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12 Months of Wellness: February

Here Comes February 2018!

We made it through the first month of 2018! I hope you found last month's ideas related to creativity inspiring in some way and were able to express some of your creative self, expand some of your previous endeavors or remember old skills. I will be writing a blog every month to provide some direction in continuing to hone and enhance wellness in your life over the remainder of 2018. There are many months left, so let's get going!

February we will be focusing on The Breath.

You read that right. A whole month devoted to breathing. You might be surprised how many benefits come from harnessing something as simple as the air around us. In fact, you are already doing it right now. Moving forward, we will examine ways to further exert our control over the breath. In fact, there are so many breathing exercises available, you will find that one month is not nearly long enough!

Belisa Vranich, author of the book, "Breathe," asserts that breathing exercises are "massively practical." You can read a New York Times article in which research (printed in the August 2017 edition of BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine) on the benefits of breathing is referenced, as well as some ideas for practicing easy breathing exercises. The article first references Coherent Breathing, which is very similar to what we will review in Week 1.

You might be surprised to know that practicing a breathing exercise daily will reduce your stress levels enough to produce measurable effects in blood pressure, immune system response, heart rate, metabolism, circulation and detoxification.

Week 1:

Simple Breathing - Start this exercise by finding a quiet place to sit or lay down on your back. If sitting, rest your back against the chair back. Rest your hands in your lap, or down at your side. Place your feet flat on the floor, or allow your feet to fall softly outward, if laying down.

Since you have been breathing all along, this exercise is meant to draw attention to your ongoing breathing.

*Pay attention to your breathe.

*Notice how it is filling your lungs and exiting your lungs.

*Be mindful of how your body responds to being filled with air, such as your shoulders lifting or your belly feeling full.

*Start exerting some control over your breathe by drawing a slower and deeper breathe with each inhale.

*Exert control over your exhale by breathing slowly and evenly

*Notice that your breathe begins to find a rhythm that coincides with your efforts to create a slow, deep and even breathing pattern

Do this simple breathing exercise for two minutes. Most people breathe between 15-25 times in a minute. You will find that by slowing your breathes you will begin to take between 5-10 breathes per minute. Two minutes of breathing will allow you to take the minimum breathes necessary to create an impact on your mental well-being.

Week 2:

The American Institute of Stress has created some relaxation techniques and has some wonderful resources available on their website. This week, try one of their certified techniques called "Quieting Response"

"Quieting Response– utilizes visualization and deep breathing (a powerful combination) to stop an acute stress response in its tracks. The entire exercise only takes 6 seconds! First “smile inwardly” with your eyes and mouth and release the tension in your shoulders. This is a powerful muscle release in the places where most people hold their muscles tense. Then imagine holes in the soles of your feet. As you take a deep breath in, visualize hot air flowing through these holes moving slowly up your legs, through your abdomen and filling your lungs. Relax your muscles sequentially as the hot air moves through them up your body. When you exhale reverse the visualization so you “see” hot air coming out the same holes in your feet. Repeat throughout the day whenever you need to feel calm and relaxed."

Week 3:

Peace Breathing - much like valuing the use of visualization, we can also harness the power infused in words. Hearing the words, peace, calm or relax can tune our mind to the desired results and produce an intention that creates a sense of peacefulness or calmness. In this exercise, you will start with the Simple Breathing from week one and add words to each inhale and exhale.

As you breathe in, you will say to yourself one word that sets your intention for relaxation. This can be "Peace", "Calm", "Relax" or any other word that produces an increased sense of relaxation. The word will take on life as you visualize the breathe being infused with peacefulness and spreading throughout your body, starting at your core and seeping through every limb, out toward your fingertips and toes.

As you breathe out, you will two words that focus your mind on stress leaving your body. These words can be "Stress Leaving," "Worries Leaving," "Fear Releasing," or any other combination of words that signifies to your brain that you are controlling the flow of your stress. As the breathe leaves your body, so will the stress, worry, nervousness, fear and concern. You will feel it blow out of you with every exhale and float away with the wind.

Continue for two to five minutes of Simple Breathing, as you use both imagery and words to infuse your body with calmness and expel the tension from your body.

“I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it until it begins to shine.” Emily Dickinson

Week 4:

Child Breathing Techniques - children can easily get bored with exercises that are meant to help them feel calm and relaxed, but so can adults! Whether you are using these techniques for yourself, or teaching them to your children, you may find that putting a creative spin on a breathing exercise can re-direct your mind and allow for the exercise to be more effective. Take a look at these 8 breathing exercises designed with children in mind. Christie Burnett, of Childhood 101, shares some of her wisdom as an educator and presenter and even makes them printer-friendly! This week, let's focus on what she calls Bumble Bee Breathing. You will find that this is also called Bhramari Pranayama Breathing and can read a great article about it here.

Bee Breathing - Start by sitting up straight and tall in a quiet place. Close your eyes to decrease distractions and encourage your mind to focus on your breathing exercise.

*Place the index finger of each hand in each ear and press very lightly on the cartilage (not into the ear canal).

*Take a deep breathe inward (do not hold it)

*As you exhale, keep your mouth closed and begin to hum (or buzz like a bee!)

Continue this pattern for 2 minutes as you reap the benefits of creating a distraction for the mind, drowning out the endless anxiety-chatter that can produce our stress to begin with and engage in mindful and focused breathes that have a positive impact on your physical and mental well-being.

Beyond February: There are so many different versions of breathing techniques. You can use the Simple Breathing to build with imagery, words, counting and body movements. I'm posting one more bonus link below and for more breathing exercises, please visit my FaceBook for links to various articles. Happy Breathing!

Feel free to visit the following website for instructions and ideas related to counting your breathes.

BONUS: For my friends with Attention Deficits, you will likely find yourself bored, distracted or mentally wandering before you are halfway through some of these exercises. Try starting your breathing exercise in the most simplistic manner (See Week 1) and then add another component at breathe 4 or 5. My favorite is to do the Simple Breathe until breathe 5 and then start "Breathing Colors." Choose the color that means calmness to you and visualize that color filling your body as you breathe in (I like blue or purple). Choose a color that means stress to you and visualize that color leaving your body as your exhale (I usually choose red or black). Visualize the places in which the stressful color is stuck and pull it out of you with your exhale. Make sure you fill those places with the calming color as you take your next inhale. Happy Breathing!

Disclaimer: This article is provided for informational purposes and your consideration only. You are not required to engage in any of the ideas presented here. If at any time you find yourself becoming light-headed, stop immediately. You can attempt the breathing exercise at a later time, but should not continue if it is producing light-headedness. You may also choose to discuss light-headedness with your primary care provider or practice the breathing exercise with a provider, instead of attempting on your own.

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