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.

Balance Workshop

Join us for a fun workshop all about balance!

  • Thursday December 12th, 10-11:15am / Wallingford Presbyterian Church / $25

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.

While it’s true that our muscles, joints, and bones change as we age, and are no longer as elastic or strong as they once were, and we may also experience more issues in the vestibular system, or may be taking medications which affect balance, it doesn’t mean our balance is only going to get worse.

I believe that if we have regular doctor’s checkups, stay active and mindful, have good posture, and continue to challenge our balance, we can maintain and even improve balance. I have seen improvements in balance firsthand with regular practice in my balance and yoga classes. Being more active seems to go hand in hand with maintaining or improving balance.

In this workshop, we’ll:

  • Evaluate our balance using a timed exercise.
  • Get mindful: create a mind-body connection by focusing on the breath to improve awareness.
  • Get in touch with our feet, the foundations of balance.
  • Learn new postural habits: good alignment means stability.
  • Stretch and strengthen muscles used for balance.
  • Learn new visual habits: lift the gaze to encourage use of peripheral vision.
  • Practice increasingly difficult balance challenges in a supportive, non-judgmental environment – such as: standing yoga balance poses, walking a balance beam, ball-handling, and other exercises that challenge our balance.
  • Explore the “edge” of our balance ability.
  • Celebrate our victories no matter how small by supporting and encouraging each other!

Participants of all ages and mobility levels welcome. Chairs will be provided, and if you have a yoga mat, please bring one. (Or borrow one from Team Sun Wellness, supplies limited) We will be placing chairs on the mats to create a non-slip surface. Class size limit 20. Pre-purchase your spot by clicking below – credit card and PayPal accepted. Or bring a check or cash to class, but email to hold your spot: info@teamsunwellness.com

About the Instructor: Ann MacMullan Jeans is a certified yoga instructor (E-RYT 200) and teaches yoga, meditation, and balance classes in the Philadelphia area with her company Team Sun Wellness.

Balance Workshop

Join us for a fun workshop all about balance!

  • Saturday September 7th, 10-11:15am
  • Swarthmore United Methodist Church
  • Donation-based: pay what you can

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.

 While it’s true that our muscles, joints, and bones change as we age, and are no longer as elastic or strong as they once were, and we may also experience more issues in the vestibular system, or may be taking medications which affect balance, it doesn’t mean we have to blindly believe that our balance is only going to get worse.

I believe that if we have regular doctor’s checkups, stay active and mindful, have good posture, and continue to challenge our balance, we can maintain and even improve balance. I have seen improvements in balance firsthand with regular practice in my balance and yoga classes. Being more active seems to go hand in hand with maintaining or improving balance.

In this workshop, we’ll:

  • Evaluate our balance using a timed exercise.
  • Get mindful: create a mind-body connection by focusing on the breath to improve awareness.
  • Get in touch with our feet, the foundations of balance.
  • Learn new postural habits: good alignment means stability.
  • Stretch and strengthen muscles used for balance.
  • Learn new visual habits: lift the gaze to encourage use of peripheral vision.
  • Practice increasingly difficult balance challenges in a supportive, non-judgmental environment – such as: standing yoga balance poses, walking a balance beam, ball-handling, and other exercises that challenge our balance.
  • Explore the “edge” of our balance ability.
  • Celebrate our victories no matter how small by supporting and encouraging each other!

Participants of all ages and mobility levels welcome. Chairs will be provided, and if you have a yoga mat, please bring one. (Or borrow one from Team Sun Wellness, supplies limited) We will be placing chairs on the mats to create a non-slip surface. Class size limit 20. This is a donation-based offering, so please feel free to pay what you can. Suggested donation is $20, but if you have limited funds, don’t let that stop you from attending for free.

EMAIL OR CALL TO HOLD YOUR SPOT!

info@teamsunwellness.com / 917.837.2014

About the Instructor: Ann MacMullan Jeans is a certified yoga instructor (EYT-200) and teaches yoga, meditation, and balance classes in the Philadelphia area with her company Team Sun Wellness.

Joyful Yoga – All Levels Yoga for Everyday Well-Being

When: 10 Thursdays from 10:00-11:00am from September 19th – November 21st / Last Class 12/5

During this group mat yoga class, we’ll find joyful freedom within our bodies while exploring a variety of reclining, seated and standing postures, with the breath at the foreground of our experience. These gentle hour-long sessions are accessible for all levels, and blocks and straps are provided to help deepen and achieve poses. Reconnect with your natural flexibility, innate strength and core balance – to bring your yoga practice off the mat into everyday well-being!

Where: Wallingford Presbyterian Church 110 E. Brookhaven Road
Wallingford, PA 19086 Free Parking on the premises

Payment Options: credit card, check, cash, PayPal, venmo (@Ann-MacMullan)

“How are we going to spend this brief lifetime?…Could we start to train as a warrior, aspiring to reconnect with the natural flexibility of our being and help others do the same? If we start to move in this direction, limitless possibilities begin to open up.”

-Pema Chodron

Balance 101 Workshop

Saturday May 11th: Join us for a fun workshop all about balance! Explore new ways to assess and improve your balance. 9:30-11am / Wallingford Presbyterian Church.

Learn how our vision, inner ear, and the strength of muscles and joints all work together to help us balance. Improve your sense of balance through fun exercises while creating good balance habits that can be incorporated into everyday situations. In this workshop, we’ll:

  • Evaluate our balance using a timed exercise.
  • Get mindful: create a mind-body connection by focusing on the breath to improve awareness.
  • Get in touch with our feet, the foundations of balance.
  • Learn new postural habits: good alignment means stability.
  • Stretch and strengthen muscles used for balance.
  • Learn new visual habits: lift the gaze to encourage use of peripheral vision.
  • Practice increasingly difficult balance challenges in a supportive, non-judgmental environment – such as: standing yoga balance poses, walking a balance beam, ball-handling, and other exercises that challenge our balance.
  • Explore the “edge” of our balance ability.
  • Celebrate our victories no matter how small by supporting and encouraging each other!

Participants of all ages and mobility levels welcome. Chairs will be provided, and if you have a yoga mat, please bring one. (Or borrow one from Team Sun Wellness, supplies limited) We will be placing chairs on the mats to create a non-slip surface. Class size limit 30.

About the Instructor: Ann MacMullan Jeans is a certified yoga instructor (EYT-200) and teaches yoga, meditation, and balance classes in the Philadelphia area with her company Team Sun Wellness.

Balance 101 Workshop

Saturday May 11th 9:30-11:00am / Wallingford Presbyterian Church

$25.00

Mindfulness Meditation Workshop

Saturday May 4th: Drop into the freshness of the present moment! Learn a variety of meditation tools to relieve stress and find calm in your everyday routine. 9:30-10:30am / Wallingford Presbyterian Church

“Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already.”

Pema Chödrön

At the heart of mindfulness is the call to become more present in each moment. In our mindfulness workshop, we’ll utilize techniques learned through Penn Medicine’s Penn Program for Mindfulness, as well as teachings from Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön. We’ll become more aware of breath, body, and patterns of thought through a variety of meditation exercises. Our goal is to fully experience each moment as it happens, and find peace and relaxation right in the middle of the most chaotic moment – so that we may better navigate the joys and challenges of being human on a daily basis.

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Bring your own coffee or tea and cushion or blanket to sit on if needed. Chairs will also be provided. All ages welcome, and no experience is needed! Leave feeling more awake and alive, more able to manage stress and whatever arises.

About the Instructor: Ann MacMullan Jeans is a certified yoga instructor (EYT-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.

Mindfulness Meditation Workshop

Saturday May 4th 9:30-10:30am Wallingford Presbyterian Church / Fellowship hall

$15.00

Thoughts on Finding Balance

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.”

-Pema Chodron

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!