Schedule for the week of April 6th: 7 days a week, every day at 11:00am!
BREATHING 101 WITH BRIANWe’ll explore and practice several mindfulness and focused breathing exercises that researchers suggest can enhance our physical mental and emotional health.
CHAIR YOGA WITH ANNPull up a chair to practice self-care! All ages and mobility levels are welcome. Learn breathing techniques, easy stretches, and specific yoga poses adapted for the chair.
KIDS YOGA WITH TEAM SUN WELLNESSJoin us to move, breathe, and stretch while having fun and learning yoga poses and breathing exercises. Kids of all ages welcome.
GENTLE YOGA WITH ANNRoll out your mat to stretch and strengthen. Explore the equilibrium between effort and ease during an accessible sequence designed to connect mind, body, and spirit.
CHAIR YOGA WITH BRIANPull up a chair to practice self-care! All ages and mobility levels are welcome. Learn breathing techniques, easy stretches, and specific yoga poses adapted for the chair.
HATHA YOGA WITH ANNLearn basic yoga asanas to improve strength, balance and flexibility while focusing on the thread of the breath that “yokes” the mind and body together.
MENS YOGA WITH BRIANDesigned for men of all ability levels to build strength and flexibility in an informal setting, this class will focus on the core muscles of the back, abdomen, and hips while exploring how to optimize alignment and manage stress throughout the day.
If you miss the class time, you’ll be able to access the recording after the class is completed. LEARN HOW YOU CAN DONATE
ABOUT THE INSTRUCTORS: Ann and Brian are certified yoga instructors who have been teaching yoga and meditation to all ages throughout the Philadelphia area for five years. Lucy their dog is the team’s meditation coach and mascot.
BREATHING 101 with Brian: Reduce your stress while building resilience to better adapt to all the changes and disruptions to our normal routines in the coming weeks and months. We’ll explore and practice several mindfulness and focused breathing exercises that researchers suggest can enhance our physical mental and emotional health. All you need is a comfy place to sit.
CHAIR YOGA with Ann or Brian: Pull up a chair to practice self-care! All ages and mobility levels are welcome. Learn breathing techniques, easy stretches, and specific yoga poses adapted for the chair. Improve your balance with standing poses that use the chair for support, if it’s in your practice. Yoga block and strap recommended, but make do with what you have.
GENTLE FLOW YOGA with Ann: Roll out your mat to stretch and strengthen. Explore the equilibrium between effort and ease during this accessible sequence designed to connect mind, body, and spirit. We’ll unleash joyful freedom during rhythmic movements linked with the breath…and find steady poise through stable alignment in classic poses. Yoga mat, 2 blocks and strap recommended, but make do. A pillow and blanket for our final relaxation pose might also be nice!
MENS YOGA with Brian: The teaching philosophy for this class is simple: helping us men of all shapes, sizes and ability levels continue doing the things we love doing…by 1) managing past injuries, 2) preventing new ones and 3) building mobility and strength where we need it most. We’ll focus on the usual suspects in the aches and pains department, specifically the hips, back and shoulders; and concentrate on building core strength to stay safe in our daily activities.
HATHA YOGA with Ann: Learn basic yoga asanas to improve strength, balance and flexibility while focusing on the thread of the breath that “yokes” the mind and body together. Yoga mat, blocks and strap recommended, but make do. A pillow and blanket for our final relaxation pose might also be nice!
KIDS YOGA with TEAM SUN WELLNESS: Join us to move, breathe, and stretch while having fun and learning yoga poses and breathing exercises. Kids of all ages welcome.
Don’t talk unless you can improve the silence. Jorge Luis Borges
I have practiced hot yoga on the same mat in the same studio for nearly ten years. It’s a little frayed around its edges and is starting to lose some of its no-slip grip. I should have replaced it six months ago but I have to admit I am attached to this mat. We have been through a lot together. Attachments like these seem innocent enough, but there’s something else going on here and I feel I am finally getting to the bottom of it. Every time I roll out this mat and look down on its signs of wear, I tell myself a little story. It’s a story that celebrates my hard work and dedication to my practice through the years. It feels good to keep repeating this story, which is why the mat keeps living to see another day. The problem is this story has very little to do with my yoga and a lot to do with keeping my ego happy. Without diving too far into the weeds, approval has always been important for me, even when I generate it on my own. This deeper stuff is great to shine some light upon, but will have to wait until a future post for closer examination. What is important here is my attachment and its happy little story 1) take my focus off what I am actually doing on the mat and 2) obscure the fact that I’d be safer on a new one.
When we loosen our hold on something or someone, we stop feeding the stories they inspire and bring greater awareness to whatever we’re doing in the present.
This is how our attachments work…under the radar, but still in plain sight. The new car, the coveted job title, the approval of those close to us (…or not so close). Our attachments play starring roles in all our favorite stories. Of course, the attachments themselves are not the problem…it’s how we cling to them and spin our stories around them that can get us into trouble. After all, I should have replaced my mat six months ago…I have just been getting in my own way. In many Yoga and Buddhist traditions, attachment is viewed as a major source of suffering in our lives. Non-attachment or non-possessiveness (aparigraha) is considered so important, it is held up as one of the five yamas, or ethical principles of yoga that help guide us through our daily interactions and activities. The logic here is straightforward: when we loosen our hold on something or someone, we stop feeding the stories they inspire and bring greater awareness to whatever we’re doing in the present.
And this is where our breath comes in. We hold on to our breath just like anything else we are afraid of losing. When we let go of our breath, we reset our nervous system and loosen the hold of even our strongest attachments and most compelling stories. The Foundation Breathing exercise presented below focuses on the exhalation and that sublime stillness before we take our next breath. Approach it with an open mind. With some practice you will likely find it, as I have, to be a powerful addition to your self-care toolkit.
Foundation Breath Basics
Our attachments (people-possessions-beliefs-expectations) can be a major source of pain and suffering
The Foundation Breath can pull us from repeating story loops and loosen the hold of our attachments
Research suggests that diaphragmatic (belly) breathing moderates clinging and controlling behavior by increasing our attention, improving our mood and reducing our stress levels (see references below).
Breathe in through the nose – Release the breath through the mouth – Pause – Repeat
Start with a 2-3 sec. inhalation-exhalation and 1 sec. pause and move up from there.
Breathing in through the nose conditions the air for absorption in the lungs.
Breathing out through the mouth (vocalization optional) focuses attention on the exhalation.
Slow down persistent worry over pending medical test results or financial strains.
Lessen chronic stress due to workload, a challenging boss or an upcoming performance review.
Let go of the expectations related to your balance in tree pose or your strength in triangle. As one of my teachers puts it: “One percent of the pose done correctly provides 100% benefit.”
Hafenbrack, A. 2017. Mindfulness Meditation as an On-The-Spot Workplace Intervention. Journal of Business Research. 75, 118-129.
Ma, X., Yue, Z., Gong, Z, Zhang, H., Duan, N., Shi, Y. Wei, G. & Li, Y. (2017). The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Frontiers in Psychology, 8(72): 1-12.
Schmalzl, L., Powers, C., and Henje Blom, E. (2015). Neurophysiological and neurocognitive mechanisms underlying the effects of yoga-based practices: towards a comprehensive theoretical framework. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 9:235.
Sullivan, M., Erb, M., Schmalzl, L., Moonz, S., Taylor, J. & Porges, S., 2018. Yoga Therapy and Polyvagal Theory: The Convergence of Traditional Wisdom and Contemporary Neuroscience for Self-Regulation and Resilience. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience,12(67), 1-15.
Each of our breaths is an open window into the present moment.
Most of us tend to think of our breathing as an unconscious, involuntary process. But it is also one of the few automatic systems in our body that we can control. Research shows that when we pay attention to our breath, good things happen. Conscious breathing can help us reduce stress, increase attention and improve our mood (Heckenberg et al., 2018; Tang et al. 2015). It should come as no surprise that yoga, mindfulness and many mind-body exercises are built upon breath awareness. Our breath is always there for us, 24,000 times a day. Each one of these breaths is an open window to the present moment, where we can check in on ourselves and practice a measure of well-deserved self-care. After all, we need to take care of ourselves just like we take care of our family, friends and co-workers.
The three exercises here can help you get started with everyday conscious breathing. Take a few moments after watching each video to become more comfortable with the breathing techniques. We hope that over time you will increasingly find the windows in your normal (and not so normal…) day, to catch your breath and feel calm focus in the present moment.
Building Breath Awareness
Before we expect any magical transformations from our breath, we have to first acknowledge it. Like anything else worth doing, conscious breathing takes practice.
Everyday Breath Awareness – Take a few moments to identify a few different qualities of your breath. They can be related to sound, movement, posture or any other quality of your inhalation or exhalation. Set a challenge for yourself to notice your breathing at five different moments during the day. It could be right after opening your eyes in the morning or before drifting off at night. A few breaths can break the tedium when you’re waiting in line and help to reset your posture when you’re sitting behind a desk all day.
Challenge yourself to notice your breath five times throughout the day.
Balancing the Breath
Now that you have learned how to pay closer attention to your breath, let’s explore how we can control the breath to help us manage our most challenging situations. Our breath is closely linked to balance in our autonomic nervous system (ANS). The inhalation is associated with the sympathetic, or action-oriented, side, while the exhalation is closely connected to the parasympathetic, or recovery side. Research has shown that breathing with inhalations and exhalations of equal duration (also called resonant or coherent breathing) can support a calm focused mindset (Streeter et al., 2017).
Building Resilience – Practice balancing your breath as you prepare for challenging situations that demand steady nerves and close attention. Over time, this exercise can help you to build resilience and bring your A-Game when you most need it!
Letting Go of the Breath
Now that you feel a little more at ease tuning into the breath and controlling it to build calm focus, you can try using the breath to relieve stress and find greater contentment. Deep breaths into the belly and their complete release send powerful messages to the brain’s alarm centers that everything is OK and there is no need for “fight or flight”. This means our bodies aren’t flooded with stress hormones including cortisol and norepinephrine that keep the cardio gas pedal pressed down and compromise our physical and cognitive functioning over time. Deep breaths in and out help us release muscular tension and quiet our most persistent worries anchored in the past or future.
Stress-Relieving Breath Tips
Start this exercise breathing in and out through the nose. The nasal passageways clean and warm the incoming air, while also controlling with more precision the volume of the breath. Imagine sipping through a straw rather than taking a big gulp.
Allow your belly to gently expand as you inhale and freely release as you exhale. This movement in the abdomen stimulates the vagus nerve and activates the parasympathetic nervous system (rest-and-digest). This gives your sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight) a well-deserved break.
After you feel comfortable breathing in and out through the nose, try exhaling through the mouth and prolong the exhalation to deepen the relaxation response.
Produce an audible sigh, “aaahhhhhh…”, during the exhalation to enhance your awareness of the breath and its stress-reducing benefits.
The breath is our lifetime companion and always there when we need to hit the pause button, reflect for a moment and then proceed. We hope you are able use these conscious breathing exercises to take better care of yourself and those around you. Feel free to share with us any insights you have on your breathing journey moving forward!
Our breath is always there for us, 24,000 times a day.
References Hafenbrack, A. 2017. Mindfulness Meditation as an On-The-Spot Workplace Intervention. Journal of Business Research. 75, 118-129.
Heckenberg, R., Eddy, P., Kent, S. & Wright, B. (2018) Do workplace-based mindfulness meditation programs improve physiological indices of stress? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 114, 62-71.
Streeter, C. C., P. L. Gerbarg, T. H. Whitfield, L. Owen, J. Johnston, M. M. Silveri, M. Gensler, et al. 2017. “Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder with Iyengar Yoga and Coherent Breathing: A Randomized Controlled Dosing Study.” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 23 (3): 201-207.
Tang, Y., Holzel, B. & Posner, M. (2015). The Neuroscience of Mindfulness Meditation, Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 16 (April 2015) 213-225.
Seated Meditation and Mindful Movement for All Levels
Wednesday October 2nd 6:00-7:00pm / Swarthmore Town Center / Fresh Air Fitness in Central Park ampitheater – Donation based
We invite you to “put on your own oxygen mask first!”
With the breath as the key to our self-care toolkit, we’ll be exploring simple tools to manage stress, become more present, and foster self-acceptance.
These include seated breath awareness and breath control exercises, breath-connected movement exercises, and a guided mindfulness meditation to finish it off.
Practicing these tools helps develop a mindset that encourages self-care. No experience in meditation or yoga needed. Bring a cushion to sit on, a blanket for your lap if we’re outside, and an open mind. All ages and levels of experience welcome.
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?
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!