Breath Coaching to Support COVID-19 Prevention and Recovery

“Whether we like it or not, we are all either in a stage of prevention or in a stage of recovery from COVID-19.” These are words that will get you thinking – am I doing everything I can to support my own health during this time?

Prema Yoga Institute, the NYC-based school where I am studying for my 850hr I-AYT certification (now all online), has gathered an incredible faculty of doctors, nurses, psychologists, and yoga therapists to create this course, and I am so grateful and proud to be enrolled!

Over the next five weeks I’ll be learning and re-learning clinically-informed techniques that can potentially bring more oxygen into the lungs, calm the nervous system, help clients clear excess fluid from their lungs, and more. I will even have my own mentor to help guide me on my way to better breath coaching.

While not a substitute for medical care, the Breath Coach Course is intended to teach supportive wellness activities that complement traditional health care; and some of these techniques are already being instituted in COVID-19 ICU units and other hospitals in New York with success! This makes me so hopeful that as a yoga professional I can make some small difference.

In the beginning of our training manual, there is a call-to-arms for us yoga professionals that I wanted to share because it is so inspiring to me:

  • “Healthcare professionals are the first responders, and the first part of our duty as laypersons is to control the spread – following all advised precautions including mask use and social distancing.
  • As yoga professionals, we can also provide a second means of support: We can teach the breath.
  • We can support prevention with down-regulating techniques for a healthy immune system.
  • We can support our clients in managing anxiety and depression through breath techniques.
  • We can teach how to increase the concentration anti-viral gas within the respiratory tract, and how to best oxygenate the blood using breath, stretch, and restorative postures.
  • We can encourage coherence among the systems of the body, and give our clients mindfulness techniques to support their recovery should they get ill.
  • We, as yoga professionals, cannot stop this disease. We cannot treat it or cure it, but we can do our part. We are arguably the largest profession in North America that addresses the breath everyday.
  • We can do our part. We can teach the breath.” (copyright Prema Yoga Institute, LLC 2020)

I’m all in! I hope with this training I can do my part to help. I am downright so excited to be enrolled. And of course, part of my homework is to teach these techniques, so help me do my homework…come to class or set up a private session with me.

Read more: Proning to Increase Blood Oxygenation

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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

Catching Our Breath: Three Simple Conscious Breathing Exercises

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.

Learning to Breathe

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
  • Increased detoxification
  • Improved memory and focus
  • Heightened metabolism

Ready to get started learning a few simple breathing techniques?

Feeling out of balance? Try Balancing the Breath! By bringing equilibrium to your in and out-breaths, you can regulate your own nervous system.

Lots more info on: Breath.

Check out our Video Library!

Be Present: The Gift of Yoga

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Prepare for the holidays by wrapping yourself in the grace and joy of yoga. Our lighthearted yoga sequence is safe for all levels, even total beginners and kids! Combat the winter blues and stress of the holidays by meeting yourself fully on the merry mat. Light refreshments and community connection to follow. A percentage of the proceeds will be donated to ABC Strath Haven. Admission is free for ABC students, staff, and host families! Bring your own mat, some extra mats provided.

Saturday December 15th 10:00am – 11:30am Wallingford Presbyterian Church-110 E Brookhaven Rd-$30

In this special winter session, held in Fellowship Hall, we’ll:

  • Practice simple breathing techniques for taming stress and building energy.
  • Fuse breath with movement to achieve a state of balance.
  • Explore the process of staying present during a variety of reclining, seated, and standing postures. Play with the pulse of movement within yoga poses and enjoy extended transitions between poses.
  • Delve into how to navigate moments of resistance we might experience during a yoga class, and find ways to move through potential distractedness, judgment, new physical sensations, or anxiety.
  • Be encouraged to listen to our own needs by turning down the noise of the mind and accepting whatever thought or feeling is in the foreground.

After our yoga practice, feel free to stay and connect with fellow members of the community and enjoy some light refreshments and music. Class size is limited to 35.

To register, email info@teamsunwellness.com and secure your spot. When you pre-register, you’ll have the chance to enter our raffle to win a free spot in your choice of the group sessions scheduled for January! For more information on when those classes meet check out our Wellness Offerings. Two winners will be announced after class. If you have already registered for a group class and you win, you’ll be refunded.

Payment Options:
  • Pay through PayPal or credit card (button below):
  • Send a check: Ann MacMullan / 1809 S. Bancroft St. Philadelphia, PA 19145

Gift of Yoga Workshop

50% will be donated to ABC House Strath Haven

$30.00

annAbout the Instructor: Ann MacMullan Jeans, a native of Swarthmore and a Strath Haven HS alum, 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 is an excellent teacher who knows yoga. More importantly, she is attuned to the abilities of her students. She adapts the practice so that we can safely participate and gain from the experience. It is a true gift.” – Amy S.
About ABC Strath Haven: The mission of A Better Chance Strath Haven is to provide a supportive, nurturing environment for promising, motivated students of color from underserved communities to help them develop personally and academically as they prepare for college. 

Outdoor Mindfulness Meditation

  • Three Sundays  at 8:00am / August 19th, 26th, and September 9th
  • Donation-based

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

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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 info@teamsunwellness.com.

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.

 

Explore Fort Mifflin with us!

APRIL EVENT CANCELED DUE TO HEAVY RAINS

Just under ten miles outside Philadelphia’s center city lies a hidden gem:  Fort Mifflin, one of the most important battlefields of the American Revolutionary War.  In 1777, American soldiers held this vital supply point located on the Delaware River against overwhelming odds for forty-five long days. It is also a vital green space and a delightful site to wander.

On the Spring Equinox (Tuesday APRIL 17th 2018, from 6-8pm,) we will welcome spring by fusing past and present during a mindful exploration of this impressive fifty-acre National Historic Landmark. The Fort is closed to the public during our event, so we will have full, private access to this beautiful and historic location.

 

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OUR EVENT WILL INCLUDE:

MINDFUL MOVEMENT SESSION: First, we’ll explore the boundaries between our own bodies and the space around us during a mindful movement session. What is mindful movement, you ask? It’s movement that is connected with the breath, during postures that are influenced by yoga – but no yoga experience is needed! Breath-connected movement is essential for health and well-being, fusing mind and body, and can help us “listen to our bodies” with more clarity. This is beneficial for bringing awareness to our everyday routines so that we and attain better balance and posture, and manage stress more mindfully. However, all that said, we do not take ourselves too seriously and like to play and have fun!

CANDLELIGHT TOUR: Next, we’ll take a tour of one of America’s oldest established forts with one of Fort Mifflin’s knowledgable guides. From the Artillery Shed to the Water Battery and everything in between, we’ll celebrate the beginning of spring in this vital green space to better understand a battle that was not won, but fought by men who never surrendered. There is rumored to be quite a bit of paranormal activity at this site,  as well – which we experienced the first time we visited. We’ll see who shows up!

FIRE PIT MEDITATION: We’ll end with a meditation session around the fire pit: practicing different breathing techniques to calm the mind and focus inward, while integrating the movement and tour portions of our event. 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. We may even close our event with a short chant if participants are open to it.

In the event of bad (cold or wet) weather we will hold our movement and meditation sessions in the bunk room with a fireplace going. Participants need no experience in yoga or meditation.

Things to consider:

  • Bring a large towel to sit on and wear comfortable clothes. 
  • Arrive 5-10 minutes early to settle in.
  • Bring something to drink or eat if you like!
  • Sunset is at 7:13pm.
  • Address: 6400 Hog Island Road, Philadelphia, PA 19153 – free parking included.
  • It’s Brian’s birthday, so we may get to fire the cannon!

Whether you’re a history buff, a yogi who likes the outdoors, or someone just looking for other ways to explore your surroundings, we’d love to see you! Come hang out with us – breathe, move, meditate, and experience one of Philly’s hidden gems. To register, you can pay here:

 

FORT MIFFLIN MINDFUL EXPLORATION

$25.00

Or feel free to send us an email and bring cash or check to the site on the day of the event. Email: info@teamsunwellness.com

About the Instructors: We are Ann MacMullan Jeans and Brian Jeans, certified yoga instructors (RYT 200) who have also trained in mindfulness practice (Penn Medicine). We teach people of all shapes, sizes, ages and ability levels, both in group and private settings. We are dedicated to helping people establish greater awareness through breath and movement in their homes, workplaces, and communities. Learn more About Us.

Gentle Yoga – Winter Session

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!
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Tuesdays:  January 16th – February 20th – 9:30am-10:30am
Wallingford Presbyterian Church – Fellowship Hall
110 E Brookhaven Rd, Wallingford, PA 19086

3 Sessions = $30 (come to any 3 of the Tuesdays)
6 Sessions = $45 (come to all of the Tuesdays)

Payment Options:
  • Pay through PayPal or credit card (buttons below)
  • Send a check: Ann MacMullan / 1809 S. Bancroft St. Philadelphia, PA 19145

GENTLE YOGA – 3 SESSIONS – SUMMER

$30.00

 

GENTLE YOGA – 7 SESSIONS – SUMMER

$60.00

Recharge Your Workplace

“They did an excellent job as our workplace wellness instructors. Everyone loved it and was so relaxed!!!” – Roune B., Housing Alliance of Delaware

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Corporate Yoga Session – photo by Grace M. at LexisNexis Risk Solutions

Ann is fantastic! She helped our organization institute a corporate yoga program that our employees love and benefit from tremendously. All the participants adore Ann! She is terrific at helping each of us modify our practice to our own specific needs, is incredibly friendly and has been an amazing instructor. She is the main reason our onsite program has been so successful.-Grace M., LexisNexis Risk Solutions

Healthy workplaces all start with healthy workers. As adults, we spend one third of our lives at work, yet so often we barely stop working to even eat lunch. If we make time to create routines that support our physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being, we can change the health of the workplace. Healthy workers are present and feel good about themselves and their workplace roles and relationships. They are responsive, not reactive in stressful situations, and understand the importance of self care for achieving work-life balance.

Our Recharge sessions employ mindful techniques that focus on the fundamentals: improving posture, breath and balance. We’d like to help your team:

  • Manage stressful workplace situations through simple, focused breathing exercises.
  • Improve posture and balance by connecting the breath with simple yoga-based movement.
  • Enhance workplace safety and injury prevention through situational awareness.
  • Build work/life balance through mindful meditation and simple self-care routines.

Here is how we can help your team recharge through optimizing three simple tools: posture, breath and balance.

POSTURE

  • Understand why correct posture is essential to health and well-being.
  • Learn several simple exercises targeted at improving posture.
  • Build moment to moment awareness of the posture through the breath.

BREATH

  • Use the breath to manage stress, anxiety and depression.
  • Practice breathing techniques and guided breath meditations.
  • Discover how the breath can make everyday tasks both safer and easier.

BALANCE

  • Understand how the systems of balance – vestibular, vision, and proprioceptive – rely upon our posture and breath.
  • Practice basic balance exercises that can be integrated into everyday situations.
  • Explore how the theme of balance can be applied to self-care and our relationships.

What makes our workplace history unique? We established Team Sun Wellness after learning workplace self-care the hard way. Having spent years in fast-paced, high-performing corporate environments, we, like many, struggled with prolonged exposure to stress and were challenged to find that elusive work/life balance. Being so focused on our relationships with customers and colleagues, we forgot to take care of ourselves.

Over time, we both experienced what’s called in the world of teachers, “the burnout cascade.” Cumulative stress had slowly worn down our resilience to the constantly shifting demands of each day and challenged our ability to best serve those around us. More and more often, we found ourselves reacting and not responding. Eventually, we chose to leave our highly rewarding positions to take a step back and determine how to excel in our workplace roles while also taking care of ourselves. We have learned through our training in mindfulness, yoga and agile/scrum that every tool we need to succeed is and always has been right in front of us. Our mission is to share what we have learned and help teams like yours reach their true potential.

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Reach out through the form below to begin discussing your workplace wellness needs.