July~ Get Cooler This Summer!

It’s that time of year where the temperatures are rising and we plan our outdoor activities around the sun’s most powerful rays. If you are determined not to let the heat stop you from your outdoor activities, here are a few suggestions to help you stay cool and beat the heat.

One of my favorites is an ancient yogic breathing technique called Sitali. Nowadays when people associate yoga with the word, ‘hot’, this may sound counterintuitive–A COOLING technique from yoga? Whether you practice yoga or not, this breathing technique is an excellent way to cool your body down from the inside.

1   Sitali- ‘Cooling Breath’

In addition to cooling the body, Sitali is said to do to curb hunger and thirst, improve bad breath, calm the mind, reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, and promote a more relaxed state.

How To Practice Sitali:

  • Take a few deep, full belly breaths to start.
  • Open the mouth and bring your tongue out slightly.
  • Curl your tongue lengthwise
  • Inhale deeply through your curled tongue and into your mouth as if you are drinking in air through a straw
  • Close your mouth and hold the breath for a moment before exhaling deeply through your nostrils
  • Repeat for 5-10 breaths and you should begin to feel slightly cooler from within

*Note: If you are unable to curl the tongue in this way, you may bring your tongue out slightly between your lips and practice this breath technique in the same manner.

2   Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate

We all THINK we are drinking enough water, but many of us are not. The saying ‘When you are thirsty, it is often too late’ is true when it comes to hydration.

According to the Mayo Clinic, men should drink about 13 cups (3 liters) of total beverages per day in a moderate climate and women should drink about 9 cups (2.2 liters) per day. The key word here is moderate. When the temperatures are rising, and the heat becomes more extreme, the recommendation is to drink at least 16-24 ounces of water per hour. In addition to water, consider drinking coconut water or a sports drink with electrolytes for an added boost. Check the label and choose one without sugar, as sugar is dehydrating.

3  Foods that Hydrate

In addition to water, choose foods that are hydrating over others that dehydrate your body (ex. coffee, sugar, salt, alcohol).

  • watermelon
  • celery
  • cantaloupe
  • cucumber
  • grapefruit
  • tomatoes
  • carrots
  • greens
  • peppers

There are many other important ways to combat the rising temperatures, including seeking air-conditioning when the mercury is rising. Equally important is keeping our furry friends hydrated and cool. Remember that we have the luxury of wearing shoes on the burning pavement, but our dogs’ bare paws can burn and blister quickly. Consider purchasing booties to protect your dog’s paws. We recently purchased a pair for our dog, and though he needs time to practice walking in these, we got quite a bit of comic relief watching his first steps. Here’s to you finding ways to keep your cool this summer!

-S&B

June~ Get your ZZZ’s on- Breathing Away Insomnia!

Insomnia is one of the biggest frustrations that many people face night after night when trying to fall asleep. Many, if not most, of my clients often ask if there are any breathing techniques that can support sleep. The answer is a big resounding YES!

A former insomniac myself, I used these techniques to cure my own insomnia and have a healthier relationship with my mattress and pillow. I reluctantly admit to taking sleep medications for many years, until I began to fear their adverse side effects and went off of them nearly ten years ago. I can honestly say that it can be done- and doing so will be a much healthier choice if you are one of the nearly 9 million Americans relying on sleep medications to fall asleep.

Lack of sleep has a direct negative impact on your health, quality of life, safety, and job performance. Try these techniques and you will likely be off to dreamland.

Belly Breathing

Deep belly breathing is the first step in preparing for relaxation and sleep.

The way this is done: Bring your awareness to your belly and place your hands on your belly to feel the breath as it enters this area of the body. Imagine that you are slowly inflating a balloon into your belly. Just as slowly as you inhaled, slowly exhale as if you were gradually releasing the air from the balloon (i.e. your belly). Repeat several times, focusing on the inhalations and exhalations remaining consistently smooth, deep and even. When practiced properly, this technique relaxes the muscles of the body, balances the heart rate, provides a thorough exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, calms the nervous system and relaxes the mind.

 2:1 Breathing

Since the exhalation is the part of the breath that releases carbon dioxide and relaxes us, exhaling twice as long as you inhale can promote a more deeply relaxed state. This can also be helpful during moments of extreme stress or pain.

The way this is done: While you are doing deep, even belly breathing, try to get a count for how long you comfortably take an inhalation and an exhalation. For example, you may count 4 seconds when you inhale and 4 seconds when you exhale. Now, instead of exhaling the same duration as your inhalation, exhale TWICE as long. So if your comfortable inhalation is 4 seconds, you will then exhale twice as long- or 8 seconds.

8:16:32 Breathing

Another excellent way to fall asleep is actually an ancient eastern practice coming from yogic breathing techniques. It can be done while practicing deep, even belly breathing, or to maximize its potential, you can incorporate the 2:1 breathing above into this method.

The way this is done: While lying on your back, take 8 deep, belly breaths. Then turn onto your right side and double the amount- taking 16 deep, belly breaths. Then, turn onto your left side and take 32 deep belly breaths. Theoretically, you will fall asleep before you reach 32!

Additional Suggestions

-Prepare the room by making it as quiet and dark as possible.

-Essential oils can be tremendously supportive. Lavender is one of the most soothing, relaxing scents. Rubbing lavender on the bottoms of your feet and the back of your neck is a great way to induce relaxation and sleep. It is very gentle on the skin and rarely, if ever, causes irritations. Purchase a pure, therapeutic grade essential oil.

-If a ‘to-do list’ comes into your mind as you lay down to fall asleep, create a mantra-like saying to stop yourself from getting drawn in. For example ‘Now is sleep time; plans are for tomorrow.’

-Avoid electronics before going to sleep. Books and magazines are far more sleep inducing then technology, which inhibits falling asleep. Seek calming, wind-down activities instead of those that cause stimulation.

*If you aren’t certain if you are breathing in the healthiest way and would like to be guided through some deep breathing and relaxations to support sleep, you can find my Deep Relaxation Series- Guided Breathing, Relaxations, and Visualizations on iTunes or directly through my website on the Products page. You will soon be off to healthier living and sleeping in no time!

http://www.stopandbreathe.org/products

-S&B

April~ The Art of Meditation

Meditation has become hyped up in the news and media in the past few years. The word alone can bring a sense of intimidation to many, as there is a bit of mysticism surrounding the term. I am often asked, ‘What is the best type of meditation?’ and I always answer, ‘Whichever one works!’ Along these lines, people often tell me, ‘I tried to meditate and it didn’t work for me; I couldn’t clear my mind.’ This is one of the biggest misconceptions about meditation. It is impossible to clear one’s mind until we take our final breath. The goal is to not be overly connected to our distracting thoughts and to extend the spaces between thoughts, thus experiencing the stillness that is waiting for us to settle into.

Since there are many types of meditation, I will share 3 of the most popular ones. I encourage you to explore each of these and find the one that works best for you. When I work with private clients, I help them develop a meditation practice that works for them and is easily assimilated into their lives. It’s not a requirement that one devotes an hour 3 times a day to sit on a rock in a remote place and meditate! I am an advocate for short 5-15 minute ‘burst’ of meditation practiced throughout the day.

1-    Guided Visualization

This form of meditation is usually guided by an instructor or a recording, but can also be self-guided. Involving breath awareness, progressive relaxation techniques, and creative imagery to relax the mind and body, we develop a sense of inner peace. This highly relaxing form of meditation is good for people who enjoy being guided or having a focus in their practice.

2-   Mindfulness Meditation

To practice, we sit straight with our eyes gently gazing downwards as we begin to develop an awareness of our breath and bodily sensations. It’s not necessary to suppress thoughts, but to observe them and eventually return to watching our breath. When practicing, we are not trying to change anything about our experience, but to observe what’s happening within and around us with a sense of presence.

3-   Mantra Meditation

A mantra can be a word or a phrase. Though this type of meditation has Buddhist or Hindu roots, the mantra does not have to be in Sanskrit, but can be in English. This technique helps those who experience a busy mind with distracting thoughts. Many that practice this are given a personal mantra by their guru (teacher), but you can also develop your own. For example: LET GO-inhale to LET, exhale to GO. A universal mantra that anyone can use is SOHAM (pronounced So Hum). Inhale to SO, exhale to HAM. This mantra translates to ‘I am that’, but the English translation is less important than the sound vibration. The mantra grooves the mind and replaces our distracting thoughts with these words/sounds instead.

*Try these 3 types of meditation and see which one resonates with you. Give yourself time; it’s not always easy in the beginning. Once you’ve found the one you enjoy, incorporate it into your daily life, perhaps lighting a candle at the onset. Look forward to this time you are carving out for yourself, knowing that you are positively enhancing your health and well-being.

-S&B

P.S. This picture is taken of me in a meditative moment at one of my all time favorite places in the world- Sedona! Though you don’t have to be meditating on a rock in the mountains to gain enlightenment, it certainly is a magical place to be doing so!  😉

 

 

 

January~ 10 Tips to a Stress-Free New Year!

I am excited to begin the new year with a monthly blog for my readers and website visitors! I look forward to sharing my tips each month with you to help you lead a more balanced, stress-free (or at least stress-managed!) life. With the holidays behind us and the new year ahead a blank slate, now is the time to learn new techniques to keep stress at bay and adapt a healthier lifestyle. Since it is impossible to avoid stress, these tips will help you cope with the stressors you face and live a more peaceful life.

1. Check Your Breath

  • Check in with your breathing and take note.
  • Are you holding your breath? Is your breath shallow? Where do you feel the breath traveling within your body?
  • Start by simply developing an awareness of how your breath feels.

2. Balloon Belly

  • Inflate the belly slowly as if you were expanding a balloon inside of it.
  • SLOW down your exhalation as you deflate this ‘balloon’. This is the key to getting more deeply relaxed and immediately calming the parasympathetic nervous system.
  • After a few deep, even belly breaths, you should begin to feel more relaxed.

3. Tense/Relax

  • Hold tension in your fists and all the way up your arms for a few moments.
  • Slowly release the tension gradually until there is no tightness being held.
  • Do the same thing with your feet, legs, and then your buttocks. Feel the muscles contract and then release.
  • Scrunch all of the facial muscles inward and hold. Then release.

4. Lavender Up!

  • The essential oil lavender is one of the most calming scents and several studies demonstrate how our sense of smell can have an effect on our moods.
  • Dab a few drops of this relaxing scent to your pulse points on your wrist and on the sides and back of your neck. Rub it between your hands and inhale this calming, soothing scent. Or place on the bottoms of your feet if you are having trouble falling asleep.

5. Make a Statement

  • Inwardly state what you want to achieve whenever you feel stressed, tense, or overwhelmed. In a sense, you are replacing a negative thought with a positive one.
  • For example, if a defeating, overwhelming thought creeps up, replace it with ‘I am calm, relaxed, and my life is in balance.’ Remember, what we think becomes our reality so state what you want positively and work towards that goal.

6. Visualize Your Outcome

  • Like an athlete who visualizes the perfect golf shot, free throw, or home run before they even approach the ball, visualize a positive outcome of what you want in to occur when faced with an immediate stressor.
  • See the obstacle being overcome and how it would look and feel in your life when that happens.

7. Have an Attitude of Gratitude

  • Research has been shown demonstrating the positive effects of having gratitude and thankfulness in one’s life. Even in the face of the most difficult moments, there is ALWAYS something to be thankful for.
  • Experience the healing, de-stressing benefits of gratitude as you practice this technique. Gratitude doesn’t only have to be practiced once a year at Thanksgiving anymore! Families can also benefit by individually expressing gratitude at every shared meal together.

8. Get Moving!

  • Walk, dance, swim, run, bike ride, do yoga… just MOVE! Exercise is a proven way to increase the endorphins in our brain and people who exercise regularly benefit from a more positive mood and a lower rate of depression.

9. Laughter Therapy

  • Read a funny book, watch a funny TV show or movie, or even engage in spontaneous laughter. Seek a Laughter Yoga class for this type of laughter. Not only is it enjoyable, but it also has aerobic benefits.
  • When we laugh, we release stress-relieving hormones and bring balance to the immune system, as well.

10. Pocket Journal

  • Keep a small notepad with you and pull it out if your thoughts are overwhelming you and you are experiencing tension.
  • Without deciding in advance what you will write, write whatever comes to you at the moment in a freestyle way.

All of these tips and techniques can be a healthy arsenal of tools to use when we face challenging moments in our lives and experience stress, tension, worry, anxiety. Use the ones that work best for you. The breath, however, is on one of the most immediate ways to calm us down in the face of immediate stress. It has been said that it is virtually impossible to have an anxiety/panic attack when one breathes in this way. Learning to breathe in an optimal way can help us cope with stress and facilitate greater health and well-being within our lives.

–S&B