How to Approach Stress - Part 4

Part 3 of our stress series focused on our physiologic dependence on the great outdoors, and the incredible benefits that come from accessing it. In the last portion, I noted an additional way to control stress and create hormone balance while taking part in forest bathing and earthing; an added level of mindfulness in this practice, and in any practice of life, comes from proper breathing or breathwork.

Breathwork can be described as a grouping of exercises that allow you to control your breathing rate, depth of breathing, and overall awareness to your breath; it is a meditative practice that can allow you to disconnect from the busy and stressed mind. Conscious or deep breathing has been studied to reduce stress and strengthen the immune system due to the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. However, more formal practices of breathwork, or rhythmic breathing, have been shown to create different benefits than general deep breathing. This type of sustained, rhythmic breathing can create a shift in the pH of our blood that comes with hyperventilation type of breath; this leads to respiratory alkalosis, making the blood more alkaline, and in turn increasing muscle tone throughout the smooth muscles in our organs. Further, neurons increase in their firing during this formal breathwork, releasing epinephrine which can cause the immune system to increase its anti-inflammatory activity; it has been studied that subjects who were taught a breathwork routine had less severe inflammatory reactions to IV bacterial toxins than those who did not practice breathwork. One more benefit to formal breathwork and rhythmic breathing is an increase in mood; these feelings of clarity or feeling “high” often come with breathwork due to that shift in the pH of our blood and reduces oxygen delivery to the brain. With all of this in mind, breathwork can be extremely beneficial for people with autoimmune diseases, but should be avoided for those with cardiac arrhythmias or those taking antipsychotic medications. Although there are many techniques for breathwork, one that I often recommend for something simple, safe, and effective is 4-7-8 breathing. For 4-7-8 breathing, follow these simple steps:

1. Find a comfortable spot to either sit, or lie down.

2. Rest your tongue on the roof of your mouth, right behind your teeth, and slowly close your eyes.

3. Let yourself take a full breath out and empty your lungs.

4. Take a deep breath in for a count of 4 seconds, hold your breath for a count of 7 seconds, and exhale out of your mouth for 8 seconds.

5. Repeat this process for about 1 to 2 minutes, setting a timer if needed. Gradually increasing the time up to 5 minutes when you feel ready.

Remember that you and only you are in control of your breath, it can heal, and it can change

your mood and stress levels. The next part of our stress relief series will cover a new activity

that reduces stress and requires this awareness of breath to elevate its many benefits. Happy breathing!

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