#BE15for15 – Day 6 – Pelvic Floor, the Belly’s BFF

#BE15for15 – Day 6 – Pelvic Floor, the Belly’s BFF

Today let’s talk about the deep abdominal muscles best friends… the deep muscles of the pelvic floor! The muscles of the pelvic floor act as a muscular hammock that gives support to your body at the base of the pelvis. These muscles span from the pubic bones in the front to the tailbone in the back and side-to-side from one sitting bone to the other. They support our internal organs as well as helping us to stabilize our spine.

It’s not uncommon to lose connection with these muscles in the same way you could lose touch with a friend if you don’t communicate regularly. In the beginning, it may feel tricky to connect with the pelvic floor if you have not attempted to “talk” with your pelvic floor in a long time – or ever. If you have had any trauma to the tissues of the pelvic floor resulting from childbirth, surgery or injury, please be patient and kind with yourself. You may not feel your pelvic floor muscles moving as we work on this next component. If that is the case, don’t worry. With practice eventually you will re-establish this connection. For now just stay open to the possibility of feeling connection and movement at the pelvic floor in the future.

The pelvic floor, like the belly, is also a common area where we may hold tension without being aware of it. If you encounter resistance to the movement of the breath and to sensation in the pelvic floor, don’t be discouraged. Invite your breath to begin to move gently into this area. Take your time and be compassionate with yourself. Honor any resistance or emotion that accompanies this work.

If you have experienced sexual trauma, proceed with gentle awareness. If working with increased breath and awareness in the lower abdomen and pelvic floor begins to bring up emotions, continue breathing, honor these feelings and proceed at your own pace. The body can hold experiences in its tissues, and it is possible that working with the body and breath can begin to draw out stored information about such experiences. Using the breath and awareness to release and move through these experiences can be highly beneficial. Please reach out for all of the help and support you need, whether it be from friends, family members or supportive professionals like psychotherapists, so that you can move into a greater space of integration and healing through this experience.

The pelvic floor naturally moves in a manner similar to the respiratory diaphragm that we talked about before. As we inhale, the pelvic floor relaxes downward. As we exhale, the muscles of the pelvic floor draw gently in and up. One way to think about this action is to picture the center of your pelvic floor (that point midway between your genitals and anus) gently drawing in and up as you exhale. As you inhale, let this same point relax gently downward. Similarly to the belly, it is just as important to be able to let the pelvic floor relax as it is to be able to have it contract. In the following photos, my hands are placed about where the pelvic floor is located to show the subtle movement that occurs with the breath.

 

 

Inhale - the breath flows all the way down into the pelvic bowl and the pelvic floor relaxes downward.

Inhale – the breath flows all the way down into the pelvic bowl and the pelvic floor relaxes downward.

 

 

Exhale - the breath flows back up and out of the body and the pelvic floor rises upward. The pelvic floor is a soft sheet of overlapping muscles, so there is no pointy bit like there is with my fingers in this photo.

Exhale – the breath flows back up and out of the body and the pelvic floor rises upward. The pelvic floor is a soft sheet of overlapping muscles, so there is no pointy bit like there is with my fingers in this photo.

 

Let’s give this awareness of the pelvic floor a try while we breathe now. Allow your focus to be on your breath and the subtle action of your pelvic floor. As you inhale, allow your pelvic floor to softly relax downward. As you exhale, feel your pelvic floor gently drawing in and up.

 

Lets take five more breaths just like that, focusing on the subtle movement of your pelvic floor.

 

The deep abdominal muscles and the pelvic floor muscles are considered “co-contractors” because they work best when they work together to help stabilize your spine and facilitate full breathing. Let’s explore integrating the motions at the pelvic floor and the belly. 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 inhale, allow yourself to feel a sense of expansion and spaciousness at your pelvic floor and in your belly. As you exhale, feel a sense of energetic lift from the pelvic floor, upward through your body. Feel the exhale travel upward just in front of your spine, up toward the crown of your head. Take five more breaths like that now. You may close your eyes and focus on your breath and sensations if that is helpful to you. When you feel ready, allow yourself to gently blink your eyes open.

If you are still having difficulty feeling the movement at the pelvic floor, don’t worry. The more you tune in to the sensations of your pelvic floor and practice noticing what is happening in this area of your body, the easier this motion will become to feel. All it takes to reconnect with forgotten areas of the body is time, practice and patience. Be gentle and practice patience and kindness with yourself as you re-establish this connection.

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 your pelvic floor 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 pelvic floor.

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 pelvic bowl? How does it feel to connect with the pelvic floor? 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 connecting the movement at the belly and the subtle movement at the pelvic floor with how we sit or stand.  Posture can influence our breath (and how the diaphragm and pelvic floor relate to one another) quite a bit.  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 5 – Belly Love!

#BE15for15 – Day 5 – Belly Love!

Love That Belly <3

Love That Belly <3

Embracing and loving our bellies can help us to breathe better.  After paying attention to what is happening at the abdomen while you breathe for the past two days, you may have noticed a couple of patterns that can occur instead of an easy flowing movement of the stomach in and out. Sometimes, people develop a reverse breathing pattern, where they are “sucking it in” on the inhale and letting the belly drop on the exhale. Sometimes there really isn’t much movement happening in the belly at all and the abdominal muscles are constantly kept in a guarded state of contraction. Neither of these options are natural or particularly effective breath patterns. They are developed through fear, cultural influence and the idea of “sucking in the gut”.

This is where it becomes important to get comfortable with the idea of letting our belly soften. Many of us hold our belly in all the time to appear more slender and fit. While it is important to be able to contract our abdominal muscles quickly, strongly and effectively for many different activities, it is just as important to learn how to relax them.

Any patterns of chronic holding, contraction and shortening don’t serve our bodies well. This contributes to maladaptive energetic holding patterns as well as to physical tightness and imbalances. A strong muscle isn’t one that is always tightly clenched. A strong muscle is one that can alternate between a relaxed and contracted state in a responsive, coordinated way.

How has it felt to focus on the movement at your belly for the past two days?  Did you notice any reluctance to let your belly soften?  Have you been holding your stomach in tightly for years?  Sometimes when people have held tension in the belly for years, it can feel scary or impossible to allow the belly to soften. Practice letting the belly relax in places and at times that feel safe and eventually it will get easier. The expansion of the belly on the inhale may also feel rough and jagged initially. With practice it gets easier to draw the breath deeper and deeper into your body. Over time, the movement of your belly in and out will become increasingly smooth, free and easy.

We will devote our focus to the smooth flow of breath along the front side of the body for our practice today.  Unless you are congested, let’s breathe in and out through the nose. If you are having difficulty breathing through your nose, please feel free to breathe through your mouth. Allow the breath to flow freely and smoothly in and out, with no pause between inhale and exhale.

Connect with your foundation – feeling your feet on the floor, your seat grounding if you’re sitting – then lengthen upward from that strong base.

When 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.

When we breathe in, we allow our belly to gently soften and expand outward and downward.

When we breathe out, we gently draw our belly inward and upward to press out any stale air that may be lingering in the lower parts of our lungs.

While we breathe smoothly and fully this way, our neck and shoulders stay soft and relaxed.

If you feel ready to begin your practice now, 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 your belly 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 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 this experience feel challenging?  Did it feel easy?  What did you notice?  Did you notice any movement happening at your belly?  Did it feel smooth or jagged?  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 bringing our focus to the pelvic floor and the subtle movement that can occur there during our breathing 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 4 – Why does the belly move? The diaphragm!

#BE15for15 – Day 4 – Why does the belly move?  The diaphragm!

The reason that the belly moves as we inhale and exhale has to do with a very important muscle for breathing… our diaphragm! The diaphragm is a large, dome-shaped sheet of muscle that is located just beneath the ribcage. It’s not only at the front side of the body, but runs all the way through the body from front to back and from side to side. The diaphragm separates the torso into the chest above and the abdomen below. It is also the main muscle used in a full healthy breathing pattern!

As we inhale, our diaphragm pulls downward, changing the pressure in the chest so that air is drawn into the lungs. As we exhale, the diaphragm draws back up to assist in pressing air out of the chest. When the diaphragm draws down as we breathe in, our abdominal organs have to go somewhere to let the diaphragm move fully – that is why the belly relaxes outward as we breathe in. As we exhale, the diaphragm draws back upward and our belly can draw in and up back toward the spine. In the following photos, my hands are placed about where the diaphragm is located to show this motion.

INHALE – THE DIAPHRAGM MOVES DOWNWARD

 

EXHALE- THE DIAPHRAGM MOVES BACK UPWARD

EXHALE- THE DIAPHRAGM MOVES BACK UPWARD

 

When we don’t allow our diaphragm to move fully because we are holding our belly in tight, this restriction can contribute to pain and dysfunction in several areas of the body. We touched on the way that chest breathing can lead to tension and pain in the neck and upper shoulders, due to the overuse of the accessory breathing muscles like the scalene and sternocleidomastoid muscles. These muscles are designed to be used to help us breathe when we are really physically active and our diaphragm needs a little bit of back up. We may also use those muscles when we are having difficulty breathing due to an illness or a condition like asthma. They are not intended to do the majority of our breathing work, and overuse of these muscles through chest breathing can lead to chronic neck and shoulder pain and tension.

 

Another area that suffers when we suck in our stomach and don’t allow our diaphragm to move is the low back. There is a correlation established between chronic low back pain and abnormal breathing patterns. When the diaphragm and the belly aren’t allowed to move freely, there is an increase in abdominal pressure as we inhale that can cause an increase in pressure on the spinal structures. This increase in pressure can exacerbate symptoms in people who are managing spinal disc injuries.

 

The health and function of our pelvic floor can be negatively impacted by always holding the belly tight, too. It is essential for the belly to relax outward and downward as we inhale to prevent excessive pressures from pushing upward into the chest cavity above the diaphragm, backward toward the spinal structures and downward into the pelvic floor. When we hold tension in our abdomen, we also usually hold tension in our pelvic floor. This combination of chronically held tension in the pelvic floor and the abnormal pressure exerted on the pelvic floor when the belly is held rigidly can contribute to pelvic floor dysfunction and urinary leaking.

 

Let’s try this diaphragmatic or belly breathing now.

 

Place your hands on your belly and as you inhale, feel your breath moving in and down to fill your hands. This motion is not pushing the belly outward, but rather allowing it to soften passively with your inhale.

 

INHALE

INHALE

 

As you breathe out, feel your belly draw in and up, toward your spine and away from your hands.

 

EXHALE

EXHALE

 

Allow yourself to take five more full breaths like that. You may close your eyes and focus on your breath and sensations if that is helpful to you.

If you feel ready to begin your practice now, 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 your belly 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 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 this experience feel challenging?  Did it feel easy?  What did you notice?  Did you notice any movement happening at your belly?  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 about the process of learning to love the natural movement of the belly, and how that will help us in our breathing practice and life!  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 3 – Free the belly!

Laughing Buddha - Medium#BE15for15 – Day 3 – Free the belly!

Happy day to you!

Before we go any further and move into practices that will deepen the breath, I want to mention a brief note of caution. While we have all been breathing every day since birth, working with the breath in ways we aren’t used to may make some people feel dizzy or light headed. If at any time you feel dizzy or light headed, please sit or lie down and return to your own quiet breathing pattern until this sensation passes. Over time and with practice, your body will get used to a more full breath pattern.

This program is designed to provide you with the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of mindful breathing while utilizing very gentle and safe techniques. There may be specific individuals who would benefit from a slightly modified approach due to their unique history or conditions.

If you have any medical conditions, specifically conditions affecting your lung or heart function, please talk with your doctor before beginning the next part of this (or any) breathing program to determine if any modifications should be made for you.

My big question for you now is this… During your practice for the past few days, where did you feel your breath moving in your body? Where are you feeling your breath moving in your body right now?  If you aren’t sure, allow your eyes to close and take five full breaths while being open to feeling the sensation of the breath moving through the body. If you still aren’t sure after trying the five breaths, that’s okay too.

Many of us only feel movement of the breath in the area of the upper chest and on the front of the body when we first start our breathing practice. This is called chest breathing and it is a very common pattern. It’s also really inefficient and can cause a lot of tension in the neck and upper shoulders. If you know you hold tension in this area of your body, it is very likely that you are doing a lot of chest breathing. Chest breathing can contribute to neck and upper shoulder tension and discomfort as the accessory (or helper) muscles used in breathing that are located in the neck have to work harder when we aren’t letting our diaphragm move fully.

Since we now know that chest breathing isn’t the best option for getting oxygen into our bodies, let’s talk about how we can begin to make use of more of our lung space rather than just that front, top portion. The first step in being able to use all of our lung space is to become aware of where it is. One way to think about all the lung space you have is that if there are ribs around it, there is lung tissue in it! The rib cage wraps from the back of the body at the spine, around the sides and joins together at the sternum – or breastbone – at the front of the body. There are some other organs protected by the rib cage, but the lungs do fill most of the space of the rib cage on ALL sides of the body. Imagine if we took full advantage of all of that lung space every time we took a breath in and out!

We’ll start with an awareness exercise where we focus on breathing on the front side of the body. Unless you are congested, let’s breathe in and out through the nose. If you are having difficulty breathing through your nose, please feel free to breathe through your mouth. Allow the breath to flow freely and smoothly in and out, with no pause between inhale and exhale.

Connect with your foundation – feeling your feet on the floor, your seat grounding if you’re sitting – then lengthen upward from that strong base.

When 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.

When we breathe in, we allow our belly to gently soften and expand outward and downward.

When we breathe out, we gently draw our belly inward and upward to press out any stale air that may be lingering in the lower parts of our lungs.

While we breathe smoothly and fully this way, our neck and shoulders stay soft and relaxed.

If you feel ready to begin your practice now, set your timer – or press play to begin your guided Daily Breathe Easy practice (included with the Breathe Easy audio book – track 21).  Allow yourself to continue to observe your breath for 15 minutes.  Focus on the easy, gentle movement at your belly 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 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 this experience feel challenging?  Did it feel easy?  What did you notice?  Did you notice any movement happening at your belly?  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 about why the belly moves while we breathe and the healthy action of a very important muscle for breathing – the diaphragm!  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 2 – Mental chatter and focus. Help! My brain won’t turn off!

#BE15for15 – Day 2 – Mental chatter and focus.  Help!  My brain won’t turn off!

How did your 15 minutes go yesterday? You may have noticed that sometimes it feels easy to feel a deep sense of connection with your breath and all of a sudden… “squirrel!” You catch yourself thinking about what you will make for dinner, how work will go/did go today, that conversation with so-and-so, your favorite TV show that’s on later… if you are anything like me, you may notice the tendency to become frustrated and then even begin to beat up on yourself. “Gah! I can’t even focus on my breathing for 5, let alone 15 minutes!”

animal-927929_1280

When you begin practicing for longer periods of time, 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.

Do you remember where you felt your breath moving yesterday?  Use the same basic check-in today that we practiced yesterday.  Be sure to give yourself the gifts of kindness and grace when you notice your mind wandering.  Gently call your attention back to your breath by using the elements listed in this check-in.

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.

If you feel ready to begin your practice now, 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.  Do not fight them or judge them.  Simply notice what shows up and allow it to be.

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 are using a journal during this process (which I highly recommend), record how you feel after your second 15 minute experience.  Did this experience feel challenging? Did it feel easy? What did you notice? Where in your body did you feel your breath moving?  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 begin to connect with the breath in different parts of our bodies.  Again, 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 1- Getting Started. Let’s take a baseline measurement.

IMG_0213#BE15for15 – Day 1 – Getting Started.  Let’s take a baseline measurement.

What is mindful breathing?

All mindful breathing means is that we will be paying attention to our breath. It really is as simple as that. Mindful breathing is a great practice for many reasons.   Mindful breathing is something that you can practice anywhere, and you don’t need any fancy or expensive equipment. You can begin 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 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. If you have always wanted to try meditation and weren’t sure where or how to start, today is your day! Meditation can be quite simple and approachable. It doesn’t have to be something that feels complicated or intimidating. All it takes to begin a meditative breathing practice is applying your loving dedication and shining the brilliant light of your awareness on something that we take for granted on a daily basis… our breath!

Today – Day 1 – I invite you to focus on taking a baseline for your 15 day challenge.  It is impossible to know how much you have grown, learned, or changed if you don’t have a clear idea of your starting point.  Taking a baseline is simple.  We begin by noticing what is.  As you breathe today, notice where you feel your breath moving in your body.  Check in with your breath without trying to change or control it.  Be with your breath. Spend 15 minutes, free of distractions and focused on your 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, once you have read these directions, 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.

If you feel ready to begin your practice now, 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.  Do not fight them or judge them.  Simply notice what shows up and allow it to be.

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 are using a journal during this process (which I highly recommend), record how you feel after your 15 minute experience.  Did this experience feel challenging? Did it feel easy? What did you notice? Where in your body did you feel your breath moving?  Remember to be kind and to give yourself the gift of grace.  Tomorrow we will discuss how to address wandering minds, and on Sunday we will begin to work on how to connect with the breath in different parts of our bodies.  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 – What Is It?

blowingdandelionBE15for15#BE15for15 – What Is It?

#BE15for15 is a free, fun, mindful breathing challenge.  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.

This round of #BE15for15 will begin on June 1st.  I will be sharing prompts, exercises and reflections via email each day to help you stay engaged with the challenge.  Please consider adopting this simple and powerful habit for 15 days in June – and invite your friends and family to play along, too!  To receive the daily email prompts from June 1-15th, simply visit the Back In Body website and subscribe to the e-newsletter using the form at the bottom left of the page.  If you are already subscribed, you are all set to go!

If you are looking for more information to support your practice, Breathe Easy: mindful breathing made simple, is now available in ebook, audiobook and softcover form!  Check out the ebook and audiobook here and the softcover here to learn more about breathing mechanics and fun ways to learn about your own anatomy and physiology.

 

Happy Breathing!

<3 Martha

When life starts feeling hard…

When life starts feeling hard…

The past year has held many ups and downs in my personal life – as I’m sure many of you have experienced too.  I recently had a moment of clarity regarding what has worked very well for me during times of challenge.  It was exactly what I needed to hear at the time and it graciously came flowing out of my pen this morning.  I love a good free writing practice!  I am sharing this because when I practice viewing my life through this lens, it can keep me from sinking into a dark downward spiral and it may be helpful for someone else too. winter-320940_1280

When life feels hard and crushing (because in this human life, if we are honest, we can all feel that way sometimes) – practice noticing bits of joy and beauty – sparkles of love and connection.

Embrace those moments, no matter how small they seem.  This will help you ride the waves of hardship and keep you connection to the light alive.  Gather all of the goodness that is present in your life.  Don’t let it slip by you unnoticed.

tea-leaf-985028_1280

It is there – in a kind smile from a stranger – the loving brush of your hand over your own face in the morning – catching your favorite scent in the air – snuggling under a blanket with a warm cup of tea/coffee/hot chocolate – listening and feeling listened to – holding someones hand.

Practice noticing these moments, even in the midst of hard and sad.  Do not be discouraged.  Everything gets easier with practice.

I wish you many moments of love, connection and joy this holiday season!

Martha

Riding the Wave

I give my best every day.  I consistently perform at the top level of my abilities at all times.  How is that possible, you ask?  Some days I feel like I can do anything and everything… I am a dreamer, a creator… I feel my own power and express myself freely.  I do ALL THE THINGS!  Other days, if I have showered, dried my hair and am wearing pants with a waistband before noon that feels like a major win.  Can you relate?  If so, congratulations on being a human.

As much as our cult of productivity would like us to believe that we ought to have the same work capacity as robots, we are not in fact machines.  To expect standardized levels of energy in the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional realms is not realistic and works in opposition to honoring our natural cycles and rhythms that correspond with the seasons of the year and the seasons of our lives.

Acknowledging my humanness, I still give my best every day.  I consistently perform at the top level of my abilities at all times.  The key to not running ourselves ragged or beating ourselves up over any items left unchecked on our “to do list” at the end of the day is to have an honest check in with where we are each day and gauge what our “best” might look like on that given day.  If we are depleted, we need to make time to refill the well within ourselves.  Continuing to push when we don’t have anything left in the tank wins no medals or gold stars and only causes deep fatigue, depression and burnout.  I know this because I am a chronic doer of this.

I am learning to work against this tendency to push forward, assuming that I should always be able to handle everything every day and am learning how to more honestly check in with myself and determine what my “best” realistically is for that day without depleting myself.  I hope you find the following exercise helpful.  I know it has been really useful in learning how to be more honest with myself about where I really am on any given day – and then structuring my day to fit where I’m at to the best of my ability.  It is also useful if done over time to identify any patterns that may emerge.

 

Judy Tills of Peaceful Transitions recommends each morning before getting out of bed taking a few deep breaths to get centered and honestly answering the following questions and recording them in a journal…

On a scale of 0-10 with 0 being none at all and 10 being the largest amount you can imagine…

How much energy do you have (physical)?
How much happiness and joy do you feel right now (emotional)?
How would you grade your level of self talk – with more positivity at the higher end of the number scale (mental)?
How would you grade your level of feeling connected to something larger than/outside of yourself (spiritual)?
She also recommends noting any pain you feel and assigning a number value to that as well (0 being no pain and 10 being the worst)

 

This daily check in practice can help you and I begin to be more honest with ourselves and to learn how to take better care of ourselves.  Some days call for naps and long walks.  Other days, working on inspiring projects might feel joyful.  And some days call for celebrating being showered and in pants with a waistband before noon 😉

 

Peace, love and naps,

Martha

Qi Breathing

Hey there!  Today I am excited to share a great guest post from Deanna Reiter and Troy Stende about some common misconceptions about breathing.  Deanna and Troy are the developers of a breathing and movement technique called Qi Breathing.  To connect with Deanna and Troy or for more information about Qi Breathing, visit www.ExperienceQiBreathing.com or call 651-400-0665.

 

The Top Eight Breathing Myths

By Deanna Reiter and Troy Stende

 

Breathing is one of the most fundamental things we do in a day. We take it for granted that we do it right, yet something so obviously simple has many myths on what is right and wrong.

 

1. I don’t need to think about how I breathe because it’s automatic.

 

Just because breathing is an involuntary process doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. The reality is that over ninety percent of us are using less than fifty percent of our breathing capacity. We are inhaling shallowly, which does not fuel our blood and bodies with sufficient oxygen and energy. On the flip side, our exhalations release only a small amount of carbon dioxide, keeping toxins and wastes in our blood streams and organs. Shallow breathing has been linked with degenerative disease, poor quality of life and an early onset of death.

 

2. Breathing can’t improve how I feel.

 

Irregular, rapid breathing can intensify stress, anxiety, emotional distress, tension, and poor posture. Due to higher levels of carbon dioxide in the body, fatigue and depression can also become chronic issues.

 

3. I would know if something was wrong with my breathing.

 

Most people don’t notice their breathing is compromised until seventy percent of the functioning capacity of their lungs is gone. Unless you do regular testing to see how long you can hold your breath or do regular breathing exercises that require you to inhale or exhale for a certain length of time, you may not realize any change in your breathing until it becomes a severe issue.

 

4. There are other health concerns I need to focus on before I should think about breathing.

 

Of all the self-help techniques available, breathing properly is one of the best ways you can improve emotional and physical health, decrease stress and minimize aging. Shortness of breath is the beginning spiral downward to aging, ill health, weakness and depression. Learning how to breathe better and actively remembering to do it is a great foundation to help with any other health concerns you may have.

 

5. Animals in the wild don’t need to learn how to breathe better and neither do I.

 

Animals in the wild do not maintain the same chronic stress levels that we do. They may have small bursts of “stress” when they are in a predator-prey situation, but for the most part, they are relaxed and aware of their surroundings.

 

In today’s society, the majority of people have restricted breathing patterns and carry chronic muscular, emotional and physical tension. Poor breathing patterns increase our already elevated stress levels and we need to retrain ourselves to breathe more fully and deeply.

 

6. Breathing primarily into my chest is better than breathing through my belly.

 

Chest breathing does not shift the diaphragm, so your lungs will not have as much room to fill. Chest breathing also does not engage the lower part of the lungs, which has a much greater volume than the upper part of the lungs. Chest breathing also tends to increase the respiration rate because it involves a quicker and shallower breath. This means that oxygen levels (tidal volume) will be lower and there will be less time for carbon dioxide to leave the body.

 

Chest breathing is associated with light-headedness, heart palpitations, weakness, numbness, tingling, agitation and overall shortness of breath. People with issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders or phobias will have many of their symptoms exacerbated if they are chest breathers.

 

7. Breathing through my mouth is better than breathing through my nose.

 

Long-term, chronic mouth breathing can be adverse to your health. It can lead to higher levels of inflammation and mucus, which can lead to asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses. Mouth breathing can lead to snoring and sleep apnea, which deprive the body of oxygen at night resulting in low energy levels and can possibly lead to cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and cancer. Damage to the heart muscle, inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, psoriasis, eczema and many other problems may occur because of mouth breathing at night. Breathing through the mouth during the day will further exacerbate health problems.

It is recommended to breathe through the nose to warm and filter the air. Breathing through the nose also makes the lungs work harder and more effectively as compared to breathing through the mouth. Breathing through the nose promotes effective Nitric Oxide utilization, which can help to kill microorganisms in the lungs and dilate (open) blood vessels and internal organs to allow more oxygen to enter. Overall, breathing through the nose can improve blood oxygenation by two times compared to mouth breathers. This can result in energizing the body. Nasal breathing can also reduce stress and calm the mind.

 

Of course, if you are suffering from allergies or sinuses or any restriction of the nasal passages, breathing through the mouth is a perfectly acceptable alternative. But the benefits of nasal breathing and disadvantages of mouth breathing cannot be understated.

 

8. If I don’t breathe “right,” there’s nothing I can do to change that.

There are many different types of breathing exercises you can do to draw awareness to your breath and to begin breathing more deeply and fully. One of the breathing exercises we developed is called Qi Breathing, which will attune you to your natural breathing depth and internal energy and help you to increase both over time. It is designed to give you more energy, clarity and peace.

To begin Qi Breathing, state an intention for your breathing practice, such as to get energized or motivated, to be calmer or to be more focused. Inhale and exhale deeply, yet quickly through the nose, so that your inhalations and exhalations are the same length of time, approximately one second each. Visualize the breath moving in a circle, up the back of the spine and down the front of the spine. This circular rhythm will help your Qi, or internal energy to circulate and increase rather than to remain stagnant in your body. Incorporate a rocking movement with your breathing. On the exhalation, rock forward (toward your knees). On the inhalation, rock backward (upright). Make sure that your focus is on the inhalation and drawing in energy rather than on the exhalation. Bring your awareness fully to the breath and maintain your focus there to allow your mind to quiet. This can bring you into a deeply peaceful and blissful state. Continue reading below for a total of three minutes for a shortened version of Qi Breathing.

 

Deanna Reiter, MA, and Troy Stende are the developers of Qi Breathing. They will be teaching an amazing 30-minute version of Qi Breathing at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Bloomington, MN. Come experience it with them live March 7-8, 2015. For more information on Qi Breathing, visit: www.ExperienceQiBreathing.com or call 651-400-0665.

 

 

Here’s a quick 3-minute Qi Breathing exercise that can leave you feeling energized AND peaceful at the same time.

 

Step 1

While sitting upright, spine straight, head level, take a few moments to slow your breathing and relax your body and mind. Let go of your mental to-do list and give yourself permission to take three minutes out of your day.

 

Step 2

Focus on an intention you’d like to create, such as peace, happiness or abundance.

 

Step 3

Begin to inhale and exhale deeply, yet quickly through the nose, so that your inhalations and exhalations are the same length of time, approximately one second each. Visualize the breath moving in a circle, up the back of the spine and down the front of the spine. This circular rhythm will help your Qi, or internal energy, to circulate and increase rather than to remain stagnant in your body. Incorporate a rocking movement with your breathing. On the exhalation, rock forward (toward your knees). On the inhalation, rock backward (upright). Make sure that your focus is on the inhalation and drawing in energy rather than on the exhalation. While keeping your body relaxed, bring your awareness fully to the breath and maintain your focus there to allow your mind to quiet.This can bring you into a deeply peaceful and blissful state while also feeling incredibly energized.

(Breathe about 2 mins.)

 

Step 4

Slow your breathing to a relaxed rhythm. Take a moment to enjoy the increased energy, Qi, flowing through your body. Ideally, reflect with gratitude upon your intention.

 

Qi Breathing will attune you to your natural breathing depth and internal energy and help you to increase both over time. It is designed to give you more energy, clarity and helps you to focus and learn. We recommend doing this at least once a day.