Belly Breathing

Belly breathing – Learning to use the belly

  • Sit or lie flat with with one hand on your belly right under your ribs and the other on your chest.
  • From this position, take one deep breath through your nose while letting your belly nudge your hand outward. Ensure your chest isn’t moving as this happens.
  • Next, with pursed lips, breathe out like you’re whistling.
  • As you feel the hand you’ve placed on your belly go in, use it to push out all the air.
  • Repeat this several more times.

Why Belly Breathing?

  • The lower half of your lungs is the thickest and most closely compacted, which means more oxygen can enter the bloodstream. 
  • Consciously breathing into the lower half of your lungs by engaging the diaphragm, literally allows you to ‘breath more life into’… you. 
  • Oxygenated blood travels to the heart, where it’s pumped to the rest of the body via blood vessels that move into surrounding tissues. 
  • Ultimately, oxygen reaches every cell that makes up the body.
  • If your upper chest is moving when you breathe then you’re not using the lower part of your lungs, which means you’re not breathing optimally.
  • Chest breathing engages only the top part of your lungs, and remember that the lower half of your lungs is the most oxygen-rich.
  • If you’re breathing with your chest and not your diaphragm/ belly you’ll likely overuse your neck and shoulder muscles, which are not meant to be breathing muscles.
Learn Belly Breathing, stretch and strengthen to aid respiratory health! – Live at 11am

What are the benefits of belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing?

Diaphragmatic breathing has proven to: 

  1. Improve respiratory function, by relaxing tight chest muscles and by increasing lung capacity. Research suggests that diaphragmatic breathing can be especially helpful to those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
  2. Lower heart rate and blood pressure, and is even recognized by the FDA in the treatment and regulation of hypertension. It also improves circulatory system function by maximizing the delivery of oxygen to the bloodstream and to each of the trillions of cells in your body.   
  3. Maintain blood pH levels (the scale of alkalinity to acidity.) Blood acidity is neutralized with the release of carbon dioxide from the lungs. Deep, slow breathing helps the brain and lungs continuously optimize pH levels.
  4. Engage your diaphragm internally which in turn massages your abdominal organs and glands, stimulating them and promoting their healthy and optimal function.
  5. Boost the immune system because as the diaphragm massages the internal organs and glands it helps move lymph (fluid containing the immune system’s white blood cells) throughout the body to their targeted locations.
  6. Detoxify the body. Controlled breathing stimulates lymphatic movement. One of the key functions of your lymphatic system is to flush toxins out of your body. Your lungs are also a major excretory organ. With every maximized exhale, you expel waste, toxins, and excess carbon dioxide from your system.
  7. Maintain healthy digestive function and help ease upset tummies. The same diaphragmatic massaging motion that helps flush toxins also helps stimulate blood flow of your intestinal tract, ensuring your gut muscles keep on moving as they’re intended to.
    • Breathing deeply can help prevent acid reflux, bloating, hiatal hernia, and intestinal spasms.
    • Deep breathing also helps quell the stress response, which compromises digestion. It’s worthy to note here that multiple studies and research confirm a high correlation between digestive/ gastrointestinal issues (i.e.: IBS) and mental health imbalances such as anxiety and depression.
  8. Increase theta brain waves. Theta brainwaves are associated with the state of deep relaxation and dreaming sleep, as well as increased creativity, super-learning, integrative experiences, and increased memory.
  9. Be an effective relaxation technique. This is because your breath acts as a switching station for your nervous system, specifically between the two branches of your autonomic nervous system: the sympathetic nervous system (stress response), and the parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation response.) Deep, slow breathing relieves stress and relaxes you, and also engages your sympathetic in ways that work for you, not against you. In this way, deep breathing helps send your body signals of safety so that you can enter into a higher state of functioning – one that is healing, regenerating, and conducive to sustained fulfillment and thriving.
  10. Be an effective option for treating emotional and mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety, and depression.

Source: Benefits of Deep Breathing, A Step by Step Guide to Diaphragmatic Breathing

Yoga for Healthy Aging

Swarthmore Public Library – February 5th 2-3pm – FREE – Join us for a combined lecture and movement session, safe for all bodies. REGISTER HERE.

Age is not a disease. It’s a state to which we aspire. Yet slow-moving age-related changes such as loss of muscle mass, kyphotic posture, and lack of flexibility can leave us feeling frail, off balance, and unable to live as independently.

photo by Ben Zuckerman

Often the very thing that many of these age-related changes react positively to is activity – and the RIGHT activity. And when we make lifestyle changes to counteract the effects of aging, it helps us find a sense of control over what may seem like an overwhelming decline. Yoga is one such activity, found to counteract many age-related changes that reduce your health span.

Whether you’re looking to strengthen bones + muscles or improve flexibility and balance, there is a safe yoga practice for every level of fitness and mobility. While we may not have control over certain aspects of the aging process, we do have control over our lifestyle and activity levels. Beyond the physical postures, the mind/body connection created during yoga helps foster awareness and acceptance towards our aging bodies so we can practice safely and with compassion towards ourselves. 

Ann and her grandmother, Ellie

About the instructor: Ann Grace MacMullan, E-RYT 200, has been teaching yoga to older bodies for almost 5 years. Her oldest student was her grandmother – at age 98, she was one of the most active participants of her chair yoga class! She now teaches a range of ages and mobility levels in her Gentle Yoga, Chair Yoga, and Balance classes in the Wallingford-Swarthmore community.

Foundations

Posture, breath, and balance are fundamental to wellness, yet few of us are actively incorporating them into our everyday lives. For example, how are you sitting or standing right now? Have you noticed taking a breath recently? Are you actively using your core muscles to stay upright and balanced? Bring greater awareness to these synergistic fundamentals and become less stressed, safer from injury and more self-aware in your environment. Indeed, physical, mental and emotional health all start with the Big Three.

POSTURE_3

Posture affects breathing, lung capacity, and overall energy levels. Learn More

BREATH4

Focused breath exercises can help reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Learn More

BALANCE2

Balance can be improved through exercise and awareness of everyday routines. Learn More

 We offer customized Wellness Sessions for groups of all sizes to help bring greater everyday awareness to the posture, breath and balance.

September is Seniors Month!

We are offering special deals for seniors this month. Stay active, challenge your balance, and meet like-minded members of your community! At Team Sun Wellness, we teach many adults over the age of 65. Avoid injury, manage stress, and get more joy out of life by exploring some of our wellness offerings!

Aging gracefully: Our health and the rate at which we age entirely depends on our choices. We can actually reverse or slow down the pace at which we age by practicing yoga and meditation! We have seen improvements in balance firsthand with regular practice in our balance and yoga classes. Being more active seems to go hand in hand with maintaining or improving balance.

CHAIR YOGA – YOUR FIRST CLASS IS FREE!

According to a 2016 study conducted by Yoga in America, 17 percent of current yoga practitioners are in their 50s, and 21 percent are age 60 and older!

TUESDAYS AT 11AM: All ages and mobility levels are welcome. Learn breathing techniques, easy stretches, and specific yoga poses adapted for the chair. Props like blocks and straps are used to help support, achieve, or deepen a pose. Improve your balance with standing poses that use the chair for support, if it’s in your practice. Come refine your posture, improve balance, strength and flexibility – in a supportive and relaxing community environment. First class is free for seniors! For more info: Chair Yoga. Swarthmore United Methodist Church.

BALANCE WORKSHOP – DONATION-BASED

SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 7th, 10-11:15AM: There’s a real “use it or lose it” component to maintaining your balance. Whether you’re looking to prevent balance issues or to reverse them, you need to challenge your balance on a regular basis. In our class we’ll be learning safe, effective exercises that can improve your balance, flexibility, and strength. With practice, almost anyone can achieve better balance. Participants of all ages and mobility levels welcome. Donation-based, pay what you can. For more info: Balance Workshop. Swarthmore United Methodist Church.

You can do Tree pose with a Chair!

More links for active seniors:

Stay tuned for Free Mindfulness Meditation in October in Swarthmore Town Center! Wednesday October 3rd, 6pm.

Yoga for Stronger Bones

Yoga practiced on a regular basis could help strengthen your bones! Certain poses including Warrior II, Triangle, and Tree are considered weight-bearing exercise, often recommended along with a healthy diet for optimal bone health.

“Yoga puts more pressure on bone than gravity does. By opposing one group of muscles against another, it stimulates osteocytes, the bone-making cells.”

-Dr. Loren Fishman, author of study Twelve-Minute Daily Yoga Regimen Reverses Osteoporotic Bone Loss”

Recently, I’ve had several students approach me after yoga class to talk about their bones. “I just got the results from my most recent DEXA scan, and there’s been an improvement in my bone mineral density score in my spine!” says one 73-year old student who started practicing yoga consistently about two years ago in my classes. Another student, who just turned 70, reported a similar result on her latest scan. Both were kind enough to share their results with me, pictured below.

The DEXA or DXA scan is today’s established standard for measuring bone mineral density, and helps to estimate the density of your bones and your chance of breaking a bone. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, “a bone density test is the only test that can diagnose osteoporosis before a broken bone occurs.” If you’ve got osteopenia or osteoporosis, it’s reflected in the numbers.

In fact, more than 200 million people suffer from osteoporosis. Worldwide, 1 in 3 women over the age of 50 and 1 in 5 men will experience osteoporotic fractures in their lifetime.

We reach peak bone density by our late twenties, and then it’s maintained by a continuous process called remodeling, in which old bone is removed and new bone is created. The renewal of bone is responsible for bone strength throughout life. Certain factors like age, genetics, lack of exercise and poor diet can slow down bone renewal, and then our bones might thin to such a degree that we develop osteopenia or osteoporosis. Happily, there are lifestyle changes you can make to maintain and build bone density.

Bridge Pose (Setu bandhasana) stretches the spine

Of course we’d love to attribute the slight improvement in our yoga students’ bone mineral density scores to the practice of yoga. The only real change they’ve made has been adding a regular yoga practice, and neither of them are on medication. So just how effective is a regular yoga practice for building stronger bones?

According to one study, “there is qualitative evidence suggesting improved bone quality as a result of the practice of yoga.”

The study is pretty much the only one of its kind, and its revelations are being touted in Harvard Health and The New York Times. Researchers prescribed 12 yoga postures held for 30 seconds each, practiced on a daily basis by 221 participants. They measured bone density at the beginning and end of the study, and concluded that yoga “actually builds bone significantly in the spine and the femur, the two most frequent sites of fracture.” You can find out more on Dr. Fishman’s site, Sciatica.org.

The 12 yoga poses included in the study:

Image from Dr. Fishman’s Study
  1. Tree (Vrksasana)
  2. Triangle (Uttitha Trikonasana)
  3. Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II
  4. Extended Side Angle (Parsvakonasana)
  5. Reverse Triangle (Parivrtta Trikonasana)
  6. Locust (Salabhasana)
  7. Bridge (Setu Bandhasana)
  8. Supine hand-to-foot I (Supta Padangusthasana I)
  9. Supine hand-to-foot II (Supta Padangusthasana II)
  10. Straight-legged twist (Marichyasana II)
  11. Bent-knee twist (Matsyendrasana)
  12. Corpse (Savasana)

We do most of these poses in our classes on a very regular basis, as they were covered extensively in our 250-hour teacher training certification. It’s been eye-opening to learn that not all yoga poses are good for someone with bone loss issues, and could actually increase risk for a vertebral fracture – as in poses with extreme spinal flexion (as in, forward folds.) Yoga should be practiced under the guidance of an experienced teacher who provides safe alternatives to classic poses, with an emphasis on proper alignment.

A gentle modification of Extended Side Angle (Parsvakonasana)

I’m so excited for my students who have committed to a regular practice and seen some heartening benefits show up in the very fabric of their bones! They continue to do the work, and it’s wonderful to witness firsthand what could be part of a relatively low cost and low risk answer to maintaining strong healthy bones and avoiding broken ones. Yoga also comes with some pretty great “side effects,” such as better balance, improved posture and strength, and reduced levels of anxiety. Hope to see you and your beautiful bones on the mat soon!

For best bone health, Harvard Health recommends:

  • eating foods rich in calcium, such as low fat dairy products, sardines, salmon, green leafy vegetables and calcium-fortified foods and beverages.
  • getting more vitamin D from the sun or a supplement
  • doing weight-bearing exercise every day
  • not smoking
  • not drinking too much alcohol

Note: if you are under 30, building bone so that your peak bone density score is as good as it can be could help you tremendously later in life! All of the above recommendations apply to those who are still building bone density.

Resources:

Special May Workshops!

We’re bringing you some special offerings in May and hope to see you come out for something a little different! All workshops meet on Saturdays at Wallingford Presbyterian Church, Fellowship Hall. Click on photos for more.

Posture

We can all recall as kids being asked to stand or sit up straight. Correct posture is essential to health and well-being. Why? Because posture affects breathing, lung capacity, and overall energy levels. Slumping or slouching compresses the lungs and decreases the volume of the breath. This limits oxygen inflow, vital to maintaining peak energy levels and proper functioning of muscles, nerves and all major systems of the body.  Hours in front of a TV or staring at a smart phone can weaken the core muscles of the back and abdomen while tightening those of the hips, chest, shoulders and neck.  We can reverse the influences of our modern lifestyle by paying attention to posture.

First, take stock of how you sit.

posture_seated-e1508615007123.jpg

Proper Seated Posture

  • Feet planted flat on the floor or footrest
  • Avoid crossing the legs
  • Ankles directly below the knees
  • Knees level with the hips
  • Knees, hips and shoulders level
  • Forearms parallel to ground
  • Midsection engaged and pulled in
  • Breath directed into upper chest

Next, notice how you stand.

Posture_Standing_x

 Proper Standing Posture
  • Body weight even on both feet Feet hip-distance apart
    Feet and knees pointed straight ahead
  • Hips even, stomach tucked in
  • Back straight without rounding or arching
  • Shoulders even, pulled back and down
  • Chin level with the ground

Reversing Bad Posture

Noticing your posture throughout the day is a great place to start. A few simple exercises can help us begin to reverse the effects of our bad posture habits. One of our favorites is the Seated Spinal Stretch. We love doing this throughout the day when we’ve been behind a desk for a while or as a way to transition from one activity to another, like getting out of bed in the morning. This simple but effective spinal stretch can also be performed on the hands and knees where it is referred to in yoga as the Cat-Cow Pose.

Seated Spinal Stretch

  • Place your hands on your knees. Inhale, pulling the shoulders up, back and down, expanding chest – arching the back.
  • Exhale, straighten the arms, tucking stomach towards the spine, and press down into knees – rounding the back.

Building Everyday Postural Awareness

  • Take frequent breaks to stand and walk if seated for extended periods
  • Plant feet firmly on the floor anytime while seated
  • Keep shoulders back and chin level whenever using a smart phone
  • Switch a handbag between shoulders throughout the day

Posture is critical to balance: when the bones and joints are in correct alignment, less strain is placed on the back. This makes any activity safer and easier, from walking to the corner store to carrying groceries up the stairs. There are very few daily activities that do not depend on proper posture, solid balance and effective breathing. According to Harvard Health Publications, greater attention to everyday habits can visibly improve posture within weeks!

It’s never too late to improve your posture!