be manipulating you, and that you might want to investigate further. If someone tells you something that triggers your emotions, here are some key questions you should ask: “Will you be more specific?”, “Can you give me more details?”, “Can you show me an example or give me a demonstration?”, “How can I verify that?”, “Why is this a problem?”, “What is your proof?”, “Is your evidence based on scientific method or is it anecdotal?”, and “Can this situation or condition be duplicated or is it coincidental?”
When you hear something that raises a doubt in your mind, resort to logic. Ask yourself if all the premises are true. Premises are the reasons from which a conclusion is drawn. When you are presented with an argument, make sure you aren’t being distracted or confused with logical or rhetorical fallacies.
Thinking critically also means questioning the purpose, the goals, and the objectives of the source of the information. Some questions to ask are, “Who funded this study or research?” or “Who gains the most from this issue?” The bottom line is that you must decide what to believe.
“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8
Here at OHI, we prefer a reserved approach to safety. Many of our guests have health opportunities they have overcome or are in the process of handling. For this reason we recommend taking the greatest cautions: continuing to mask, social distancing, and handwashing.
Being cautious doesn’t mean staying home. Experts are recommending outdoor activities as long as social distancing can be maintained; such as going to the beach where you can spread out. The CDC says, “Vaccinated individuals can gather indoors, without masks or social distancing, with other vaccinated people.” (OHI does not promote or discourage vaccine use).
4. Come to OHI. One of the best ways to move forward is to visit OHI. We are constantly improving the cleanliness and sanitation of our facilities. We are your home-away-from-home safety bubble. And, we have taken every conceivable precaution to provide a safe and sacred environment for our community.
Refreshing your OHI training will enable you to move forward by positively influencing the state of your health. You will rediscover the body, mind, and spirit connection while using your positive thoughts and emotions to promote healing and good health.
Schedule a visit to OHI where you can revive and renew your purpose, practice mindfulness, and cultivate your critical thinking skills – all while reconnecting with the special friends who understand you and your goals like no one else. Because OHI is STILL the safest place you can be outside of your home.
Wishing you health and wellness in this blessed Summer season.
Yours in prayer,
Robert P. Nees, Jr.
Senior Pastor and Chairman
Optimum Health Institute of San Diego and Austin
We’ve heard countless stories from our guests about how their stay at Optimum Health Institute has had a powerful, life-changing effect on their lives. What’s unusual, however, is to hear about someone whose life was transformed by OHI’s program … and the person had never stepped foot on the grounds. We heard such a testimony from OHI missionary, Doug Fulwider.
Doug’s wife had been a staunch advocate of OHI’s healthy lifestyle program for decades, and had even studied with Ann Wigmore, the founder of Hippocrates. She insisted on following the plant-based, live, raw organic food plan to such an enthusiastic extent that Doug playfully named their home, “OHI West.”
When his wife tragically succumbed to pancreatic cancer after a two-year battle, Doug was heartbroken. Yet even in his deep grief, he knew that emotionally giving up and reverting to old, unhealthy eating habits was not an option. He decided to honor his wife’s legacy, and maintain his own health, by signing up for an OHI stay. By his second week there, he knew he wanted to apply to be a missionary. The support from the OHI staff and other guests, the healthy plant-based meals, and the beautiful surroundings were the perfect prescription to heal his aching heart.
Doug applied and was thrilled to be accepted into the missionary program. Before leaving, he had to find someone to house-sit for three months, and he chose the son of an acquaintance. The young man, Mikey, was at a crossroads in his life, and he expressed his desire to live at Doug’s while pondering his future direction. Doug had just one rule for Mikey – there could be NO meat in the house.
While Doug continued his deep healing during his months as an OHI missionary, Mikey threw himself into completely changing his diet. He’d been inspired by Doug’s no-meat rule and the delicious plant-based OHI recipes Doug left for him.
What began as a “house rule” quickly blossomed into a brand-new, healthier and happier life path.
Mikey learned how to ferment foods, grow sprouts, and make seed cheese. He prepared delicious plant-based meals for his mother and uncle – and both of them saw such radical improvements in their health they were soon able to get off nearly all medication.
Mikey even took a raw foods course and is studying to become a vegan chef. He’s developed quite a social media following, too, posting photos of his beautiful and delicious culinary creations online. While Doug was healing his heart at OHI, Mikey was healing his life – and preparing for a fantastic new future – using the transformational tools OHI provides.
So the answer to the question posted in the title is a resounding YES! A healthy lifestyle most certainly can be contagious. We invite you to come to OHI and experience this sort of transformation in your own life. Bring body, mind, and spirit into a healthy balance with an extended stay at OHI San Diego or OHI Austin. Visit our website at www.optimumhealth.org , and call us at (800) 588-0809 to make your reservation.
Brilliant sunshine breaks through the clouds after days of seemingly endless rain. A butterfly lands on your hand for a fleeting moment. A phone call you’ve been dreading from your doctor brings unexpectedly good news – the answer to your prayers.
All of these are, quite literally, cause for celebration.
Reveling in the moment when positive things happen is an ongoing opportunity to acknowledge the infinite good – and the infinite God – in our lives.
“Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music,” we’re told in Psalm 98:4. Throughout the Bible, we read about celebrations marking everything from baptisms and weddings to feasts, dedicating the wall at Jerusalem, and Jesus’ birth.
“Celebration is central to all the Spiritual Disciplines,” writes Richard J. Foster in his book, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth.
Celebrating the small things helps us stay in the moment; we become more mindful of seeking out the positive. And that which we seek, we find. Our joy is contagious. Those around us will also start to discover delightful reasons to celebrate throughout their day. We strengthen the bonds within our spiritual community through celebrating together, honoring each other’s successes and growth.
There is another benefit when we choose to celebrate just about everything. The spiritual discipline of celebration itself is a form of thanksgiving. Science shows us that shifting into an attitude of gratitude actually prompts positive chemical changes in our brains and bodies. We can more easily release stress, boost heart health, and lower blood pressure. We feel fewer aches and pains, heal more quickly, and enjoy deeper, more restful sleep.
When we expect to see the divine in everything, we will find it. That’s when we truly begin to live our lives in constant celebration, doing all things with great love.
We invite you to start this celebratory journey with an extended stay at Optimum Health Institute missions in San Diego or Austin. You’ll be able to celebrate with your spiritual community by linking up with old friends and making some wonderful new ones.
Call us at (800) 588-0809 to book your reservation, and be sure to ask about our current promotional discounts. We look forward to seeing you … and celebrating the divine with you.