Mastering a Calming Breath When You’re Stressed is a Simple Stress Management Technique
Are you stressed most of the time? Did you know that mastering the calming breath is an easy-to-learn stress management technique that can be practiced anywhere?
You have probably taken a deep breaths before plunging into something – a difficult conversation, serving a tennis ball, trying not to cry. When you sigh, you are unconsciously using this relaxation technique by inhaling more air than usual and exhaling. Breathing deeply has a calming and centering effect, and you can do it anyplace, anytime for a quick fix for acute stress.
Whenever you’re stressed– your respiratory rate jumps, your heart rate increases, your blood pressure elevates and your system is flooded with adrenaline and other stress hormones.
In a relaxed state, your physiological system does almost the exact opposite of this flight or fight response. Your respiratory rate slows, your heart slows, blood pressure dips, pupils contract, you sweat less. In short, your body comes out of emergency mode. You start calming down.
What’s astounding is that you can initiate this calming response by simply learning to change your breathing patterns. It works because the act of breathing has a very special property. Normally we all breathe without even thinking about it. No matter what we’re doing, sleeping or running a marathon, our lungs take in oxygen and pump out carbon dioxide.
It’s what anatomy books call an automatic function. Just the way the heart keeps the blood circulating, the lungs automatically inhale and exhale. The interesting thing is that although we breathe automatically we can also learn to control our breath. So, we can hold our breath as we dive into a pool or slow it down to help ourselves be more serene in the midst of what we thought was a “crisis.”
Are there other advantage of a calming breath?
This type of breathing technique also improves the efficiency with which we breathe. It works like this: As you breathe, oxygen enters the lungs and travels into millions of alveoli, or tiny air sacs. These delicate membranes are surrounded by a myriad of blood vessels. Here oxygen is transferred to the blood stream. The arteries move the oxygen out to brain, muscles, nerves, and internal organs, aiding a host of vital functions.
If you’re breathing shallowly, the flow of air, including the oxygen, tends to concentrate in the upper two-thirds of the lungs. This area is less blood rich than the lower part. So, when breathing shallowly, you have to breathe more rapidly to get the proper amount of oxygen out through the body. This means the lungs and heart have to work harder than they would if you were breathing deeply. The result: your pulse rate goes up and even your blood pressure rises.
By breathing deeply into the lungs, a rich concentration of blood transports the oxygen out to the far corners of the body. In this case, your heart beats much more slowly to send out an equal amount of oxygen. The rate of your pulse slows and your blood pressure is decreased. The result is less strain on the heart and less fatigue for you.
Another key factor: In shallow breathing, you negatively affect the balance of gases in your blood stream. You’re inefficiently cleansing the body of the waste product, carbon dioxide. Excess carbon dioxide in the blood stream can adversely affect the blood’s acidity. The result? You feel fatigued, nervous and stressed.
It takes practice, but it is well worth the effort. The next time that you’re feeling stressed, you will know that you can instantly feel calmer and clear headed with a calming breath– a most effective stress management technique.
Benefits of Meditation In Difficult Times
“I am convinced more than ever before that meditation is critical to my well being. These past few weeks have been very trying and I have been reminded of the benefits of meditation.”
Our worlds seem to move much too fast. Sometimes as we’re darting around at the speed of light, something unexpected happens to slow us down.
Living through this latest “slow down” of life on Long Island after Hurricane Sandy has motivated me to search for meaning in this unfortunate situation. So, when my electricity was restored this past weekend (after two weeks), I had to ask myself what gifts this experience had given me.
Here’s what I came up with:
1. I read for pleasure: I have a pile of interesting magazine articles that I’ve saved and haven’t had time to really absorb. So when downtime came, unexpectedly, I used the time to read some of those articles that have been piled up for months. It was a great way for me to reconnect with some of the things that really fill my soul.
2. I walked more: My husband and I came up with this idea to conserve gas so we did some errands around town on foot. (For the most part, folks from Long Island do not walk except for exercise).
The weather was brisk but the fresh air seemed invigorating. Aside from enjoying the outdoors, we got a chance to talk to neighbors and storekeepers and even to each other.
3. I was present for others: On days when I was feeling particularly discouraged, cold and feeling sorry for myself, I recognized that supporting others has always been the best way to pull me out of my own despair.
When an acquaintance started to talk about some of the cherished belongings that she had lost, I noticed others turning away. Hers was a very painful story to listen to.
I couldn’t do anything tangible to change what had happened to her. I do know, however, that giving her my full attention in that time of need has taken our friendship to a new level.
4. I discovered new benefits of meditation: My personal meditation practice is something that helps me to stay grounded and balanced in good times and in the most trying times. It helped me during the aftermath of the hurricane to recognize that any discomforts that I was experiencing were only temporary.
Meditation also helped me to feel less stressed, less self-centered and much more compassionate for those whose lives were seriously disrupted by the storm. It’s great to have a powerful tool to remain at peace in spite of what is going on around me.
My hope is that you and your loved ones fared well. My hope too is that you would always be prepared with tools, like meditation, to help you to stay balanced even in the midst of the storms and the trials that occasionally come into our lives.
Can We Still Lose Weight?
It seems like someone asks us about weight loss for women over forty at least once a week at one of our Weight Reduction Program classes. The answer to this weight loss question is complicated.
New research out of Monash University in Australia demonstrates that as we age key appetite control cells in the brain degenerate causing increased hunger!
According to Dr. Zane Andrews, from Monash University:
“People in the age group of 25 to 50 are most at risk. The neurons that tell people in the crucial age range not to over-eat are being killed-off. When the stomach is empty, it triggers a hormone… that notifies the brain that we are hungry. When we are full, a set of neurons… kick in.
However, free radicals created naturally in the body attack the… neurons. This process causes these neurons to degenerate over time, affecting our judgment as to when our hunger is satisfied.”
When older women report that they are always feeling hungry and can’t lose weight this research would seem to back up their claim. So, when a woman over the age of forty gains weight because of habitual overeating, it may well be that the mechanism that tells us not to eat when we are full is degenerating.
So, are all women over forty forever relegated to shopping in the plus size department?
We have heard over and over again that the only way to get to a healthy weight is to eat moderately, eat healthfully and to find the time to exercise several times a week. It makes sense but only when you can plan, when you’re not tired and not always thinking of food.
What can be done?
Our Weight Reduction Program helps to adjust the pathways in your brain so that you can feel satisfied with adequate portions of healthy food. We can help you to enjoy eating healthier, to eat reasonable portions, to follow your plan, to get moving and to stay motivated!
So while you may have all kinds of things going on in your brain that make it harder to lose weight, our method works with your brain to neutralize this effect. I’m glad to say that my answer is a positive one. Yes, women over forty can lose weight and they can do it without feeling constantly hungry or distressed. Our Weight Reduction Program focuses on giving you the psychological weaponry so that you can finally achieve your weight loss goal even for women over forty!
The Path to Achieving Success
Someone sent this success graph to me yesterday and I thought that it was great!
We often tell ourselves that achieving our goals is hard. We often think of those who achieve success as “lucky” and we forget that their path to success may not have been clear cut. What those that succeed often have is a strong desire, a strong determination and a powerful vision.
An interesting thing about this is that we can learn from these patterns of success. What we can learn from those who succeed can be distilled and repeated. That is where support comes in.
We can help you to learn from what others have done and make your graph look more like “what people think” success looks like.
Call our office today if you’d like to find out how we can help you to become stronger and determined to succeed with powerful, proven tools. Our consultations are always free and your success awaits!
If a lack of self-confidence has surfaced too often in your life, find out how learning how to meditate can transform your negative fixation and help you find a new sense of inner self-esteem.
One of the most profound changes that we notice in our clients, after a few weeks, is their soaring self-confidence as they begin the process of learning to meditate.
Several years ago, the Dalai Lama met with a group of Western psychotherapists and asked them to name the most common issue that their patients reported. It didn’t take long to get unanimous response: a lack of self-confidence.
On another occasion, when the Dalai Lama was asked what the first thing he thought of when he awoke in the morning, he replied, “motivation.” He said that everyone, including himself, had to be vigilant so that each day our minds were focused in the right direction. For the Dalai Lama focusing his motivation each morning reminds him to extend loving kindness and compassion to all others. He described focusing in meditation on the kind of motivation that takes you beyond yourself so that you are not limited by a lack of self-confidence.
You might be asking yourself a question right about now. How can this apply to me? I have asked myself that very question many times. I am not a Buddhist and have never been comfortable with many aspects of transcendental meditation. I didn’t start to meditate as a child and I certainly don’t have a lot interest in “emptying my mind”.
The good news is that even for skeptical Westerners, there are ways to customize a meditation practice so that it’s revitalizing and enjoyable. At the same time, there are, also, very specific ways of learning how to meditate that can help us to transform a lack of self-confidence into a healthy, balanced inner sense of self.
The Benefits Of Meditation:
First, when you begin to meditate, you will be able to really get to know yourself and to be at peace with who you really are. After meditating for a few weeks, you’ll find that your doubts, insecurities or fears are really only superficial, as you begin to connect with a deeper place of trust, dignity and self-worth.
The second benefit of meditation awakens you to an inter-connectedness with everyone on the planet, the sense that you are not alone here. Rather, you are a part of this wondrous planet, and the more that you are able to extend yourself with kindness; the less you will be focused on your own limitations. Discovering this inter-connectedness takes you from a place of self-centeredness to other-centeredness and that process does wonders for a person’s self-confidence.
Old ideas that you do not deserve to be happy, or that you are just not good enough— seem to dissolve when people begin to meditate. Working to build self-confidence by learning to meditate is one of the greatist gifts that you can give to yourself.
The Weight Loss Rollercoaster
I recently ran into an old friend who got me thinking about my own struggle to maintain weight loss and the weight loss rollercoaster that so many of us are on. She wanted to tell me all about her latest diet. She was very sure that she would be able to take off sixty pounds in three months by just eating a lot less and exercising a lot more. I have known this woman for many years and if I remember correctly, she’s said something similar to me every January.
This friend, like so many of us, wants to believe that there is a quick fix for weight loss. I get it. For years, I fantasized about the one fad diet, the tea, or the pill that would be the answer for me.
There are plenty of ways to lose weight. Most diets do work- at least temporarily. But then- why can’t we maintain weight loss? Too often people bounce around from one diet to another as their weight keeps creeping up in their quest for that perfect solution.
Losing weight and then gaining weight again can become a ritualistic, compulsive cycle- a weight loss rollercoaster. Charlie Whitfield, an addictions specialist, calls this the “repetition cycle.” Anxiety and depression mount, followed by the urge to eat, leading to self-indulgence, and ending with symptoms of guilt. Then the ugly cycle of self-abuse repeats. And so it is, that those who follow this addictive quest to lose weight may actually end up sabotaging their own goals and gaining weight.
Without exploring the issues that are contributing to our weight problems, most people are doomed to repeat this pattern of self-defeating behavior- going on one diet after another. Unfortunately, they do not maintain weight loss while this pattern continues.
The truth is, real change only occurs when we can learn to respect and value who we are with our imperfections and our past programming.
Unhealthy eaters are typically overwhelmed by self-blame. They will label themselves as “fat” (whether they are or not) and will chastise themselves for being out of control. This negative self-talk is certainly not an effective way of motivating yourself to change. In fact, this kind of browbeating only intensifies the cycle of unhealthy eating patterns.
Because of its great value in dealing with an individual’s rational and irrational thinking, distortions, and beliefs, a consistent practice of meditation is one of the most effective therapeutic treatments for those wanting to break this cycle. This process assists people in responding with positive, empowering self-affirmations to their distorted thinking about eating and body perception. Whatever our past programming happens to be, it can be changed and healthy eating patterns, fitness and even permanent weight loss ultimately can be the result. Then and only then, can we maintain weight loss.
Are You Struggling with a Seasonal Depression?
Here are a few more tips if you’re struggling with depression during the holidays:
Lots of people get depression during the holidays. In order to feel better during the holidays, it’s so important to work at developing the habit of seeing the positive side of things. If you’re not optimistic by nature, it may take time for you to change these negative thinking patterns. Start by recognizing negative thoughts as they crop up through the day.
Then take a step back and ask yourself these key questions:
- Is the situation really as bad as I think? Is it really so terrible to go to the movies on New Year’s Eve if you haven’t been invited to a party this year?
- Is there another way to look at the situation? If finances are tight, maybe it’s time to start getting creative instead of heading off to the nearest mall. This might be the year to learn to bake bread or to write a heartfelt letter.
- What lesson can I learn from this experience? I remember complaining to my Grandmother about owning four outdated folding chairs that did not match my décor. My Nonna wisely reminded me of holiday gatherings from her youth when people ate at their dining room and kitchen tables in shifts. They didn’t even own one folding chair. They wanted their loved ones to gather and somehow that was all that mattered. That reframe certainly changed my perspective on my next gathering.
Find Your Purpose
People who strive to meet a goal or fulfill a mission — whether it’s helping those in need, caring for family or finding one’s spirituality — feel better during the holidays than those who don’t have such aspirations Don’t get so caught up in the trappings of the season, that you don’t have time for the things that excite and energize you.
It isn’t necessary to shop on Black Friday, to max out credit cards and to go to every holiday party that you’re invited to. You may enjoy a trip to the Botanical Gardens or meeting a friend for tea. Being creative will help you to develop traditions that make more sense for you and yours.
Live in the Moment
Don’t postpone joy waiting for a day when your life is less busy or less stressful. That day may never come. Instead, look for opportunities to savor the small pleasures of everyday life. Focus on the positives in the present moment. Don’t spend your time rehashing the past or worrying about the future.
That’s where meditation comes in. Meditation is the best tool that I have found for finding joy in the present. It has helped me to cultivate appreciation for every season of life and to appreciate the richness of each moment.
Our hope this season is that we can all start to develop the kind of traditions that will make us feel better during the holidays and throughout the coming year.
Holiday Season Depression
Are you concerned about how to feel better during the holiday season? Despite what the movies may depict, happiness doesn’t appear magically because it’s “the most wonderful time of the year”. Oddly enough, the opposite is true- many people feel what has been described as “holiday season depression“. Fortunately, we can learn to cultivate happiness and enjoyment- even during the holidays.
What does science tells us?
Only 10 percent or so of the variation in people’s reports of happiness can be explained by differences in their circumstances. The bulk of what determines happiness is your personality and — more modifiable — your thoughts and behaviors. So, yes, you can learn how to be feel good — or at least feel better during the holiday season.
People who are happy seem to intuitively know this, and their lives are built on the following pillars:
- Devoting time to family and friends
- Appreciating what they have
- Maintaining an optimistic outlook
- Feeling a sense of purpose
- Appreciating the present moment (One of our biggest goals in teaching meditation)
How to Feel Better: Practice, Practice, Practice
The good news is that your choices, thoughts and actions can influence your level of happiness. It’s not as easy as flipping a switch, but you can turn up your happiness level. Here’s how to get started using some mind control techniques.
Invest in Positive Relationships
Surround yourself as much as possible with upbeat people. Being around people who are content buoys your own mood. And by being happy yourself, you give something back to those around you.
Your family members might be negative and opinionated, so maybe it’s time to schedule time with friends who are not. Let people know that you appreciate having them in your life.
Express gratitude more often than one day a year
Gratitude is more than saying thank you. It’s a sense of wonder, appreciation and, yes, thankfulness for life. It’s easy to go through life without recognizing your good fortune. Often, it takes a serious illness or other tragic event to jolt people into appreciating the good things in their lives. Don’t wait for something like that to happen to you.
Make a commitment to practice gratitude. Each day identify three or four things that enrich your life. When you find yourself thinking an ungrateful thought, try substituting a grateful one. For example, replace “My sister didn’t call me” with “My sister has always been there for me. I can call her.” Let gratitude be the last thought before you go off to sleep at night and let it be your first thought in the morning. These practices may seem simple but they will work to make you feel better than ever this holiday season.
Daily Meditation Practice
There is a lot of literature that backs up the benefit of a daily meditation practice. So, whether you’re concerned about changing unhealthy habits, concerned about a difficult work situation or just plain anxious about the future, you might be wondering if practicing meditation every day could help your situation.
There are a few important fundamentals to consider.
In order to change, we need to:
- Acknowledge where we are (recognizing our current situation, habits or unproductive thinking).
- We need practice what we would rather be doing instead.
With meditation, we can actually rehearse being relaxed and experience having a peaceful and empowered state of mind. As Thomas Sterner writes in his book The Practicing Mind: “With deliberate and repeated effort progress is inevitable.”
In the case of meditating, we are practicing thinking powerful, positive thoughts- deliberately and repeatedly.
One of the ways that practicing meditation shifts perspective is by helping us to focus on the present moment. We all know that obsessive focus on future results takes us out of present enjoyment.
This kind of obsessive focus on the future impedes the progress of actually getting what we desire because we hold onto an ideal of what “should” be happening. We get frustrated and stressed because we also tend to hold onto ideas of how fast and exactly how we should be progressing.
Internal dialogue on the order of, “I should have lost ten pounds by now” is a recipe for self-doubt and poor results.
Instead, a mindset that reduces stress and frustration while actually improving your state of mind is essential for real progress to be made. In other words, you have to be enjoying where you are right now in order to succeed.
What happens when I meditate regularly?
Meditation helps by slowing things down in your mind (stopping the negative mental chatter that can be so damaging). The result is that meditation practice can help us to begin to trust ourselves again and to move into a place of empowerment. This doesn’t mean that we forget about results. Results are in the background and they are invisibly guiding the process.
Oddly enough, the focus really changes. We have found that once our clients are able to focus on the quality of what they are actually doing in the present instead of on some idea of how it should be going, they feel better.
This relieves a huge burden of stress and frustration while keeping them in that positive, empowered state of mind. Working with the easy to learn meditation process that we teach, we can calmly step back. We can then observe if what we’re doing is moving us in the right direction.
At that point, it’s easy to make adjustments if they’re needed. We can learn how to observe what works and what doesn’t, for us individually. We can do this, as objectively as possible and without self-criticism. We can adjust our present actions; move past old habits and negative thinking patterns in a comfortable, relaxing way.
As one who has meditated for over twenty years, I can say from experience that choosing to follow a daily meditation practice has helped me to enjoy living in the present and has improved every aspect of my life.
The Health Benefits of Meditation
There is now a good deal of scientific evidence that the positive thoughts and emotions that result from meditation practice can help make life longer and healthier. It’s important to remember that in order to produce these health benefits of meditation and the positive thought patterns that result from meditation, the practice needs to be experienced over the long term.
In other words, thinking positively and feeling optimistic for a week long vacation when you already have heart disease will certainly not cure the disease. We do, however, know that lowering stress levels over a period of years coupled with a positive outlook (two of the benefits of meditation) can most definitely reduce the risk of health problems.
Just How Does Meditation Make Us Healthier?
Going beyond relaxation and stress management, the obvious benefits of meditation, there are two other significant health benefits of meditation:
Engaging Fully: For decades, researchers have explored people’s satisfaction in their everyday activities. What they found was that people reported the greatest satisfaction when they were totally immersed in and concentrating on what they are doing. They dubbed this state of intense absorption “flow.”
Interestingly enough, when people describe the experience of meditating, they describe a state that sounds very similar to what athletes call “the zone”. The scattered, easily distracted mind gets to experience a blissful state of focus.
With meditation, moving into this memorable state does not need to be haphazard. Steps can be learned to achieve this state and to replicate it.
Doing Good: Those who meditate often describe a deeper sense of connection with others. Many of us serve others in our families and in our communities. Even though volunteering our time is admirable, we may, at the same time, find ourselves resenting those that we serve or the demands of our service.
Because of a deeper sense of connection with others, those who meditate overwhelmingly report being able to serve without resentment. When this is the case, serving others becomes fulfilling rather than just another chore.
Researchers have found that both of these pathways individually contributed significantly to life satisfaction and impacted positively on creating physically healthier and happier individuals. If you’re ready to start reaping the health benefits of meditation, it’s time to get started.