One of the most effective tools for managing stress is right under your nose! The breath is one of the few automatic functions we have control over; and the benefits of taming the breath are endless. A daily practice of focused deep breathing is one of the best tools for improving health and well-being and is available to us at all times. Harvard Medical School reports that focused, deep respiration can have many benefits, as listed below.
BENEFITS OF A Regular BREATHING PRACTICE:
Lower blood pressure and heart rate
Relief from stress, anxiety and depression
Improved memory and focus
Ready to get started learning a few simple breathing techniques? One of the best places to start is with our Balancing Breath Exercise. This breathing technique is for anyone who wants to reduce stress and cultivate calm focus even in the middle of the most chaotic moment. By bringing equilibrium to your in and out-breaths, you can regulate your own nervous system. Try practicing this with Ann, and then explore further on your own. We recommend doing at least one minute of Balancing Breath, but if you only have time for three breaths, it can really make a difference.
In this morning’s meditation, I weighed the concept of balance. At first it was a lot of thoughts, then it was more about the feeling of it, and then it was both. In those thirty minutes or so, I must have had a hundred thoughts come and go before I really started to pay close attention to one thing: my breath. Maybe after about ten minutes, some equilibrium was achieved between my in and out breaths. Just breathing in, breathing out, for equal lengths of time. Feeling the inside of the body, feeling the outside of the body. Noticing how after a while, there did not seem to be much difference between the two, and a certain state of wholeness was felt. I was in my mind and my body at the same time, without noticing one or the other too much.
This state of balance between mind and body, of just being, can transform everyday well-being.
As human beings with overly active minds, we love to categorize and assign value to things. We make instant internal pronouncements about everything! Personally, I notice myself closing up or getting ready for a fight when something is not to my liking, or someone is doing something that offends me. I always want a smooth ride, for my life to be happy all the time – without acknowledging pain, by resisting suffering – even though sorrow is a regular part of being alive. Just like everyone else, I place a greater value on joyful happy experiences. When I feel pain, I don’t want it! And that’s all perfectly natural.
“Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. It is both… One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together.”
How we react during uncomfortable moments is key: maybe we get angry and lash out at anyone who enters into our crosshairs, try to numb our pain or loneliness with excessive exercise or alcohol, or just run away and leave our jobs or marriages. Maybe we keep telling ourselves the same story about how unfair it is that we have to experience this type of suffering, and that the world really owes us something for having to go through this. And we continue to marinate in more suffering, except now we have created it for ourselves. By reacting, resisting, and complaining, we deny ourselves the full experience of being human and quite possibly the transformation that our pain might bring.
Being “mindful” or “in the present moment” helps us find balance throughout our day, experience more joy in little things, and facilitate a wiser navigation and acceptance of our suffering as part of our human existence.
I’m trying a new approach for myself. When I feel myself wanting to pull away or get angry, or something just really hurts, I try to give it some space by breathing. Maybe little by little, I can begin to open to the idea of accepting it so that I can move through whatever it is more gracefully. And in turn, when things go right, and I feel on top of the world, I’m trying not to get swept away by my own ego. We’ll see how it goes. For me, it all comes back to the breath. By practicing balance between the in and out breaths, practicing this non-dualistic non-judgmental approach, I start to experience a larger sense of balance. I know there’s suffering, I know there’s joy, and I also know that in a way they are the same. They are things we experience as part of being alive. So I’m brought back to balance and being alive and just being.
By just sitting and breathing, we become more aware of our own everyday well-being, which is shifting and changing with each breath.
Would you like to practice this with me? Try the Balancing Breath Exercise as a step towards transforming your own everyday well-being!
Three Sundays at 8:00am / August 19th, 26th, and September 9th
Join us for a 30-minute Mindfulness Meditation in Swarthmore town center’s peaceful ampitheater. Bring your own coffee or tea and cushion or blanket to sit on if needed. Our meditations will mostly center around the breath, with the goal of staying present. There may be a thematic reading, or we may enjoy guided meditations like body scans. All ages welcome, and no experience is needed! Leave feeling more awake and alive, more able to manage stress and whatever arises.
“Every moment is incredibly unique and fresh, and when we drop into the moment, as meditation allows us to do, we learn how to truly taste this tender and mysterious life that we share together.” –Pema Chödrön
About the Instructor: Ann MacMullan Jeans is a certified yoga instructor (RYT-200) and teaches in the Philadelphia area with her company Team Sun Wellness. Ann believes in the healing power of yoga and meditation for everyone, no matter what age, level of fitness, or life circumstance. Ann has completed the foundational 8-week program at Penn Medicine’s Penn Program for Mindfulness, and regularly practices yoga and meditation. For more information, email Ann at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ampitheatre Location: 121 Park Avenue – Swarthmore, PA 19081 / Swarthmore Town Center’s ampitheatre is right next to the library or Borough Hall, with ample metered parking and free street parking nearby.
Create balance between mind, body, and spirit by connecting the breath with slow movement during gentle reclining, seated and standing postures. Calm the mind and focus inward with guided breathing and meditation techniques. Great for increasing flexibility, improving strength and balance, and reducing stress. Bring a yoga mat and an extra large towel. Blocks and straps provided. All levels welcome!
Tuesdays: March 6th through April 24th – 9:00am-10:00am, 8 week session!
Wallingford Presbyterian Church – Fellowship Hall
110 E Brookhaven Rd, Wallingford, PA 19086
$45 for 8 sessions: Sign up through Wallingford Swarthmore Community Classes website, spaces fill up fast!
Instructor: Ann MacMullan Jeans is a certified yoga instructor (RYT-200) and believes in the healing power of yoga and meditation for everyone, no matter what age, level of fitness, or life circumstance. Ann has also completed Adaptive Yoga Teacher Training, Trauma Informed Yoga Training, and the 8-week foundational course in Mindfulness through Penn Medicine. She is insured and registered through Yoga Alliance.
A daily practice of focused deep breathing is one of the best tools for improving health and well-being and is available to us at all times. Harvard Medical School reports that focused, deep respiration can have the following benefits:
Lower blood pressure and heart rate
Relief from stress, anxiety and depression
Improved memory and focus
The relationship between breathing and our stress response is key to understanding how we can take control of our own stress levels. Here’s a little more about how it works: your breathing rate is automatically regulated by the autonomic nervous system, a system which controls many of our internal body processes – such as blood pressure, heart and breathing rates, digestion, and metabolism to name a few.
If you’re in an emergency situation, the sympathetic nerves prepare the body for fight or flight by increasing the heart and breathing rates, causing the palms to sweat and the pupils to dilate, and slowing down processes like digestion and urination. When it’s time to rest and digest, our parasympathetic nerves are hard at work slowing the heart and breathing rates, decreasing blood pressure, and processing food and eliminating wastes. However, our response to stress can heighten over time if we’re not able to rest and restore our system to a state of balance. When we are easily triggered, something as simple as the sound of the phone ringing or a distant siren can set into motion a fight or flight response, which can have serious consequences. According to the JPB Research Network on Toxic Stress at Harvard University, this stress reactivity can have serious and even life-threatening effects on our physical and mental health.
Three Breathing Exercises
Controlling our own breath can help restore the balance in our nervous systems. This allows us to both respond with the appropriate focus and energy to everyday events and to wind down when we need rest. We can even use the breath to simply check in with ourselves at any time during the day.
Energizing Breath: Try this before you reach for the caffeine.
Find a seated posture where you feel stable – comfortable yet upright.
Shoulders are back and down, chest lifted, midsection lightly engaged.
Ground down into the points of contact: feet on ground, hands resting gently on the lap, feeling completely supported by the chair.
Tune into the sensation of the breath, the sound of the breath or the feeling of the chest rising and falling.
Start your count – Inhale for five seconds – Exhale for five seconds, taking a short pause at the top and bottom of each breath.
Lengthen the spine on the inhalation, pulling the belly button up and in; drop the shoulders on the exhalation, while keeping the midsection gently engaged.
Continue until you feel a calm, quite focus to help you re-approach the day.
Relaxing Breath: Practice this to help fall asleep or to simply slow down and center.
Find a comfortable seated position or lie down onto your back, supporting the head with a blanket or pillow.
Focus your awareness on where you are making contact with the ground and release any tension or tightness with several deep exhalations.
Place one hand on the belly and notice the breath with each gentle rise and fall of the midsection.
Focus on feeling completely supported in your position and bring your attention back to the movement or sound of the breath anytime the mind starts to wander.
Checking-In Breath: Use this the next time you are waiting in line at the store.
Bring awareness to the feet, position them hip-distance apart.
Engage the muscles of the lower and upper legs, locking the knees.
Shift the hips slightly forward, while pulling the belly up and in.
Drop the arms down at the sides with the fingers lightly touching.
Inhale, growing taller and more expansive; exhale, maintain the height, while grounding down through the feet, like the roots of an oak tree.
Enjoy the opportunity to pay attention to yourself.
Basic Breathing Principles
By bringing just a little more awareness to our breath we can accomplish many everyday tasks more safely and efficiently.
Inhale when extending and reaching (for that bowl on the top kitchen shelf). Draw the breath into the upper chest, while engaging or flexing the muscles of the abdomen. The rib cage lengthens the spine and provides us greater reach.
Exhale when bending or twisting (pulling clothes out of the dryer). Release the breath like the air squeezed from an accordion. The absence of air in the lungs provides us greater space to bend/twist.
Breath through the nose whenever possible. The nasal passageways filter impurities from the air while regulating the proper amount of oxygen absorbed into the bloodstream.
Breathe into the chest to support physical activity requiring flexibility and core abdominal strength. Here, the ribs lift up and out to the sides, maximizing the volume of the thoracic cavity.
Breathe “into the belly” to promote relaxation and manage stress. During this breath, the belly pushes out while ribs are stabilized.
The simple principles and techniques introduced here hopefully encourage you to make the breath a more active partner in your everyday routines. Whether you’re stressed out, in desperate need of sleep, or simply bored in the check-out line, the breath will always be there when you need it. What most matters is that we use the breath to bring a more mindful response to our environment and move away from mindless reactivity.
Today is the day to start paying attention to the breath!