Rewiring for relaxation, longevity and pain control with breathing
Here’s what we know: It’s good to relax.
Deep, conscious breathing accomplishes this, along with improving pain management, and could even help us live longer. When I teach meditation and breathing techniquesto folks who come to Well Nest workshops, to stressed-out groups of business people asking for ways to avoid ulcers, to progressive-minded companies looking to increase productivity and employee satisfaction—one thing I’ve found is that the benefits of relaxation flow far beyond the workshop or class, and into myriad personal and professional areas.
When we truly learn to center and empower ourselves with a calm and positive outlook on life, this ability can’t help but travel with us, because it’s all about, and within, us. The mind/body is an amazing connection. We can use our mental abilities to make us well, or to make us ill.
Let’s briefly look at a few findings regarding some of my favorite wellness techniques in the Big Bag O’ Tools: yoga, meditation and conscious breathing.
What’s actually happening in the brain, as a result of yoga practice, that produces feelings of calmness and ease? It’s reported that more than 20 million Americans practice yoga today. So there must be something real going on with that downward-facing dog. And so, researchers have begun to focus their attention on how yoga actually changes the brain. What they’re finding shows that yoga increases relaxation in the brain, improves areas of the brain that help us manage pain, and protects us against age-related decline. No pills, no shots. Just breathing and movement.
One example: A research team from Boston University set out to discover whether yoga practice helps our brains produce more GABA, a neurotransmitter that increases feelings of relaxation. When we don’t have enough GABA in our brains, we feel anxious or depressed; medications such as Xanax work by upping GABA levels.
The results were unequivocal. Those practicing yoga had a 27 percent increase in GABA over the control group that did not do yoga, but instead just relaxed with a good book. A quiet read on a Saturday afternoon already feels good. So imagine feeling 27 percent better—less anxious, less depressed.
Another example: A study last year by researchers affiliated with the Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living compared longtime yoga and meditation practitioners with control subjects of the same age and demographics. Specifically, the researchers were curious whether or not yoga and meditation would help maintain the ability to engage in abstract thinking—a function that notoriously declines with age.
Results indicated that long-term practice of yoga and meditation buffered against age-related decline. These initial results indicate that a committed practice of meditation and yoga protects cognitive abilities well into older age.
Yoga and meditation are considered medicine in the East, and have long been believed to improve pain tolerance. In fact, seasoned yogis and meditators are known to tolerate pain twice as long as those who do not practice such techniques. The same holds true for “related” holistic techniques, such as T’ai Chi, QiGong, Reiki, acupuncture and massage, some of which have been around for, literally, thousands of years.
These modalities work with the energy flow in each of us; indeed, the energy that flows in all living things, from the deer in the woods to the flowers in your garden, to Mama Earth herself.
You know how good it feels when you’ve just received a really terrific massage? What happened? Same you, just healthier with a more fully relaxed body, a mind more at peace, and likely feeling free of previous physical discomfort.
Researchers believe that the combination of physical practice of energy-healing techniques, and the conscious breathing that begins life itself, and is at the heart of wellness, is what allows us to manage and tolerate pain with more ease.
So the take-away? Plan daily conscious breathing time. I recommend this to patients, students and anyone who’ll listen. This recharges both your body and mind. Sit out in nature, without any technology, for at least 15 minutes, and meditate/pray/ponder…breathe. Let go. In essence, embrace the stillness.
You don’t have to be proficient at yoga. You don’t have to be a seasoned meditator. But at the heart of all healing is the breath. And that’s a great place to start. Daily quiet time will not only help your mind and body shift toward wellness, it will also help you build intuitiveness about exactly what your needs are.
Until next time: “Follow your breathing, dwell mindfully, and soon you will find your balance.” — Thich Nhat Hanh
Dr. Rick Pimental-Habib, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, author, minister, and educator in private practice in Chattanooga. Contact him at DrRPH.com, visit his wellness center at WellNestChattanooga.com and follow his daily inspirations on Twitter: @DrRickWellNest