Breath

Relaxed senior woman doing some breathing exercises

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
  • Increased detoxification
  • Improved memory and focus
  • Heightened metabolism

 

Stress Response

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.

para_sympathetic

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!

Yoga for Every Body

find_your_own_yoga

If you can breathe, you can practice yoga! No matter your age, level of mobility or fitness, there is a yoga practice for you. Yoga is generally low-impact and safe when practiced appropriately under the guidance of a well-trained instructor.

“Whether you’re a couch potato or a professional athlete, size and fitness levels do not matter because there are modifications for every yoga pose and beginner classes in every style,” Dr. Natalie Nevins, D.O., on behalf of the American Osteopathic Association.

We truly believe yoga is for everyone, that’s why we offer mat and chair sessions for all levels. We are passionate about bringing the principles of yoga – physical postures, meditation, and breathing – to atypical populations, outside of the classic yoga studio space, and offer our classes in community, corporate, and private settings where participants can feel supported while safely finding their own practice. Feel free to explore our Class Calendar for more details on when and where.

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! This is not just a self-aggrandizing claim from some yoga teacher, this is from an evidence-based study, the first study to demonstrate improvement in both cardinal and metabotrophic biomarkers of cellular aging and longevity in apparently healthy population after Yoga and Meditation based lifestyle intervention.

  • Physical benefits: reduces heart rate, blood pressure, blood glucose, oxidative damage, fatigue, weakness, fear of fall. Improves heart rate variability, baroreflex sensitivity, insulin sensitivity, physical functions, mobility, flexibility, and urinary incontinence.
  • Mental benefits: reduces depression, anxiety.
  • Emotional benefits: reduces anger, stress, tension and improve self-efficacy
  • Social: improves life satisfaction
  • See: Yoga for Stronger Bones
Gentle Yoga at Wallingford Presbyterian Church

Gentle Yoga: Our largest class, you’ll find an age range from twenties and thirties all the way into the eighties! The sessions are accessible for all levels, and blocks and straps are provided to help deepen and achieve poses. “Gentle” refers to an attitude of taking exquisite care of ourselves in each moment throughout the class. We explore a variety of reclining, seated and standing postures (asana) and the transitions between those poses, adapted to your level. In addition, we’ll learn more about the limbs of yoga beyond asana or the physical postures, such as meditation (dhyana) and breath-work (pranayama.) See Classes for more info.

Yoga for Men with Brian: This class is specifically designed for men of all shapes, sizes and ability levels to build strength and flexibility in a comfortable informal setting. Men tend to have greater muscle mass and less range of movement and may be intimidated by a traditional yoga studio environment. We’ll work on how to build our core muscles to manage old injuries and prevent new ones, expand the range of movement in our shoulders, backs and hips, use the breath to improve posture and balance, and learn simple techniques for managing stress and developing work/life balance. See Classes for more info.

Students after Hatha Yoga

Hatha Yoga: Unwind with this gentle but challenging ancient form of exercise. Learn basic yoga asanas or postures to improve strength, balance, and flexibility while focusing on the thread of the breath that “yokes” the mind and body together. Whatever your age or level of fitness, you’re welcome to join this accessible yoga class with a real group spirit. Come practice with strangers and leave as friends! See Classes for more info.

Chair Yoga Student in her Warrior Two Pose

Chair Yoga: Pull up a chair! 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. We underline the importance of focusing on the breath, as breath-connected movement is essential for health and well-being, fusing mind and body. Come refine your posture, improve balance, strength and flexibility – in a supportive and relaxing community environment. It’s called a “practice” because there is no “perfect” in yoga. See Classes for more info.

Chair Yoga at Assisted Living Facilities: We have been doing this since 2015, at first as a way to bring activity into Ann’s grandmother Ellie’s life. Teaching chair yoga to those who are between seventy and a hundred years old quickly became something we are very passionate about, and currently offer different yoga programs for all levels throughout the Philadelphia area. Contact us for more info on bringing chair yoga to your community! We have seen the benefits firsthand – our students report that yoga has helped them remain independent longer.

Private Sessions: We adapt each session to your individual needs so you can participate safely in a comfortable environment, scheduled at a time that is most convenient for you. We can work in your home, or feel free to visit us in our studio in South Philly.  We are often in the Wallingford-Swarthmore area and work with individuals, couples, and small groups. Celebrate the moment with a special group session! Mats, blocks and straps provided. Contact us or more info.

Corporate Yoga: We love bringing the tools of self-care into the workplace! Contact us to set up a special event or weekly session.

Check out the Feedback Page to hear what some of our students of all shapes, sizes, ages and mobility levels say about practicing yoga with Team Sun Wellness. Our full line up can be found on the Class Calendar!