Category Archives: Breathwork

How Meditation Affects the Brain

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I’m facilitating a new class, Monday Yoga /Wellness Class, that starts Monday June 20 at 7pm (space is limited so contact me if you are interested.)

This class is aimed at developing an individual wellness/meditation practice.  We will do yoga postures to let go of any tension and to open the body up for relaxation for the first part of the class.  The rest of the class is focused on progressive relaxation, breathing, and a variety of meditative techniques.   (Props, chairs, and mats are available).

I have many people who come to see me that want a meditation or a yoga practice at home.  I created this class to help with that.  We will be exploring not only how and why to prepare before meditation but also will practice different meditative techniques for students to “try out”.

We will also discuss how meditation affects the brain.

The research is suggesting that a regular meditation practice (15-30 minutes a day) can increase gray matter in the brain, build new connections, clean out plaque that causes dementia, reduce the size of the amygdala which causes the fight or flight response, and increase our resiliency to cortisol (stress hormone).

There are many reasons to work on a meditation practice, especially if you are trying to be healthy and/or reduce stress and its effects.  Of course this should be easy enough, right? Why is sitting 15-30 minutes every day so difficult to maintain (and for some even start)?  One is that sitting in general can be painful and uncomfortable. Two, establishing any new habit or change is difficult. Consistency, consistency, consistency.  The mantra for true success ……Oh if developing consistency itself was easy.

Even if you practice now and then, it is better than none at all.  I would encourage everyone to try for 5 minutes and go from there.  You may surprise yourself that you can actually develop your own practice if you keep coming back to it when you think of it, no matter how long the in-between.

One also does not have to just “sit”.  I’m also hoping this new class will educate students on what is meditation by research standards vs other definitions.

Here are some links that discuss the effects on the brain from meditation and the research behind it:

Psychology today

Mindful.org

Washington Post

Maintaining Peace Through the Holidays

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I’ve scheduled a time out in the morning for to do a little breath-work and a gratitude practice.  It has been amazing to see the difference in the mornings that I skip the practice and the days I will myself out of bed for it.   I’ve noticed also how it has helped me roll with all the holiday festivities without feeling as tired or frustrated as in the past.  Actually this season has been amazingly different and I’m attributing a lot to my morning practice.

I think many times we try to only practice meditation and other coping skills when we feel stress.    Our goal may be peace but our focus is actually on the stressful event.   It is what is prompting  our practice. When you are able to make the shift and allow something else prompt your meditation or mindfulness practice then you will make more progress during the stressful times.  I think the key is practicing as much peacefulness as possible and to do that you need to also practice when you are not very stressed.  When we get well attuned and use to having a peaceful moment it’s much easier to take that feeling of peace and apply it to other situations.

What I have learned is that using breath-work and mindfulness techniques to deal with stressful situations does work  but the effects of the practice is not nearly as beneficial  if you only use them in a stressful situation.  It is like playing an instrument only a few times a year, you may be able to play a song but it won’t necessarily be pretty or easy.     However as with anything when you practice over and over; when it comes time to really perform, it will be much easier and successful.

How to Benefit from a Gratitude Practice

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         I think many of us can identify the calmness and peace that comes with having the thought of thankfulness.  If any of you have read my recent client manual or seen any research on what happens to the body when we experience stress versus when we cultivate peace and calm, you would put 2 and 2 together and know that anything bringing peace is going to have the power to heal.  This is something we intuitively understand but the science is building to show this as well.
         Dr. Masaru Emoto, the Japanese scientist and water researcher, discovered that vibrations affect the molecular structure of water. In his years of water research, through high speed photography of thousands of water crystals, Dr Emoto has shown the most “beautiful” (symmetric and well organized)  crystals are those formed after the water is exposed to the words ‘love and gratitude.’   When water was exposed to words of “anger and hate”, the water crystals became asymmetric and disorganized.  The fact that the human body is made of 70% water, one would consider how  our thoughts can have profound implications on our health.
         The wonderful thing about this feeling of gratitude is that it can be cultivated quite easily.   One can do 15 minutes a day of gratitude practice and experience immediate benefits.  The long-staying results though comes like anything does…. with consistent daily practice.  That’s the kicker, right?  Many of us will start a practice for a week or so and then see it flicker out.  Here’s some steps to help build a daily “consistent” practice of gratitude that has good potential to last.
  • Start small, 5 minutes.  Success will lead to you trying again and not being overwhelmed.  Set a timer and resist doing more.
  • Link your practice to something else you already do daily, like a morning cup of coffee or brushing your teeth.
  • Do it right before or after this already daily routine.
  • During this 5 minutes jot down 3 things that make you feel gratitude.
  • Do this for a month.
  • Bump up to 10 minutes the next month.
  • Bump up to 15 minutes the third month, this time add a nice sitting posture and a minute of quiet after.
  • Continue to build as you feel so, adding other health routines like yoga or breathwork if desired.

How to Start a Breathwork Practice

keep calm and breath pdf

Breath is a powerful connecting force between the mind and the body.  Building and expanding on our breath not only increases vitality and energy, it can also be an amazing healing tool.  Although it is recommended to have an experienced teacher before beginning any significant breathwork practice, anyone can initiate this journey with some simple steps and create a 15 minute practice.  This practice can be added to a regular yoga asana practice or meditation practice.

  1. Identify a dry comfortable area to practice in.
  2. Limit distractions such as turning off or down your cellphone
  3. Wait a little after eating so you don’t have a full stomach. A little water before starting can be helpful.
  4. Avoid coffee before practicing.
  5. Decide on time to practice. Early morning is an ideal time to practice before your money cup of coffee/tea.
  6. Lie on your back or find a comfortable sitting position.
  7. Begin by just observing and tracking the breath as it comes in through your nose and down your windpipe into your diaphragm and track as it exits the body.
  8. Spend 5-10 minutes practicing observing.
  9. Spend the next 5-10 minutes focusing on long slow exhales.
  10. Sit in quiet for 3-5 minutes with normal breath.

At this point the work is on being the observer. Breathwork is not completed by “controlling” or forcing the breath, it is done effectively by observing and “playing” with the breath. If your goal in breathwork is increased vitality and wellness, then the safest way to begin your practice is by observing where you are first.   This takes time and cannot be determined with one breathing practice session but must be observed over time.  Variables like a new stressor or trying something for the first time can alter your baseline habits.  Overtime however one can determine the average count and length of the breath and identify a good goal to work on.  The goal is usually in lengthening both inhales and exhales comfortably without strain.  This will increase vitality.  However sometimes a person may need more help specifically with inhaling or exhaling and a trained instructor can guide the person in their practice.  There are also techniques like holds and various therapeutic practices that can target a particular healing aspect of the breath.  For more information on pranayama, a good book to reference is The Yoga of Breath: a Step-by-Step Guide to Pranayama by Richard Rosen.