Tag Archives: Pranayama

How Breath & Mood Are Connected

 

 

Controlled breathing has been used since antiquity to relieve anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. What hasn’t been known is exactly how this works.
As reported in an article called “Breathing control center neurons that promote arousal in mice” published in Science, a group of researchers set out to locate the physiological, neuronal  basis of the relationship between breathing and higher-order brain activity and accidentally discovered a clue about how breathing calms the mind. (Yackle et al, 2017)
In the study, the researchers were trying to identify different types of neurons in a group of nearly 3,000 to understand their various roles in breathing function.
Their focus was on  the pre-Bötzinger complex (or preBötC), known as the ‘breathing pacemaker’, which is found in humans as well as in mice.

 

Source: NSF Mathematical Sciences Institutes

 

 

BREATHING CALMS THE MIND & BODY

Rhythmic activity of a cluster of neurons located in the brain stem instigates breathing and regulates the balance between calm and aroused states. The researchers found a subgroup of 175 cells in this group of neurons in the breathing pacemaker that connects directly to a part of the brain that plays a key role in generalized alertness, attention, and stress. When the researchers removed these 175 cells from mouse brains, the mice continued breathing normally but became very calm. (Yackle et al, 2017)
One of the study authors, Mark Krasnow, Professor of Biochemistry at Stanford University School of Medicine, said, “We expected that [inactivating the neurons] might completely eliminate or dramatically alter the breathing pattern of the mice.”
But that’s not what happened. Their breathing patterns were unchanged after the neurons were knocked out. What did occur was that the mice “had become chill. Mellow fellows,” Krasnow said. (Boddy, 2017)
The researchers found that these 175 neurons directly regulate a structure located in the brain stem (the most primitive part of the human brain) called the locus coeruleus, which is linked to arousal states. Anyone who’s ever experienced anxiety or panic knows that the brain is hyper-aroused in these states. In depression, the brain feels under-aroused.
“The brain stem is the oldest and smallest region in the evolving human brain. It evolved hundreds of millions of years ago and is more like the entire brain of present-day reptiles. For this reason, it is often called the ‘reptilian brain’. Various clumps of cells in the brain stem determine the brain’s general level of alertness and regulate the vegetative processes of the body such as breathing and heartbeat.

 

“It’s similar to the brain possessed by the hardy reptiles that preceded mammals, roughly 200 million years ago. It’s ‘preverbal’, but controls life functions such as autonomic brain, breathing, heart rate and the fight or flight mechanism. Lacking language, its impulses are instinctual and ritualistic. It’s concerned with fundamental needs such as survival, physical maintenance, hoarding, dominance, preening and mating. It is also found in lower life forms such as lizards, crocodiles and birds. It is at the base of your skull emerging from your spinal column.” (Crystallinks, undated)

 

THE BREATH, YOGA & MEDITATION

It’s not a coincidence that controlled, purposeful breathing is an important part of meditation and yoga. As you’ve also probably noticed, humans instinctively tend to take a long, deep breath and sigh it out to relax and center ourselves.
“It’s clear that the way you breathe — whether fast or slow, shallow or deep — sends messages to your body that affect your mood, your stress levels and even your immune system.” (Mercola, 2017)

 

 

This mouse research has discovered the formerly unknown physiological link between breathing rate and emotional state – at least in mice. Jack Feldman, a study co-author and Distinguished Professor of Neurology at UCLA says:
“It’s a tie between breathing itself and changed in emotional state and arousal that we had never looked at before. It has considerable potential for therapeutic use.” (Mercola, 2017)

 

DRUGS OR PRANAYAMA

The scientists are probably hoping to create pharmaceuticals that calm this tiny region of the brain. If you’re given to taking drugs for what ails you, you can wait for such pills to come to market – or you can practice pranayama techniques and learn to calm yourself down now.
Pranayama is a Sanskrit word for controlled breathing. It comes from Prana (life energy and Ayama (to extend or draw out). Pranayama practices are thought to have originated in ancient India (along with the origins of yoga) around the sixth and fifth centuries BCE. (EkhartYoga Yoga online, 2017)
Source: Sleeplabs
You don’t have to be a yogi to practice controlled breathing. It can be done pretty much anywhere – sitting in a chair, lying down in bed, walking, on an airplane ….
See an earlier post, Using the Breath for Physical & Emotional Pain, for some how-to information on a few pranayama techniques.

 

 

 

REFERENCES

Boddy, J. (2017). A Tiny Spot In Mouse Brains May Explain How Breathing Calms The Mind. NPR. See: http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/03/30/522033368/a-tiny-spot-in-mouse-brains-may-explain-how-breathing-calms-the-mind
Crystallinks. (undated). Reptilian Brain. See: http://www.crystalinks.com/reptilianbrain.html
EkhartYoga Yoga online. (2017). Pranayama. See: https://www.ekhartyoga.com/more-yoga/yoga-styles/pranayama
Hardin, J.R. (2017). Using the Breath for Physical & Emotional Pain. See: http://allergiesandyourgut.com/2017/04/02/using-breath-physical-emotional-pain/
Yackle, K. et al. (31 March 2017).  Breathing control center neurons that promote arousal in mice. Science, 355: 6332, 1411-1415.. See: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/355/6332/1411

 

© Copyright 2017. Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.

 

DISCLAIMER:  Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Using the Breath for Physical & Emotional Pain

 

Source: Pinterest

 

We all know that pain, both physical and emotional, is unavoidable in our lives. And we also know that emotional pain often produces physical pain and physical pain can produce emotional pain. Then there’s the sort of physical or psychic pain that’s mysterious, hurting apparently for no reason at all. Some people have an easier time with physical pain, which often feels more understandable and manageable than mental anguish.
What our pills-and-surgery-focused culture doesn’t do a particularly good job with is helping us ward off or ease both kinds of pain.
This post is about using the breath for both physical and emotional pain. I can tell you from first hand experience that it’s a highly effective approach.

 

 

MINDSET ALTERS PAIN PERCEPTION

 

Evidence indicates that pain perception may be attenuated when an individual performs cognitive tasks or is distracted. (Source: Clinical Pain Advisor)
Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder recently found that our ability to use our thoughts to modulate perceptions of pain utilizes a completely separate brain pathway than the pathway that sends physical pain signals to the brain.
Sensations of physical pain are sent via nerves to a number of regions in the brain which register where the pain is occurring and its intensity, mostly to the anterior cingulate cortex.
This study discovered a second pathway which can mediate the PERCEPTION of pain. This pathway involves areas of the brain associated with emotion and motivation, such as the medial prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens. When these regions become activated, we experience pain as less acute.

 

Source: Psychology Today
The brains of 33 study participants were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they received painful heat stimuli on their arms. (This sounds quite unpleasant. Fortunately, all participants had provided informed consent.)
“During the first scan, the participants were asked to clear their minds and not think of anything in particular while being subjected to the painful heat on their arms.
“In the second scan, the participants were asked to imagine that the burning heat was actually damaging their skin. This mindset was found to increase perceptions of pain.
“In the final scan, participants were asked to imagine that the heat was actually a welcome sensation on an extremely cold day—this explanatory style was found to decrease the perceived experience of the pain.
“When the brain scans were compared the pathways for experiencing physical pain remained the same across all three scenarios, regardless of how the participants rated their pain experience. However, the breakthrough discovery was that the researchers  discovered a second brain pathway that changed in intensity depending on the type of thoughts, or “cognitive self-regulation” used by participants.”
 – (Bergland, 2015) & (Woo et al, 2015)

 

 

LAMAZE BREATHING TECHNIQUES FOR LABOR & DELIVERY PAIN

 

Source: American Pregnancy Association

 

Contractions during heavy labor are generally considered to be pretty high up on the pain scale.  I was very fortunate to be pregnant in the mid 1970’s in California when Lamaze techniques were popular for managing labor pains. A principal  tenet of Lamaze childbirth is that controlled breathing enhances relaxation and decreases perception of pain. (Lothian, 2011)
Toward the end of my pregnancy, I took a Lamaze class to learn these specific breathing techniques and experienced intense pain only once during labor and delivery – when I got distracted by something and lost control of my breathing during one contraction toward the end of labor. I generally have a pretty high tolerance for physical pain and would rate the pain during that one contraction as an 8 1/2 out of 10 on the Pain Scale.
Learning how to use my breath to relax  during labor and distract my mind from perceiving the pain has had the additional benefit of helping me weather other physical pain since then – and has been very handy for dealing with psychic pain too.

 

 

 

DR JOHN SARNO: ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF THE POWERFUL MIND- BODY INTERACTION

 

John E. Sarno, MD, is a retired professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, New York University Medical Center and an expert on how to stop musculo-skeletal pain without drugs or surgeries. He is the author of The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain, The Divided Mind: The Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders, and several other best selling books on the connection between emotions and physical pain – the psychosomatic process.
In his long career treating people with chronic pain, Sarno observed that they often preferred suffering with chronic physical pain to dealing with their unresolved emotional pain. He developed a treatment approach of educating his patients about this connection and helping them to  figure out what was so deeply upsetting to them that they were afraid to know it consciously. Once they were able to identify their chronic physical symptoms as “distractions” serving to keep these deeply unconscious emotional issues repressed, their physical symptoms no longer served any useful purpose and stopped.

 

Source: PictureQuotes.com

 

 

 

SO WHAT WORKS

Here are some of my favorite breathing techniques that are good for reducing the experience of pain. They calm the body and keep you in your calm center instead of focusing on the pain. Since pain isn’t experienced as painful unless it registers in your brain, it’s worth playing around with these so they’ll be available to you when you need them.
If you start to feel light headed during any of these breathing techniques, that just means you’re breathing out a lot more than you’re breathing in. Practicing evening out your in and out breaths will fix it.

 

 

3-PART BREATH

3-part yoga breathing (dirga pranayama) is a basic technique that lets you breathe fully and easily. It’s very good for feeling calm and empowered.

 

 

OCEAN BREATH

Ocean Breath (Ujayii in Sanskrit) is my all time, everyday favorite for yoga and life – including dealing with physical and psychic pain.

 

 

BREATHING WITH PAUSES

Breathing with pauses at the top and bottom of each breath is very calming to the body. If you also divide your breath to pause in the middle of inhales and exhales, it’s even more effective. You can add more pauses, dividing your inhales and exhales into 2, 3, 4, 5 pauses in addition to the pauses at the top and bottom of each breath. Gradually, you’ll be able to extend the pauses, which is where the calming happens.
Having to use your mind to count keeps it from thinking about anything else, including registering pain.  This video will give you the idea of how to do the pauses.

 

https://youtu.be/0X_r5jnIYTI

 

 

 

DR ANDREW WEILL’S 4-7-8 BREATH

Dr Weill’s 4-7-8 well known breathing technique is especially helpful for falling asleep.

 

 

 

BEE BREATH

Bee Breath (Brahmari in Sanskrit) is another of my favorites. Try it while lying on your back in bed when your brain is generating thoughts that are interfering with your falling asleep.

 

 

 

EMOTIONAL FREEDOM TECHNIQUE (EFT) FOR PAIN

This is very helpful for all kinds of pain, acute and chronic. You can change the language to suit your situation.
Pairing this with a breathing technique of your choice is sublime.

 

 

 

UNIVERSAL BREATHING: PRANAYAMA

I also like this breathing app that teaches the body how to breathe properly. It works on iPhone, Android, Nook and Mac. You get to choose the  amount of time you want to practice breathing with this app, the speed that works for you, and whether you want music or silence while it’s running.

Universal Breathing: Pranayama

 

 

Source: www.legambiente.it

 

REFERENCES

Bergland, C. (2015). Neuroscientists Identify How Mindset Alters Pain Perceptions: Experiencing pain involves multiple brain pathways and can be self-regulated. Psychology Today. See: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201501/neuroscientists-identify-how-mindset-alters-pain-perceptions

Fossam, H. (2016). The Influence of Cognitive Processes on Pain Perception. See: http://www.clinicalpainadvisor.com/chronic-pain/deconstructing-the-sensation-of-pain/article/573823/

Lothian, J.A. (2011). Lamaze Breathing: What Every Pregnant Woman Needs to Know. Journal of Perinatal Education, 118-120. See: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3209750/

Sarno, J.E. (1999). The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain. See: https://www.amazon.com/Mindbody-Prescription-Healing-Body-Pain/dp/0446675156/ref=pd_sbs_14_img_0?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=ET13B3HC93W1W8TTS6YT

 

 

 

© Copyright 2017. Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.

 

DISCLAIMER:  Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

 

3 Breathing Techniques Taught by Dr Andrew Weil

 

“Practicing regular, mindful breathing can be calming and energizing and can even help with stress-related health problems ranging from panic attacks to digestive disorders.”
Andrew Weil, M.D.

 

Andrew Weil, MD

Weil_Andrew2

 

Most of us can use some help handling the stresses in our lives, keeping ourselves from becoming depressed or anxious – or getting back to a good place if we do get mentally or physically depressed or too wound up, and getting enough restorative sleep.
Below are three breathing techniques (pranayamas) Dr Andrew Weil teaches his patients, other doctors,  and anyone else who’s interested to help them maintain a relaxed, focused state of mind. They’re reproduced here from Weil’s article Breathing: Three Exercises. Each breathing technique description includes a video of Dr Weil demonstrating how to do it.

 

 

Exercise 1:
STIMULATING BREATH (BELLOWS BREATH)

The Stimulating Breath is adapted from yogic breathing techniques. Its aim is to raise vital energy and increase alertness.

Inhale and exhale rapidly through your nose, keeping your mouth closed but relaxed. Your breaths in and out should be equal in duration, but as short as possible. This is a noisy breathing exercise.

Try for three in-and-out breath cycles per second. This produces a quick movement of the diaphragm, suggesting a bellows. Breathe normally after each cycle.

Do not do for more than 15 seconds on your first try. Each time you practice the Stimulating Breath, you can increase your time by five seconds or so, until you reach a full minute.

If done properly, you may feel invigorated, comparable to the heightened awareness you feel after a good workout. You should feel the effort at the back of the neck, the diaphragm, the chest and the abdomen. Try this diaphragmatic breathing exercise the next time you need an energy boost and feel yourself reaching for a cup of coffee.

Watch a video of Dr. Weil demonstrating the Stimulating Breath.

Exercise 2:
THE 4-7-8 (RELAXING BREATH)

This breathing exercise is utterly simple, takes almost no time, requires no equipment and can be done anywhere. Although you can do the exercise in any position, sit with your back straight while learning the exercise. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.

  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
  • This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

Note that you always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in position the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation. The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is important. If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise up but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice you can slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply.

This exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. Unlike tranquilizing drugs, which are often effective when you first take them but then lose their power over time, this exercise is subtle when you first try it but gains in power with repetition and practice. Do it at least twice a day. You cannot do it too frequently. Do not do more than four breaths at one time for the first month of practice. Later, if you wish, you can extend it to eight breaths. If you feel a little lightheaded when you first breathe this way, do not be concerned; it will pass.

Once you develop this technique by practicing it every day, it will be a very useful tool that you will always have with you. Use it whenever anything upsetting happens – before you react. Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension. Use it to help you fall asleep. This exercise cannot be recommended too highly. Everyone can benefit from it.

Watch a video of Dr. Weil demonstrating the 4-7-8 Breath.

 

Exercise 3:
BREATH COUNTING

If you want to get a feel for this challenging work, try your hand at breath counting, a deceptively simple technique much used in Zen practice.

Sit in a comfortable position with the spine straight and head inclined slightly forward. Gently close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Then let the breath come naturally without trying to influence it. Ideally it will be quiet and slow, but depth and rhythm may vary.

  • To begin the exercise, count “one” to yourself as you exhale.
  • The next time you exhale, count “two,” and so on up to “five.”
  • Then begin a new cycle, counting “one” on the next exhalation.
  • Never count higher than “five,” and count only when you exhale. You will know your attention has wandered when you find yourself up to “eight,” “12,” even “19.”
  • Try to do 10 minutes of this form of meditation.

Watch a video of Dr. Weil demonstrating Breath Counting.

 

 

 

Samuel Jakob Kirschner

(Source: twitter.com)
(Source: twitter.com)

 

Many years ago, Samuel Jakob Kirschner, a wonderful meditation/breath work teacher in New York City, explained depression and anxiety to me this way:

“Depression lives in the out-breath and anxiety lives in the in-breath.”

What he means by this is:
* We let our breath out with a sigh when we feel depressed and then don’t re-energize ourselves with adequate in-breaths. This breathing imbalance keeps us emotionally and physically depressed.
* We breath in and then hold our breath when we’re anxious and then don’t allow ourselves to calm down by breathing out. This keeps us feeling anxious and can lead us into a panic attack if we keep it up.
See The BREAZE to learn more about Samuel, where he’s teaching, and how to get his CDs.
Many thanks to Christian John Lillis of the Peggy Lillis Foundation for bringing Dr Weil’s article to my attention.

 

 

(Source: drjainwells.com)
(Source: drjainwells.com)

 

 

 

REFERENCES

BreathBodyMind. (2016). Samuel Jakob Kirschner. See: http://www.breath-body-mind.com/samuel-kirschner.php

Kirschner, S.J. (2016). The BREAZE. See: http://www.thebreaze.com/

Weil, A. (2016). The 4-7-8 (or Relaxing Breath) Exercise. See: http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/VDR00160/Dr-Weils-Breathing-Exercises-4-7-8-Breath.html

Weil, A. (2016). Breathing Exercises: Breath Counting. See: http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/VDR00159/Dr-Weils-Breathing-Exercises-Breath-Counting.html

Weil, A. (2016). Breathing: Three Exercises. See: http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART00521/three-breathing-exercises.html

Weil, A. (2016). The Stimulating Breath. See: http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/VDR00161/Dr-Weils-Breathing-Exercises-Stimulating-Breath.html

 

 

© Copyright 2016. Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.

 

DISCLAIMER:  Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

 

Exercise to Connect Your Brain and Gut

 

 

The Enteric Nervous System (Source: ivingwellnessblog.wordpress.com)
The Enteric Nervous System (Source: ivingwellnessblog.wordpress.com)

 

 

BRAIN VS BODY: BODIES OUT OF BALANCE

As human animals we’re born as bodies with big powerful brains sitting up top in our heads. Our culture teaches us to value what goes on in the brain over what takes place in the rest of the body. Many of us learn to believe information generated by our brains and more or less ignore information available from the rest of the body – until something goes wrong down there.
And there’s so much that can go wrong from this disconnected, out of balance way of living. We then see a doctor to try to fix the symptoms of our ailment with medicines or surgery.

 

The way too many of us live – staying mostly up in our heads with little idea of our feelings and our true needs, all information generated by our guts:

 

Living Up In Your Brain - Relying Too Much on Thinking
Living Up In Your Brain – Relying Too Much on Thinking

 

 

The way we’re meant to be – brain and gut connected in constant communication:

 

The Gut and Brain Need to Interact for Good Physical and Mental Health
The Gut and Brain Need to Interact for Good Physical and Mental Health

 

 

The human gastrointestinal tract:

 

digestive_system

 

 

 

 

 

YOU HAVE TWO BRAINS – ONE RESIDES IN YOUR HEAD AND ANOTHER VERY IMPORTANT ONE LIVES IN YOUR GUT

We’re used to thinking of the brain in the head as the body part that’s running the show but, in fact, we also have a second brain. It resides in our digestive tract.
Parts of the enteric nervous system (the gut brain) and their functions:

 

The Brain In The Gut

 

 

 

A BRIEF COURSE ON OUR TWO BRAINS (Hardin, 2014 A-C)
  • On average, the human brain, the seat of all our thinking, contains 86 billion neurons engaged in transmitting information to and from the rest of the body.
  • The human enteric nervous system (the gut) contains 100 million neurons – about 1000th the number in the human brain and about equal to the number in the human spinal cord.
  • The autonomous nervous system of the gut allows it to work independently of the brain.
  • Our guts make more independent decisions for us than any other part of the body.
  • The gut’s endocrine signaling to the entire body is quite elaborate. Communication from our gut-dwelling microbes to the brain affects our emotions, motivation, cognition, memory and behavior.
  • Just like our thinking brain, our gut brain is also able to learn and remember.
  • In the lowest, most primitive part of our brains, a neural network called the basal ganglia is constantly evaluating the outcomes of our every behavior, extracting decision rules: ‘When I said that, it worked out well.’ ‘When I did this, bad things happened.’ And so on, like a tireless experimental scientist tasked with guiding us wisely through our lives.
  • The basal ganglia in the brain store our accumulated life wisdom. But when we are faced with a decision, it is the brain’s verbal cortex that delivers our thoughts about it, often drowning out the wisdom accumulated inside the basal ganglia’s storehouse.
  • And the most interesting part: The basal ganglia area is so primitive it has NO CONNECTION to the verbal cortex so it can’t share its knowledge in words – but its connections to the gut are plentiful. The basal ganglia area tells us what is right or wrong for us as a GUT FEELING.
  • So trust your gut, your felt sense, your intuition – not what comes to you in words from your brain!
  • Nearly every brain-regulating chemical found in our skull brains is also found in our gut brains. This includes major neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, norepinephrine and nitric oxide), brain proteins called neuropeptides, major immune system cells, a class of the body’s natural opiates (enkephalins), and even benzodiazepines (the family of psychoactive chemicals found in drugs such as Valium and Xanax).
  • The gut has opiate receptors much like the brain. Drugs such as morphine and heroin attach to opiate receptors in the brain and also in the gut, causing constipation. Both brains can be addicted to opiates.
  • Our emotions are greatly influenced by chemicals and nerves inside the gut. Most of us know Prozac as a best selling anti-depressant pharmaceutical. In 1971, when Eli Lilly was developing the drug, they expected it would become a treatment for high blood pressure or obesity.
  • Prozac works by increasing brain levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that produces feelings of well-being. Serotonin also affects sleep, appetite and aggression.
  • Known side effects of Prozac include nausea, diarrhea, insomnia, and a lowered sex drive – clear evidence of a gut-brain interaction.
  • 90% of the body’s serotonin is located in the gut, where it regulates intestinal movements. Only 10% is synthesized in the central nervous system, where it serves many functions – including mood regulation, appetite, sleep, and the cognitive functions of memory and learning.
  • I’ve noticed as a psychotherapist that people’s voices relax and become lower pitched when they’re speaking their gut truths and get tenser and higher pitched when they’re saying what they think.
  • I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve asked somehow how they feel about something and am instead told how they think they feel. Not so useful.
Makes you realize how important it is for those two brains to communicate with each other – and how mistaken we are when we look to the brain in the head to tell us how we feel and what we need.
As Joan Rivers always said:

 

joan_rivers_can_we_talk_uk-show

 

So how can you improve the communication between your gut and your brain? Here’s an exercise to try.

 

 

 

STAIRCASE EXERCISE

 To help you spend less time in your head and more time in your body – and find it easier to go back and forth between them

 

 

  • Picture a lovely old circular stone staircase, maybe one winding down inside a medieval castle tower.
  • Imagine the top of the staircase is the  brain up in your skull. Its steps lead down to the GI tract down in your gut.
  • Stand quietly for a moment up at the top of the staircase breathing slowly, letting your eyes look down a few steps. What color are they? What kind of texture do they have?
  • Notice the old stones the make up the stairs and walls. What color are they? What kind of texture do they have?
  • What’s the quality of the light inside the staircase?
  • Is it quiet in this staircase?
  • What emotions do you feel?
  • What bodily sensations do you notice?
  • Slowly step down to the second stair. Stand there a moment, breathing slowly and deeply, looking around.
  • Slowly step down to the third stair. Stand there a moment, breathing slowly and deeply, looking around.
  • Continue slowly down the other stairs, pausing between breaths on each stair.
  • If you can’t pause between breaths yet, rest for a few breaths on each stair before moving on.
  • Slowly descend the whole staircase in this manner observing what you see and what you’re feeling along the way, emotionally and sensations in your body.
  • When you reach the bottom of the staircase, spend a few easy breaths down there, in your gut. What do you see down there? What sensations do you feel?
  • When you’re ready, turn around and slowly walk back up the staircase to your brain in this same manner, noting what you see and how you’re feeling along the way.
  • When you reach your brain again, spend a few easy breaths up there. What do you see up there? What sensations do you feel?
  • Do you notice anything that’s different from the last time you were up there at the start of this walk?  How’s your breathing?

 

 

1 c

Don’t worry if you’re unable to move down from the top step when you first try this exercise. Can you let yourself just be where you are on your staircase, breathing and looking around? Without chastising yourself?
Eventually, you’ll find you’re able to move further down toward your gut, which will be happy to greet you whenever you arrive.

 

 

 

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winding castle stairs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Castle_staircase_in_Germany

 

 

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REFERENCES

Hardin, J.R. (2014-A).  Intriguing Facts About the Gut and Brain. AllergiesAndYourGut.com.  See: http://allergiesandyourgut.com/the-gut-brain-axis/intriguing-facts-about-the-gut-and-brain/

Hardin, J.R. (2014-B). Our Second Brain – The Gut Mind. AllergiesAndYourGut.com.  See: http://allergiesandyourgut.com/our-second-brain-the-gut-mind/

Hardin, J.R. (2014-C). The Gut Microbiome – Our Second Genome. AllergiesAndYourGut.com. See: http://allergiesandyourgut.com/the-gut-microbiome-our-second-genome/

 

© Copyright 2014 Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.

 

DISCLAIMER:  Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Reduce Inflammation with Yoga, Meditation and Breath Work (Pranayama)

 

The amount of stress in my life increased significantly when my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in 1998 and I began making frequent trips from New York City to Florida. She succumbed in April 2000. Then 10 days after her death, my father collapsed from an internal bleed from his own colon cancer.
Shortly after my mother’s diagnosis, I realized I could use some emotional support and began attending a Family Support Group at Gilda’s Club NYC. Gilda’s Club also offered free yoga and meditation classes to members. I had been interested in trying these Eastern mind-body techniques for a few years so fortunately had the good sense to take advantage of this opportunity … and profoundly changed my life for the better.  Yoga, meditation and breath work (pranayama) have given me tools to feel whole and centered. And as an added bonus, all three practices have also brought  important health benefits.

 

YOGA TO REDUCE INFLAMMATION

 

 

Research is confirming what yoga practitioners have long known: that practicing yoga reduces stress and inflammation. (Holland, undated) A study to test the mechanisms underlying hatha yoga’s stress-reduction benefits compared inflammatory and endocrine responses of female novice and expert yoga practitioners before, during and after a restorative hatha yoga session as well as in two control conditions. The study found a lower amount of the cytokine called interleukin-6 (IL-6), an important part of the body’s inflammatory response, in the blood of women who routinely practiced yoga. (Kiecolt-Glaser, 2010) This inflammatory cytokine is part of the chronic inflammation process in the body. (Wikipedia, 2014)
The women in the study, both novices and experienced yoginis, showed smaller increases in IL-6 after stressful experiences than women of the same age and weight who did not practice yoga. Inflammatory cytokine blood levels normally increase with age and stress. IL-6 is implicated in the development of heart disease, stroke, Type-2 diabetes, arthritis and many other debilitating age-related diseases. (Kiecolt-Glaser, 2010)

 

 

 

 

MINDFULNESS MEDITATION TO REDUCE INFLAMMATION

 

 

Mindfulness meditation techniques have long been known to reduce unhealthy emotional reactivity.  Now researchers are finding they can reduce post stress inflammatory responses in the body so would be useful in chronic inflammatory conditions such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema – and likely all autoimmune diseases and conditions since they are based in inflammation somewhere in the body. (Kelly, 2013)
Mindfulness meditation has also been shown to affect the body at the molecular level, altering activity of genes that control inflammation.  (Nature World News, 2013)
 See also Health Through Meditation.

 

 

BREATH WORK TO REDUCE INFLAMMATION

 

 

Intentional yogic breathing (pranayama) allows you to train your body to breathe more slowly and deeply. Reducing your breathing from its usual rate of about 15 breathes per minutes to 5-6 breathes a minutes has many benefits:
  • A breathing ratio of 1:2 for inhalations:exhalations allows the heart rate to slow and more oxygen to be pumped with fewer breaths. More oxygen in the blood also means more oxygen to the heart muscles.
  •  This reduces wear and tear on all the body’s internal organs.
  • Better functioning of the autonomic nervous system allows the lungs, heart, diaphragm, abdomen, intestines, kidneys and pancreas to do their work more easily.
  • The immune system is strengthened and the body has an easier time removing toxins.
  • This slower rate also lowers blood pressure, relaxes muscle tension and quiets the nerves, making you less prone to anxiety, depression and unneeded brain chatter.
  • The body has more vitality.
  • Many of the ailments associated with aging may be avoided – such as stiffness in muscles and joint pain, rheumatism, decreased lung capacity, hardening of the arteries.  (Daljit, 2010
These ancient claims for the benefits of practicing pranayama are now being backed up by science.  See the interesting review article by Sengupta (2012) here and by The Low Histamine Chef (2012) here.