The Gift of Active Relaxation

stress-391657_1280The Gift of Active Relaxation

With the United States election season in full swing, many are feeling stress and anxiety stirred up by the increasing polarized political climate.  If you are feeling the strain of election season, here are a few simple suggestions to help you ground and reconnect.

  1. Unplug.  The constant news cycle isn’t healthy or relaxing for anyone.  Choose to engage with media on your own terms and in limited amounts.  Also, I’m a firm believer in the “don’t read the comments” approach.
  2. Get outside!  Take a walk with a family member or friend.  Go for a hike, bike, swim or run.  Move your body. No matter what the election outcome, you still have a physical body that loves to connect with fresh air and movement.  Don’t neglect that part of yourself.
  3. Get some quality sleep.  Turn off your electronics, get into bed and enjoy the physical and mental break that sleep provides.  You will be glad tomorrow morning that you got that extra sleep rather than reading that 100th political post or watching that 1000th cat video.
  4. Breathe and let go.  Control what you can in your own life so that you are making choices that are in alignment with your own values.  Recognize that you can only control your own choices and behavior and release the rest.
  5. Practice active relaxation techniques.  Meditate.  Practice guided relaxations.  Practice mindful breathing.  Active relaxation is different than cruising social media or watching TV.  While there may be a time and place for those activities, they do not replace an active relaxation practice or have the same health and relaxation benefits.  I have included a few options to help and support you in this area below.

Relaxation support options…

Here are a couple ideas to promote active relaxation for you.

  1. If you are a bath person, soaking in the tub is a great form of relaxation.  You can pair this with number 2.
  2. Listen to some music that you find relaxing.  Musical preferences vary widely, however something with a slower beat that approximates a regular, rhythmic heartbeat can extra soothing.  Play with options with and without lyric and notice how they make you feel.
  3. Practice mindful breathing.  This can be as simple as making a few moments to get quiet and pay attention to your breath.  If you want more help and guidance with this practice, check out the Breathe Easy products and programs.  There are many posts on the Back In Body Blog that share breathing guidance and suggestions as well.
  4. Practice actively tuning in and then consciously relaxing different parts of your body.  If you want more help and guidance with this practice, you can enjoy listening to audio guided relaxations from Relaxation Station any time.
  5. Mindful snuggling/cuddling with a partner, child, friend or pet.  Spend some time enjoying the healing benefits of physical contact.  Double points if you check in with your breath during this time.

Hopefully these ideas help you to navigate this time with more comfort and ease.  I wish you a day of full spacious breaths, a bit of movement and a bit of rest in whatever ways and amounts you like!

<3 Martha

Learning to Breathe Easy

Learning to breathe more fully and developing a mindful breathing practice can enhance your life in many ways.  A regular mindful breathing practice can support you as you move toward your health and wellness goals.  I am so excited to offer you this short taste of mindful breathing!  The following information is a combination of knowledge and techniques drawn from my experience singing in professional choirs, my training in yoga and Pilates instruction and my education and practice as a Doctor of Chiropractic.  These diverse experiences are combined in the techniques and ideas found in my new book, Breathe Easy: mindful breathing made simple.  Keep reading to learn a bit more about mindful breathing and try a short guided breathing experience.

Mindful breathing is great because you can practice anywhere, and you don’t need any fancy or expensive equipment.  You can practice mindful breathing at any age or fitness level to improve your well being right now.

Your breath practice will enhance and support you in whatever other activities you’re already doing.  Mindful breathing is also a simple tool with profound effects that can help us get out of the swift current of thoughts flowing through our head and into a grounded experience of life in our body.

All it takes to begin is your loving dedication and shining the brilliant light of your awareness on something that we all take for granted on a daily basis… our breath!

 

WHAT DOES BREATHING DO FOR ME?

 
With every activity that requires time and dedication, most people have one question… What’s in it for me?  We’ll touch on the basics of what breathing does for our bodies now and if you like, you can explore in more detail by reading the book, or in a workshop or private sessions.

Breathing brings fresh oxygen into the body and gets carbon dioxide out of the body. When we breathe in, oxygen comes into our lungs as we inhale and it is transferred to our blood, which carries the oxygen to all our cells and tissues. The blood then picks up carbon dioxide and other waste products from our cells and carries it back to our lungs, where it is released as we exhale.

In this way, efficient breathing keeps our cells and tissues fresh and energized.  Breathing well also helps to keep our thinking clear because the brain, even more than other organs, really needs a steady supply of oxygen to do its job well.

We could even think of our breath as the most important element in maintaining our health. If we think about the things that we typically associate with a healthy lifestyle, like food, water, and sleep for example… and we compare these things to the breath… the breath always comes out on top for vital importance in maintaining our health and even sustaining our life.  Another way to think about this is that we can go for quite a while without food and still survive (maybe a few weeks)… we can go slightly less long without sleep and water (maybe a few days) and still recover… but we can’t survive more than a few minutes without breathing.

 

LEARNING HOW TO TUNE IN TO YOUR BREATH – AN AWARENESS BASED EXERCISE

 
You can make the choice to either be sitting or standing for these exercises.  In whatever position you have chosen, feel your feet flat on the floor, a comfortable distance apart. 

If you are sitting, feel your sitting bones –the bony points at the base of your butt- press downward gently into your chair.  Sit with your back upright and away from the back of your chair if you can.

If you are standing, maintain that grounded connection with your feet and allow your knees to stay soft, keeping a little microbend in your knees at all times.
 
Allow your spine and the crown of your head to lengthen upward toward the sky from this firm foundation.  If it helps you to focus on your breathing, allow your eyes to gently close.  Take a moment to feel your breath right now without changing anything.

Simply by bringing your awareness to your breath you may notice that it is already beginning to change… if your breath becomes more full and deep, make a mental note that this is what your body is naturally calling for when you make the time and space to listen to it.

Now we are going to try an experiment… there is no right or wrong here and no judgment.  This is all about just noticing what is.  In this experiment, you are a scientist objectively observing your breath.

 

Become aware of the rate of your breath, whether it feels fast or slow. 

 

Notice the depth of your breath, whether it feels shallow or deep. 

 

Check in with the quality of your breath, noticing whether it is flowing smoothly or has rough edges.

 

Notice if there is any sound associated with your breath.

 

Are there are any emotions or feelings associated with this experience of your breath.

 

Allow yourself to suspend any judgment about whether the way you are breathing is “good” or “bad” and let your self be fully present with what is.

 

Notice where you feel your breath moving in your body.

 

Take 3 more breaths like this.

Maintain this connection to your breath and when you feel ready, gently blink your eyes open if you have closed them.

Notice how you feel after taking this moment to connect with your breath.

 

If you like how you feel right now and want to learn more about how to build your own mindful breathing practice, keep reading to see what other resources are available to help you build this excellent skill set.

 

More Breathing Resources for You!

If you would like more practical, down to earth resources to help you learn more about how to breathe better to improve your health and life, my program, Breathe Easy: mindful breathing made simple, is now available in workshop, private session, ebook, audiobook and softcover form!  Check out the ebook and audiobook here and the softcover here.  There is more information about workshops and private session packages below, too!

 

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Breathe Easy 15 minutes for 15 days –   #BE15for15

#BE15for15 is a free, fun, challenge.  Sign up for the Back In Body e-newsletter (sign-up form is at the left side of the bottom of the page) and prompts for your mindful breathing practice show up in your email inbox for 15 days, beginning on the first day of the month.  The goal is to commit to practicing mindful breathing for at least 15 minutes for 15 days in a row.  This can be done on your own by setting a timer (or using an app like Mindfulness Bell or the Universal Breathing Room on doasone.com) for 15 minutes and drawing your attention to your breathing.  If you would like more guidance and support, I have created a 15 minute guided mindful breathing practice audio track that can be purchased with the Breathe Easy audiobook on Amazon/Audible and iTunes that walks you through your practice.  Using the guided practice, all you have to do is claim your dedicated 15 minutes out of your day and press play.  I also highly recommend keeping a journal about your mindful breathing experience and any interesting things that you notice during this process.  The next round of #BE15for15 will begin on June 1st.  I will be using daily email prompts to help you stay engaged with the challenge.  Please consider adopting this simple and powerful habit for 15 days – and invite your friends and family to sign up and play along, too!

Breathe Easy Private Instruction Package!

The Breathe Easy Private Instruction Package includes (10) 60 minute sessions with Martha, a softcover copy of Breathe Easy: mindful breathing made simple, a CD with a guided daily Breathe Easy practice and a bonus guided relaxation track, as well as a list of other great breathing related resources you can use to deepen your understanding and practice.  In these personalized sessions, you can address your questions and concerns while working toward your goals with ongoing support, encouragement, and tips from someone who has been there and understands the obstacles to – and joys of – developing a regular mindful breathing practice.  This is a great option for people seeking to make a deeper level of commitment to their breathing practice and to be held accountable for their own practice between scheduled sessions.  If you are interested in purchasing this private instruction package, please call me at 612.321.6913 or email me at marthadesantedc@gmail.com to continue the conversation.  Please include the words Breathe Easy in the subject line of your email.  The price of this package is $1000.00.  All 10 sessions must be used within 12 months of purchase.

If you would like the opportunity to explore your breath with one-0n-one support, and are not sure if you are ready to commit to (10) 60 minute sessions, you can schedule individual sessions here.  I encourage you to begin with a 60 minute session for your initial visit for best results.

Breathe Easy Workshops!

I have had great fun offering Breathe Easy workshops at various locations around the metro.  I am currently looking at my calendar and planning and scheduling the next round of offerings.  I will share more information on dates and locations through the Back In Body e-newsletter and the Back In Body and Breathe Easy Facebook pages.

Happy Breathing!

Martha

Martha DeSante DC, CYT

 

“Let’s drink till we don’t feel feelings anymore!”

“Let’s drink till we don’t feel feelings anymore!”

**I wrote this post in November 2014, shortly after the death of my mom.  The feelings were fresh and the pull of numbing approaches was strong.  I think I hesitated to publish this because it felt so raw and vulnerable at the time.  I’m ready now.

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 “Let’s drink till we don’t feel feelings anymore!” is actually something that has come out of my mouth as a toast.  I think the first time was probably in my early 20’s in college.  It may be something I heard Homer Simpson say.  It may have been one of those times where I felt like if I acknowledged what I was doing, it made it okay that I was doing it.  Self-awareness and all that.  Cheers!  Bottoms up!  Lets dump some energy/emotions I can’t sit with at this point in my life.

I have been thinking about writing a blog post for a while now on how we humans are very good at finding ways to not feel our feelings when they are big and wild.  Some of us use drinking too much alcohol.  Others use drugs.  We can also use food (too much or too little) or sleep (too much or too little).  Being really really busy works incredibly well too… so busy we don’t have time for reflection.  We can hold those feelings at arms length if we just avoid anything that looks or feels like quiet, down time.  That’s when the thoughts and emotions begin to creep in.  There are many other brilliant options for avoiding actually checking in and acknowledging how we feel.  The list goes on and on.

At different times in my life I have used many of the above approaches (and combinations of approaches) as ways to not feel feelings.  I have also noticed that this fear of actually being with our intense, human emotional experience is not at all unique to me.  What is it that feels so frightening about being with our experience?  Why is there value judgement attached to certain types of emotional experience, rendering some feelings more socially acceptable than others?  What are we so afraid of?  What am I so afraid of?

Being with our feelings rather than checking out allows us to be honest about things in our life that we may need to change for our health and well being.  Perhaps if we drop our numbing habits for a while and check in with how we feel, we realize that we are seeking to numb discomfort because this job/relationship/lifestyle choice/whatever isn’t really serving us.  That can also feel intimidating, because realizing that we want something different may require change… and that is something very few people are comfortable with.  On the flip side, sometimes we realize that even as much as we wish we could, we cannot change the events that are unfolding before us.

Loss of the illusion of control is also something that most people do not warmly welcome with open arms.  Such was my recent experience of navigating the death of my mother.  My mom died in October 2014 after a several year experience of living with stage 4 lung cancer.  I left my home and practice in Minnesota to be with her and to provide care for her and support to my dad (who had been taking care of her for several years) so she could die at home as she wanted.

Another interesting thing I found myself running up against during the time my mom was dying was the theme of my own mortality – evaluating where I am in my own life and trying to be kind when all I wanted to do at that time was a complete overhaul.  The whole experience from her diagnosis, through her many treatments and procedures, to her dying and death all held many opportunities to either fall into old patterns of checking out when the feelings got intense… or to be with my experience and acknowledge and honor my human emotions, resistance and all.

As I felt the desire to return to old patterns of “numbing out” stirring, I decided instead to really carefully consider all my choices and actions to make sure I wasn’t just trying to avoid feelings.  I also gave myself the gifts of kindness, compassion and grace – realizing that I am a human and that if I have a glass of wine (or a few) after a long day of care-giving for a loved one, then that is okay too.  An occasional glass of wine or two also doesn’t have to turn into a raging bender and full on avoidance of the present situation or how I feel about it.  I made it my intention to stay open to as much of the process (and the feelings) as possible… because as intense as human feelings can be, they all pass.  Whether we judge them to be “good” or “bad,” “beautiful” or “uncomfortable,” none of them last.

When I let myself feel all of the feelings surrounding this experience and time of life, it was really hard at first because so much hurt.  I had so much resistance to admitting how much pain I felt, in part because I did not want to allow myself to be so overwhelmed that I could not perform the practical day-to-day care giving roles that my mom’s health required… and in part because our society teaches us that pain is something to be avoided – that it is something that we shouldn’t have to tolerate.

Honestly, it feels good when I allow myself to honor my pain and grief.  Someone told me that deep grief is the price of deep love.  I love my mom so much and miss being able to see her, to touch her and to hear her voice.  Honoring the feelings of sadness that I feel around my mom’s illness and death feels like honoring the depth of our relationship.  To my surprise, really beautiful and intense feelings of gratitude and joy and love have showed up in their own turns as well.  That really caught me off guard initially.  I had been so afraid of feeling the hurt and sadness that I had closed off for a while and it was shocking to see how much more I have been able to feel since allowing myself to have – and be with – my feelings.  When we numb out and close off to the feelings we deem unpleasant or socially unacceptable, we blunt all of our emotional experience.  Without the full spectrum of human emotions, we can’t have a fully developed palate… just like someone who only ever eats a repetitive and bland diet.

Through this practice, I have also woken up to the complexity of my own human emotions.  We are very rarely feeling just one thing at any time. There are so many unique combinations of feelings to be had in this human experience.  I have found that when I am honest with myself, I often have different percentages of many different emotions expressing at different times.  Combinations of sadness and grief with joy or wistful nostalgia and gratitude can all occur simultaneously when we let ourselves begin to feel it all.  If we check out when things feel intense, we may miss a unique flavor of our life that will not be repeated.

There are times that may have happened (or may happen in the future) when we feel vulnerable.  Too vulnerable, soft, and human to survive the situation at hand.  In such times, we begin to build protective strategies for ourselves.  We put on armor when we need protection.  When the time passes we put the armor down, or it becomes a cage.  If that time has passed, put down your armor.  A hardened heart can’t beat.

I am still processing and unpacking the death of my mom (and as it turns out, many other previously unexamined and unprocessed instances with grief and loss… it appears that at least for me, one experience stirs up many others that have similar flavors) and continually learning new ways to stay open to my experience.  Right now food and overwork are the two main numbing strategies that I’m keeping an eye on.  I see you there, chocolate cake and 10 million projects.  My main mindfulness practice for now is as hard and simple as this – Allow myself to feel what I feel. If I can keep learning to feel it all, I know I will be alright.

If this practice of feeling and awareness sounds like something that you would like to explore in more depth, I will be writing a follow-up post about how to apply B.R.F.W.A. (Breathe. Relax. Feel. Watch. Allow. – An approach I first learned at my Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training and am continuing to learn about and love more and more) as a tool of support and strength during times that feel challenging.

<3 Martha

#BE15for15 – Day 15 – How to keep the party going

#BE15for15 – Day 15 – How to keep the party going

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Hooray!  You made it to Day 15!  Congratulations!  Here is where we will tie all of the components that we have worked with over the past 15 days together.  If you enjoyed this experience – if you feel like you are benefiting from your practice and learning new things about your body, your breath and yourself – and you want more – please do yourself a favor and buy a copy of Breathe Easy: mindful breathing made simple.  It includes the content covered in the #BE15for15 challenge and much more!  Breathe Easy is available as an ebook, a paperback, and an audio book.  The audio book version also includes a 15 minute guided daily practice track that helps you connect with many different areas of your body where you can feel the movement of your breath. You can use whatever format (or combination of formats) works best to support your practice.

If you live in Minnesota and would like to schedule an appointment (or a series of appointments) to work on your own breathing practice in more depth and detail, you can book those sessions here.  The 60 minute initial session is recommended if we have never worked together before.  If you live outside of the Twin Cities metro and would like to connect for a solo appointment (or series of appointments) via skype, please email me at marthadesantedc@gmail.com with the subject line “I want to breathe easy”.   You can use whatever format (or combination of formats) works best to support your practice.

 

Moving forward, I encourage you to practice your Breathe Easy mindful breathing practice every day for best results. Use the Breath Check-In Basics printable (available when you sign up for the newsletter list at backinbody.com) to help cue you through the important parts of checking in with your senses. Remember that this is an experiment and to just notice what is. You don’t have to worry about doing things “right”. If you keep showing up to your practice and watching your breath every day, the rest will take care of itself. There is no set prescriptive amount of time for this practice, so feel free to tailor your practice to your day.  A few minutes is better than none. You may want to play with a shorter time interval like 3 minutes on days when you feel like your schedule is full. With time and experience, I encourage you to play with longer time periods, like 30, 45 or 60 minutes. You will figure out what works best for you each day.

 

When you begin practicing for longer periods of time (or any amount of time at all, really), you may notice that your mind begins to wander to other thoughts that don’t have anything to do with your breathing. This is okay and perfectly natural. It doesn’t mean that you, or your practice, are a failure. It is a part of the practice. Minds think thoughts. Minds wander. When you catch your thoughts drifting to something other than your breath and how it is moving through your body, very gently redirect your awareness back to the breath. Use kindness and the type of patience you would use with a young child whom you love very much. We often talk to ourselves in ways that we would never speak to others and in ways that we would not tolerate from others. Develop a zero-tolerance policy for self-harm. This is a skill that takes time to grow and refine. Learning to show patience and kindness to yourself as you go through the sometimes-awkward process of learning a new skill like mindful breathing will have wonderful crossover and you will see that patience and kindness begin to show up in other areas of your life.

 

There will be some days when your mind is easily distracted and others when your focus is on point. Success in this sort of practice is not measured by which kind of day it is. That is a sneaky trap. Don’t fall for it. Success in this type of practice is measured in your ability to show up for your practice day after day without expectation or getting attached to how you think your practice should look or feel.

 

The basics of developing a daily practice involve identifying what it takes for you personally to form a habit. This may mean practicing at the same time and in the same place every day… or it may not. That all will depend on who you are and what you need. There is that experiment piece showing up again. You may try many different approaches before settling into what feels like it works best for you. You may develop a set practice that works for years and then decide at some point that you want to change your approach. However you proceed, if you keep showing up for your practice you can’t do it wrong.

 

You may want to find a quiet place to practice when you first begin and you may want to play with using music in the background. The advantage to not using music is that you can hear your breath more easily, while you may find that music may help you feel more relaxed at first if you are not accustomed to sitting in complete quiet. You may also enjoy using the audio Breathe Easy daily practice (track 21) for 15 minutes of detailed guided breath experience. This recording takes you through grounding into the sensory experience of your breath and connecting with the different areas of the body that are discussed in the posts from this challenge and more. When you want to focus on your breath and experience without having to guide yourself through your practice this can be a wonderful option.

 

Now lets get to today’s practice!

 

Find a comfortable place where you would like to practice your intentional breathing. You may choose to be seated, standing, lying down, or whatever other position feels the most comfortable to you right now.

 

Whatever position you choose, let yourself take a moment to connect with your foundation. Feel your body where it contacts the ground below and notice a sense of strength and stability that comes from that connection. As you feel ready, lengthen upward from that strong base. If you are sitting or standing, allow your spine and the crown of your head to lift toward the sky. If you are lying down, become aware of the long sense of spaciousness all along your spine from your tailbone to the top of your head. You may choose to let your eyes close at any point if that helps you to feel your breath.

 

Let your awareness be drawn to your breath. Feel the breath as it moves in and out through your nostrils. Allow yourself to observe your breath as it is right now without changing anything.

 

Become aware of the rate of your breath, whether it feels fast or slow.

 

Notice the depth of your breath, whether it feels shallow or deep.

 

Check in with the quality of your breath, noticing whether it is flowing smoothly or has rough edges.

 

Notice if there is any sound associated with your breath.

 

Are there are any emotions or feelings associated with this experience of your breath? Let yourself feel what is there without the need to get into any story around it.

 

Allow yourself to suspend any judgment about whether the way you are breathing is “good” or “bad” and let your self be fully present with what is. Notice where you feel your breath moving in your body. Gradually invite your breath to become more full and deep.

 

As you breathe in, allow your belly to gently soften and expand outward and downward. As you breathe out, gently draw your belly inward and upward to press out any stale air that may be lingering in the lower parts of your lungs. Allow the breath to begin to flow more deeply. With each inhale, draw your breath in and down so that it feels like your breath is flowing all the way down into the base of your pelvic bowl. As your belly gently expands outward, your pelvic floor expands downward. As you breathe out, gently draw your pelvic floor in and up, and draw your belly in and up as you exhale softly and completely.

 

As you take a breath in, visualize your breath traveling in and down through your nostrils, chest and abdomen, until it fills your pelvic bowl. As you breathe out, visualize the breath traveling up and out through your abdomen and chest, then exiting through your nostrils, as you feel a sense of energetic lift from the pelvic floor, upward through your body – traveling along the channel just forward of your spine.   With each inhale, feel the breath flowing in and down – filling the body from the pelvic bowl, up though the abdomen, ribcage and chest. With each exhale, feel the softening – letting go of what you no longer need. Continue breathing in this slow smooth fashion.

 

Draw your awareness around to the sensations at the back of your body. With each inhale, feel the breath moving in and down along the channel just forward of your spine all the way until it reaches the tip of your tailbone. As you exhale, feel the breath trace that same path back up and out of the body as it leaves through the nostrils. With each inhale, feel a sense of expansion between your shoulder blades and a general broadening across the whole back body. With each exhale, feel a gentle sense of lift from your hip bones, upward through your waist along the spine.

 

Allow yourself to draw your awareness around to the sides of your body. With each breath in, notice a sense of expansion under your arms. With each breath out, feel the ribcage gently releasing. Inhale, feel your ribcage expanding out wide to the sides. Exhale, feel your ribcage soften.

 

Draw your awareness now to the breath as it flows freely on all sides of the body. With each inhale, feel the breath flowing in and down – filling the body from the pelvic bowl, up though the abdomen, ribcage and chest on all sides of the body. With each exhale, softening – letting go of what you no longer need. As you continue breathing in this slow smooth fashion, your body and mind become more and more deeply relaxed.

 

Begin to draw your awareness to the space between your ears and behind your eyes. With each breath in, feel an increasing sense of spaciousness and expansion within your head space. As you exhale, allow yourself to feel a gentle sense of lift, upward through the crown of your head – as if you are a whale softly spraying water up out of your spout. Inhale, feel the space between your ears broadening and your eyes softening. Exhale, feeling the crown of the head floating lightly upward. Continue with this smooth, full breath pattern at your own pace – feeling spaciousness on your inhale, and a sense of lift on your exhale.

 

Notice how you feel right now.

 

Check in with your physical body, becoming aware of any sensations calling out for your attention.

 

Notice your mental state and the quality and speed of your thoughts. Do not dive into any of the subjects of your thoughts at this point. Casually observe your thoughts as if from a distance and notice what’s showing up for you now.

 

Check in with your subtle emotional body and again, take notice of what your feel.

 

Realize that there are no right or wrong answers here – only loving observation. Allow your awareness to fully return to your breath and where you feel it moving through your body.

 

As you breathe in, feel the breath drawing down deep into your body, feeling a sense of spaciousness and expansion on all sides of your body and within your head space. As you breathe out, feel a sense of lifting in and up as the muscles of your pelvic floor and belly begin the lift that starts the cascade of energy zipping upward – following the central channel just forward of your spine and outward through the crown of your head.

 

There is a dynamic pulse that flows through our breath and life of inhale/expansion, exhale/release. Allow yourself to feel this gentle pulse move through your entire body as you breathe. With each inhale, feel the physical body softly expanding in all directions. With each exhale, feel a sense of release and energetic lift. Continue feeling this pulse of life as you take five more breaths at your own pace. Feel free to close your eyes and focus on your breath and sensations if that is helpful to you. When you feel ready, you can gently blink your eyes open. In this way that you just experienced, the breath is a living and dynamic expression that flows through you.

 

When you feel ready to begin your practice, set your timer – or press play to begin your guided Daily Breathe Easy practice (included with the Breathe Easy audio book).  Allow yourself to continue to observe your breath for 15 minutes.  Focus on the easy, gentle movement of the breath in your body during your practice today.  Notice any thoughts, sensations, or emotions that reveal themselves to you through this experience.  Do not fight them or judge them.  Simply notice what shows up and allow it to be.  Keep connecting with the movement of your breath in your body.

Maintain this connection to your breath and when you feel ready, gently blink your eyes open if you have closed them.

Notice how you feel after connecting with your breath.  If you are using a journal during this process (which I highly recommend), record how you feel after your second 15 minute experience.  Did you feel subtle movement of the breath in the back of your body? How does it feel to connect with your sides? Write down any observations that feel important to you about this awareness based experience with your breath in your journal now. Did this experience feel challenging?  Did it feel easy?  What did you notice?  Was your practice today different than yesterday?  If so, in what way(s)?  Remember to be kind and to give yourself the gift of grace.  If you have any thoughts or questions you would like to share, please feel free to do so in the comments section!  I hope you have enjoyed your practice and learned a lot over the past 15 days.  Please share a bit about your #BE15for15 challenge experience in the comments section of the blog, or via Facebook so we can all learn and grow together!

Happy Breathing!

<3 Martha

#BE15for15 – Day 14 – Breathing on all sides of the body – 3D breath

#BE15for15 – Day 14 – Breathing on all sides of the body – 3D breath

Now that you have connected with the breath on the sides and back of your body – and you know some of the reasons why a mindful breathing practice is so important – let’s incorporate several of the elements we played with earlier.

 

This is where things can feel like a lot to integrate when you’re first getting started. I encourage you to use tender loving patience and give yourself permission to integrate these components at your own pace. It will all come together with regular practice and time.

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Allow yourself to find your tall posture, lengthening and lifting upward if you are sitting or standing.

 

Let your awareness be drawn to your breath. Feel the breath as it moves in and out through your nostrils. Allow yourself to observe your breath as it is right now without changing anything.

 

Become aware of the rate of your breath, whether it feels fast or slow.

 

Notice the depth of your breath, whether it feels shallow or deep.

 

Check in with the quality of your breath, noticing whether it is flowing smoothly or has rough edges.

 

Notice if there is any sound associated with your breath.

 

Are there are any emotions or feelings associated with this experience of your breath? Let yourself feel what is there without the need to get into any story around it.

 

Allow yourself to suspend any judgment about whether the way you are breathing is “good” or “bad” and let your self be fully present with what is. Notice where you feel your breath moving in your body. Gradually invite your breath to become more full and deep.

 

As you breathe in, allow your belly to gently soften and expand outward and downward. As you breathe out, gently draw your belly inward and upward to press out any stale air that may be lingering in the lower parts of your lungs. Allow the breath to begin to flow more deeply. With each inhale, draw your breath in and down so that it feels like your breath is flowing all the way down into the base of your pelvic bowl. As your belly gently expands outward, your pelvic floor expands downward. As you breathe out, gently draw your pelvic floor in and up, and draw your belly in and up as you exhale softly and completely.

 

As you take a breath in, visualize your breath traveling in and down through your nostrils, chest and abdomen, until it fills your pelvic bowl. As you breathe out, visualize the breath traveling up and out through your abdomen and chest, then exiting through your nostrils, as you feel a sense of energetic lift from the pelvic floor, upward through your body – traveling along the channel just forward of your spine.   With each inhale, feel the breath flowing in and down – filling the body from the pelvic bowl, up though the abdomen, ribcage and chest. With each exhale, feel the softening – letting go of what you no longer need. Continue breathing in this slow smooth fashion.

 

Draw your awareness around to the sensations at the back of your body. With each inhale, feel the breath moving in and down along the channel just forward of your spine all the way until it reaches the tip of your tailbone. As you exhale, feel the breath trace that same path back up and out of the body as it leaves through the nostrils. With each inhale, feel a sense of expansion between your shoulder blades and a general broadening across the whole back body. With each exhale, feel a gentle sense of lift from your hip bones, upward through your waist along the spine.

 

Allow yourself to draw your awareness around to the sides of your body. With each breath in, notice a sense of expansion under your arms. With each breath out, feel the ribcage gently releasing. Inhale, feel your ribcage expanding out wide to the sides. Exhale, feel your ribcage soften.

 

Draw your awareness now to the breath as it flows freely on all sides of the body. With each inhale, feel the breath flowing in and down – filling the body from the pelvic bowl, up though the abdomen, ribcage and chest on all sides of the body. With each exhale, feel the breath traveling up and out, as your pelvic floor, belly, sides and back gently draw inward and upward.

 

With each inhale, draw the breath in and down all the way to the base of your pelvic bowl, feeling your pelvic floor soften, your belly, sides and back of your body expanding in all directions With each exhale, softening – letting go of what you no longer need. As you continue breathing in this slow smooth fashion, your body and mind become more and more deeply relaxed.

 

Allow yourself to take five more breaths this way at your own pace, feeling a sense of expansion and spaciousness as you inhale… and a sense of release as you exhale. With each breath in, feel yourself filling the container of your body with fresh air. With each breath out, feel the softening of your shoulders, neck and jaw. Feel free to close your eyes and focus on your breath and sensations if that is helpful to you. When you feel ready, allow your eyes to gently open.

 

 

How does it feel to breathe into the fullness of the container of your body? What thoughts or feelings do you have at this point? Write down any observations that feel important to you about this awareness based experience with your breath in your  journal now.

When you feel ready to begin your practice, set your timer – or press play to begin your guided Daily Breathe Easy practice (included with the Breathe Easy audio book).  Allow yourself to continue to observe your breath for 15 minutes.  Focus on the easy, gentle movement on all the sides of your body during your practice today.  Notice any thoughts, sensations, or emotions that reveal themselves to you through this experience.  Do not fight them or judge them.  Simply notice what shows up and allow it to be.  Keep connecting with the movement of your breath through your body.

Maintain this connection to your breath and when you feel ready, gently blink your eyes open if you have closed them.

Notice how you feel after connecting with your breath.  If you are using a journal during this process (which I highly recommend), record how you feel after your second 15 minute experience.  Did you feel subtle movement of the breath in the back of your body? How does it feel to connect with your sides? Write down any observations that feel important to you about this awareness based experience with your breath in your journal now. Did this experience feel challenging?  Did it feel easy?  What did you notice?  Was your practice today different than yesterday?  If so, in what way(s)?  Remember to be kind and to give yourself the gift of grace.  Tomorrow we will discuss how to continue your practice moving forward as well as tying together the different principles introduced throughout the challenge.  If you have any thoughts or questions you would like to share, please feel free to do so in the comments section!  I’ll do my best to keep up!

Happy Breathing!

<3 Martha

#BE15for15 – Day 13 – Positions and stuff

#BE15for15 – Day 13 – Positions and stuff

So far, we have only really talked about connecting with our breathing practice in a sitting or standing position.  There are many positions that can be useful and comfortable for connecting with the breath.  Today, I encourage you to choose a different position than how you have previously been practicing.

Some possible options for how to connect with your breath during your practice include –

 

Lying on your back with a bolster or pillow under your knees

Lying on your back with a bolster or pillow under your knees

 

Lying on back with your knees bent

Lying on back with your knees bent

 

Lying on back with your lower legs on the seat of a couch/chair

Lying on back with your lower legs on the seat of a couch/chair

 

Lying on back with your legs up against a wall

Lying on back with your legs up against a wall

 

Another position I particularly like to use while practicing my own breathing position is the psoas release position.  I don’t have any photos of myself in this position currently, so I encourage you to read this post by Katy Bowman about the psoas (and check out her blog, books and materials in general) and give a thorough look at the photo of her lying on her back with a bolster under her head and shoulders as she demonstrates the psoas release position (about half way down the page).  This position is particularly helpful with a breathing practice as it addresses part of the super common rib thrusting tendency that I have mentioned previously.  Spending time in this position can help with realigning the diaphragm and the pelvic floor so they can stack vertically over each other again.

 

When you feel ready to begin your practice, choose your position for today,  set your timer – or press play to begin your guided Daily Breathe Easy practice (included with the Breathe Easy audio book).  Allow yourself to continue to observe your breath for 15 minutes.  Notice any thoughts, sensations, or emotions that reveal themselves to you through this experience.  Do not fight them or judge them.  Simply notice what shows up and allow it to be.  Keep connecting with the movement of your breath in your body and notice how your experience may be different in this different position.

Maintain this connection to your breath and when you feel ready, gently blink your eyes open if you have closed them.

Notice how you feel after connecting with your breath.  If you are using a journal during this process (which I highly recommend), record how you feel after your second 15 minute experience.  How does it feel to connect with your breath in this different position? Write down any observations that feel important to you about this awareness based experience with your breath in your journal now. Did this experience feel challenging?  Did it feel easy?  What did you notice?  Was your practice today different than yesterday?  If so, in what way(s)?  Remember to be kind and to give yourself the gift of grace.  Tomorrow we will connect with breathing on all sides of the body.  If you have any thoughts or questions you would like to share, please feel free to do so in the comments section!  I’ll do my best to keep up!

Happy Breathing!

<3 Martha

#BE15for15 – Day 12 – Mindful breathing can change our brains!

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#BE15for15 – Day 12 – Mindful breathing can change our brains!

Mindful breathing can make a positive difference in our lives and our health by actually re-shaping our brains with regular practice. Mindful breathing enhances the quality of our lives by improving our ability to relate with kindness and compassion to ourselves and to others. It sharpens our ability to focus, learn, think, remember things and to regulate our emotions.   Mindfulness increases our ability to empathize and to find perspective. These changes are due to measurable changes in specific areas of the brain that can occur in as little as eight weeks. Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, is someone devoted to studying these changes. Research done by Lazar and her team shows that the brains of people who engage in meditation and mindfulness practices, like Breathe Easy, show growth in the posterior cingulate gyrus, the left hippocampus, the temporo-parietal junction and the pons. An area of the brain called the amygdala (which is associated with stress, fear, and anxiety) shrunk over that same eight-week period. This decrease in size of the amygdala was unsurprisingly correlated with a reduction in stress levels of the study participants. If you would like to read more about some of this exciting work, here is an article from the Harvard Gazette summarizing some of the work of Lazar and her team.  The ability to change our brains in a measurable way seems like a pretty good reason to begin a daily mindful breathing practice now. Are you ready? Lets rock!

When you feel ready to begin your practice, set your timer – or press play to begin your guided Daily Breathe Easy practice (included with the Breathe Easy audio book).  Allow yourself to continue to observe your breath for 15 minutes.  Focus on the easy, gentle movement of your breath through your body during your practice today.  Notice any thoughts, sensations, or emotions that reveal themselves to you through this experience.  Do not fight them or judge them.  Simply notice what shows up and allow it to be.  Keep connecting with the movement of your breath in your body.

Maintain this connection to your breath and when you feel ready, gently blink your eyes open if you have closed them.

Notice how you feel after connecting with your breath.  If you are using a journal during this process (which I highly recommend), record how you feel after your second 15 minute experience.  Write down any observations that feel important to you about this awareness based experience with your breath in your journal now. Did this experience feel challenging?  Did it feel easy?  What did you notice?  Was your practice today different than yesterday?  If so, in what way(s)?  Remember to be kind and to give yourself the gift of grace.  Tomorrow we will explore a few different positions for practicing mindful breathing.  If you have any thoughts or questions you would like to share, please feel free to do so in the comments section!  I’ll do my best to keep up!

Happy Breathing!

<3 Martha

#BE15for15 – Day 11 – Show your heart some love

#BE15for15 – Day 11 – Show your heart some love

 

There is a Sanskrit proverb that states: For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth. This link between breathing well and healthy outcomes is not just a thing of proverbs. It is well established that full intentional breathing has a very dramatic impact on how our body works!

 

Our breath is one of very few ways we can quickly and directly make changes to our physiology. When we breathe using a full, steady breath pattern, we are giving a break to our hard working heart and cardiovascular system. Our heart rate slows and our blood pressure lowers. Our body can focus on repair functions, like healing the wear and tear that comes along with constant use.

 

The alternating change in pressure between the abdomen and chest that happens when we breathe with our diaphragm creates a pumping action that helps return blood from the inferior vena cava (a large vein bringing oxygen poor blood back from the lower body) to the heart. The blood can then pass through the capillaries at the lungs and pick up oxygen to take out to the organs, tissues and cells again. This action from full movement of the diaphragm helps lighten the load on the cardiovascular system.

 

This video gives us a sneak peak at the action of the diaphragm, the ribcage and the heart. You can see how the heart is gently massaged through the action of the breath. I do not own this footage, nor do I know who to properly acknowledge for source attribution.

 

After viewing and reflecting on the gentle massage that diaphragmatic breathing gives the heart, set an intention to focus on that gentle massaging action while you experience your mindful breathing practice today.  With each inhale, feel yourself drawing love into your heart.  You can choose a color for this loving energy if it helps you to better visualize it.  With each exhale, feel this loving energy radiating through your chest and then through your whole body.  You can mentally repeat a mantra such as “inhale love – exhale love” or anything else that helps you connect to loving self care.

When you feel ready to begin your practice, set your timer – or press play to begin your guided Daily Breathe Easy practice (included with the Breathe Easy audio book).  Allow yourself to continue to observe your breath for 15 minutes.  Focus on the easy, gentle, loving massage that your lungs and diaphragm offer your heart during your practice today.  Notice any thoughts, sensations, or emotions that reveal themselves to you through this experience.  Do not fight them or judge them.  Simply notice what shows up and allow it to be.  Keep connecting with the movement at your heart, chest and belly.

Maintain this connection to your breath and when you feel ready, gently blink your eyes open if you have closed them.

Notice how you feel after connecting with your breath.  If you are using a journal during this process (which I highly recommend), record how you feel after your second 15 minute experience.  Did you feel subtle movement of the breath in the back of your body? How does it feel to connect with the movement within your chest?  How does your heart feel? Write down any observations that feel important to you about this awareness based experience with your breath in your journal now. Did this experience feel challenging?  Did it feel easy?  What did you notice?  Was your practice today different than yesterday?  If so, in what way(s)?  Remember to be kind and to give yourself the gift of grace.  Tomorrow we will discuss more of the benefits of a mindful breathing practice and how mindful breathing can change our brains!  If you have any thoughts or questions you would like to share, please feel free to do so in the comments section!  I’ll do my best to keep up!

Happy Breathing!

<3 Martha

#BE15for15 – Day 10 – Breathing into the side body

#BE15for15 – Day 10 – Breathing into the side body

Today let’s take our awareness to the sides of the body. Noticing the movement of the breath along the sides of the body can feel daunting at first because the movement is so subtle. Using feedback from your own hands or the hands of a partner (like we played with yesterday on the back body) can help you to feel your breath, especially when you are first starting out.

If you are working independently, place your hands so that they wrap around the sides of your ribcage with your thumb pointing backward. Try to place your hands up as high as you comfortably can on your ribs.

 

Inhale - feel the ribs expand out toward the sides, moving into the hands

Inhale – feel the ribs expand out toward the sides, moving into the hands

 

Exhale - feel the ribs, and the hands, gently moving back toward the midline

Exhale – feel the ribs, and the hands, gently moving back toward the midline

 

If you are working with a partner, have your partner place their hands in that same space under your arms. With each breath in, feel your ribcage expanding out wide to the sides, filling your partner’s hands with the breath. With each breath out, feel the ribs release as your partner’s hands gently draw back toward one another.

 

Focus on filling the hands with your breath for three more breaths.

 

You or your partner can let your arms relax down at your sides now or shake them out if that feels good to you after holding them up for a while. If you are working with a partner today, you can reverse roles and share your experience.

Do you feel your breath moving on the sides of your body? Did it help you to use feedback from your hands or the hands of a partner? Write down any observations that feel important to you about this awareness based experience with your breath in your journal now.

When you feel ready to begin your practice, set your timer – or press play to begin your guided Daily Breathe Easy practice (included with the Breathe Easy audio book).  Allow yourself to continue to observe your breath for 15 minutes.  Focus on the easy, gentle movement at the sides of your body during your practice today.  Notice any thoughts, sensations, or emotions that reveal themselves to you through this experience.  Do not fight them or judge them.  Simply notice what shows up and allow it to be.  Keep connecting with the movement at your side body.

Maintain this connection to your breath and when you feel ready, gently blink your eyes open if you have closed them.

Notice how you feel after connecting with your breath.  If you are using a journal during this process (which I highly recommend), record how you feel after your second 15 minute experience.  Did you feel subtle movement of the breath in the sides of your body? How does it feel to connect with your sides? Write down any observations that feel important to you about this awareness based experience with your breath in your journal now. Did this experience feel challenging?  Did it feel easy?  What did you notice?  Was your practice today different than yesterday?  If so, in what way(s)?  Remember to be kind and to give yourself the gift of grace.  Tomorrow we will discuss some of the benefits of a mindful breathing practice as well as how to show yourself some love by setting an intention while you practice.  If you have any thoughts or questions you would like to share, please feel free to do so in the comments section!  I’ll do my best to keep up!

Happy Breathing!

<3 Martha

 

 

 

 

 

 

#BE15for15 – Day 9 – Tactile feedback (I get by with a little help from my friends)

#BE15for15 – Day 9 – Tactile feedback (I get by with a little help from my friends)

It can be challenging at first to feel the breath as it moves through the sides and back of the body. Many people find it helpful to have some sort of hands-on or tactile feedback when first attempting to feel the breath in these areas. This feedback can be achieved independently, or by working with a partner.

If you are working independently, take a moment to find some clear wall space to lean against. Come to a tall standing position with your back against the wall and your knees bent slightly.

If you are working independently, take a moment to find some clear wall space to lean against. Come to a tall standing position with your back against the wall and your knees bent slightly.

Throughout this process, allow yourself to breathe in and out at your own pace. When you feel ready, begin to take some full breaths into the back of your body. Feel the area where your back touches the wall expanding and filling with your breath. On your inhale, gently feel the breath fill your back so that it broadens and presses against the wall. On your exhale, feel your back soften. Let your neck and jaw soften. Feel your shoulders gently slide down your back. Take five more breaths here, focusing on feeling your breath moving in your back, against the wall. When you feel ready you can move away from the wall and find a comfortable standing or seated position.

If you are working with a partner, have your partner place their hands gently on your back, just inside the lower portion of your shoulder blades. Focus on sending your breath into your partner’s hands, thinking about filling them with your breath. Let your neck and jaw soften. Feel your shoulders gently slide down your back. Allow yourself to take two more breaths into your back body.

Inhale - As you breathe into your back, visualize filling your partner's hands with your breath. You may feel your back broaden and your partner's hands move slightly apart.

Inhale – As you breathe into your back, visualize filling your partner’s hands with your breath. You may feel your back broaden and your partner’s hands move slightly apart.

 

Exhale - as your breath moves up and out of your body, you may feel your back soften and release and your partner’s hands draw closer together

Exhale – as your breath moves up and out of your body, you may feel your back soften and release and your partner’s hands draw closer together

If you have chosen to work with a partner today, you can reverse roles and then talk with each other about your experience.

Do you feel your breath moving on the back side of your body? Did it help you to use feedback from the wall or from the hands of a partner? Write down any observations that feel important to you about your awareness based experience with your breath in your journal now.

When you feel ready to begin your practice, set your timer – or press play to begin your guided Daily Breathe Easy practice (included with the Breathe Easy audio book).  Allow yourself to continue to observe your breath for 15 minutes.  Focus on the easy, gentle movement at the back of your body during your practice today.  Notice any thoughts, sensations, or emotions that reveal themselves to you through this experience.  Do not fight them or judge them.  Simply notice what shows up and allow it to be.  Keep connecting with the movement at your back body.

Maintain this connection to your breath and when you feel ready, gently blink your eyes open if you have closed them.

Notice how you feel after connecting with your breath.  If you are using a journal during this process (which I highly recommend), record how you feel after your second 15 minute experience.  Did you feel subtle movement of the breath in the back of your body? How does it feel to connect with your back? Write down any observations that feel important to you about this awareness based experience with your breath in your journal now. Did this experience feel challenging?  Did it feel easy?  What did you notice?  Was your practice today different than yesterday?  If so, in what way(s)?  Remember to be kind and to give yourself the gift of grace.  Tomorrow we will discuss how to connect with the breath through the sides of the body.  If you have any thoughts or questions you would like to share, please feel free to do so in the comments section!  I’ll do my best to keep up!

Happy Breathing!

<3 Martha