It’s been said that we can go seconds without thoughts, minutes without air, days without water, and weeks without food.
Pause and think about that for a minute. If you’ve witnessed the immense healing power of an anti-inflammatory Paleo-type diet (food), imagine how powerful a regular practice of mindfulness, meditation, or breathing exercises could be!
When was the last time you remember taking a breath? It’s not meant to be a trick question. But, for most of us, it’s probably been a while. Breathing is involuntary. And because it will happen automatically, without us having to consciously think about it, we often don’t think about it. The good news is, we can consciously control our breath. And using simple breathing exercises can trigger significant physiological changes in the body, shifting us from the stress response into a calmer, more relaxed state known as the relaxation response.
When we get stuck in the stress response, we go into survival mode. Our body de-prioritizes activities like digestion, cellular repair, and reproduction. And if our digestion remains impaired, we’re not able to get all the nutrients we need from our food, regardless of whether it’s organic, non-GMO, pasture-raised, wild-caught, etc. To get the most out of our food, we need to start with our thoughts and how we’re breathing.
If you’re ready to experiment with the healing power of the breath, try one of these quick breathing exercises over the next week. You can do them anywhere. On the train, at your desk, in the bathroom, waiting in line at a coffee shop, watching TV, or even just before bed. Does it help you feel more relaxed? Maybe your mind feels more clear and focused? Are you able to fall asleep more quickly – no more racing thoughts at bedtime? Give it two minutes per day; see what happens!
The 4-7-8 breathing technique is recommended by Dr. Andrew Weil. In this method, you start by exhaling completely. Then:
- Inhale through your nose for 4 counts
- Hold your breath for 7 counts
- Exhale through pursed lips, (making a gentle whooshing sound) for 8 counts
Repeat this cycle 3 more times. You can do this exercise 1-2 times per day (even before bed) to reduce stress and relax your nervous system. For more information, see Dr Andrew Weil’s video on 4-7-8 breathing.
The 2x Breath
With the 2x breath, the goal is to elongate your exhale so that you are breathing out for twice as long as you are breathing in. Start small, and work your way up slowly.
- Inhale through your nose for a count of 2
- Exhale through your mouth for a count of 4
Repeat this cycle a few times. When you’re ready, you can increase your inhale to a count of 3, and increase your exhale to a count of 6. Then, up to an inhale of 4, and an exhale for 8. Just be sure to keep the exhale twice as long as the inhale to maximize the relaxation response.
And if snoring, sleep apnea, upper airway resistance syndrome, or nighttime breathing are of concern, grab a copy of Dr Mark Burhenne’s book The 8-Hour Sleep Paradox: How We Are Sleeping Our Way to Fatigue, Disease, and Unhappiness or check out his 2015 TEDx Talk.