Wednesday, May 11, 2016

8 Key Elements to a Well-Balanced Life: "B" is for...

Take a deep Breath. Fill your lungs with oxygen, the most important element our bodies need to survive and to achieve full healing. Is it easy for you to do this? Are you feeling any tension, tightness or discomfort anywhere? Where do you draw your breath in...your chest, your shoulders and neck, your belly? Are both of your lungs equally balanced as they bring in air? 

From our first moment of life to the present, our breath has always been with us. Inspiration, or taking in breath, fills us with the oxygen needed for our body to survive and produce energy, and expiration allow us to get rid of carbon dioxide and waste products no longer needed by our bodies.  Although breathing is natural, spontaneous, and automatic, we often take this process for granted until we have difficulty breathing.  Our fast-paced lifestyle, habitual forward-flexed postures, and exposure to environmental toxins contribute to impaired respiration and build up of toxins in our system. A lack of oxygen has been linked to decreased mental states, and increased heart disease, stroke, and cancer. This element is vital to life of most ALL species! 

Learning to breathe properly and efficiently is a valuable tool for everyday rejuvenation and vitality.  The muscle we were designed to use most efficiently for breathing is called the Diaphragm muscle. It is a large, thin, dome or parachute-shaped muscle that sits underneath our lungs. When it contracts, this dome pulls downward and helps our lower ribs to expand, creating space for the lungs to fill with oxygen molecules to be absorbed by the lung walls. 

Learning to breathe with your Diaphragm is most easily done lying down on your back, in a comfortably supported position. You can also do this while sitting. Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. Take a deep breath in through your nose, and feel which hand moves first and which hand moves more. If you said, "belly hand," then you are on the right track!! Imagine filling your belly like there is a balloon inside of it. Feel it expand downward, forward and to both sides. Go ahead, let your belly muscles relax, stop "sucking in" your gut, and enjoy the expansion and natural energy boost of breathing with your Diaphragm muscle! Doesn't that feel good? 

If you said "chest hand," then you, like many people are primarily using your smaller, less-efficient-in-the-long-run "accessory" breathing muscles. These helpers in the neck and shoulders help you to take in air during stressful situations, like being chased by a bear. Unfortunately, our fast-paced, overpacked, under-mobile lifestyles often result in people overusing these little guys and feeling like their shoulders are tight, sore, and that they sit up by their ears!! Sound familiar??

Just like any other muscle, you can train the Diaphragm to get stronger and work better for you. I love isometric exercises, as these are a gentle way to contract, increase our body's awareness of, and re-educate muscles, so let's try some isometrics for this super important muscle:

Draw your breath into your belly for about 4 seconds, hold your breath for 5-6 seconds, slowly release your breath again for 4 seconds, and hold with the lungs empty for 5-6 seconds. As with other strengthening exercises, begin with one set of 10-12 reps, and add more reps and sets as the initial set gets easier to do. You can also do several sets throughout the day as you go about your daily routine. 

If you are lying on your back and you are ready for more resistance, place a small weight on top of your belly and feel the added resistance as you "pump iron" with your Diaphragm! Who knew your breathing muscles could get such a great, easy, isolated workout? 

Once you have practiced this efficient form of breathing, your neck and shoulder muscles can relax, you will feel a sense of calm come over your entire being, and you will have increased confidence that you are on your way to a well-balanced life! 

Move well, my friends!