Muscles of Breathing

Breathing is with us every moment of our lives, and is often something we take for granted.  Our breath is both a detoxification and a nourishing process.  When it falls into dysfunctional patterns, it can be an unnoticed cause of disease, such as fatigue, anxiety, mental health issues, and insomnia to name a few.  Today I want to teach you a simple test that yoga teachers use to evaluate your breath.

Begin by placing one hand over your solar plexus and another over the center of your heart.  Sit up straight, close your eyes, and breathe without attempting to change anything.  Just observe for a moment.  If the bottom hand moves when you breath, your diaphragm muslce is making that happen. If the top hand is moving, the muscles of your ribs and upper body are responsible for that motion, not your diaphragm.  By paying attention for a couple minutes, you can easily tell which muscles are working as you breathe.

When we consider that our primary relaxation and stress nervous systems are hard wired to these two different muscle groups, our test begins to take on meaning.  Our test tells us if we are stimulating the sympathetic stress response or the parasympathetic rest response when we breathe.  When you breathe with your chest muscles, you are telling your body, “hey, I’m using these extra breathing muscles that are used only when I need maximum air flow.”  Your body knows that this means you are in a situation where you need extra oxygen – aka fight or flight situations.  When you use your diaphragm to breathe, you are stimulating your parasympathetic nervous system, which is activated during rest and digest situations.

As you sit there, with your hands over your heart and belly, eyes closed.  Where are the bears that are ready to eat you?  If the hand over your chest is moving in any significant way while you breathe, then you are telling your nervous system there are lions and tigers around!  Without knowing it, you are stimulating your stress response with every single breath.  Thus, our unconscious breath patterns can be a major source of dysfunction, constantly telling our body to prepare for impending doom.  It takes a lot of energy to hold that readiness.  When we are busy preparing for stress, we are also diverting resources from other important physiological activities.

Our test tells us if we need to retrain our breath pattern. By training ourselves to breathe diaphragmatically instead of with our chest muscles, we change the signals we are sending to our nervous system.   We can relax more deeply and allow our body to spend more time replenishing our energy reserves instead of amping up for stressful fights that simply are not present.

To recap, if the hand on your chest moves in any significant way while you are sitting calmly in a restful environment, then you have a dysfunctional breathing pattern that is worth fixing.

Tips For Better Sleep

For many people, sleep is a problem. Getting to sleep, staying asleep, and feeling rested when you are done can be elusive goals. Here are a few tips, tricks and insights that may help you get your the rest you crave.

Getting to sleep:

Few people understand that it actually takes energy to shift your consciousness into sleep. Many people that suffer from insomnia are so depleted that they fail to muster enough energy to jump into slumper. If you are one of these people, try taking some rejuvenative herbs or get a weekly massage for a month. Practicing yoga or meditation for 20 minutes before sleep will allow you to conserve and build energy, too.

Most of us have had the experience where we are very tired but then around 10-11pm we get a surge of energy and alertness that carries us into the wee hours of the morning. This second wind is caused by a rise in the fiery and stimulating force called pitta energy. Every night from 10pm-2am this subtle force rises up and affects us all. If you want to get to sleep on time, make a point of getting to bed at 9:30pm, before the stimulating energies of pitta give you a second wind and you lose three hours of sleep.

Staying asleep:

Have you ever heard that spicy foods give nightmares? They may indeed, but more importantly, spicy foods have a deep stimulating effect on our nervous system and consciousness. This agitation can affect our dreams, give us indigestion, and interrupt our sleep cycles. Try to keep the spicy foods out of your diet from 6pm onwards. Some people are very agitated by spice and may need to cut it out earlier than others.

Resting well:

They call the time between 12-2pm ‘liver time.’ What that means is that our liver and detoxification organs activate during the night to digest toxins and perform house keeping duties. Many of us fail to realize that eating food late forces our liver to digest that food instead of detoxifying us. It takes about four hours for our stomach to empty completely after a meal, which is why the rule says no food after 8pm. Adopting this strategy will go a long way to giving our bodies the undisturbed rejuvenation of nightly liver time.

Waking alertly:

Creating regularity in your wake up time is a powerful way to sync all of your biological systems. Have you every tried to plan a party and not give exact times for your attendees? By waking up at different times of the day and by not setting a consistent alarm every morning, we end up with chaos, just like if we forgot to set a time for our party. The best advice for getting your hormone levels and other wake up systems all together at the same time and place is to wake up at the same time every single day: weekends, weekdays, and holidays, too. Trust me, its worth it to pop up out of bed alert, refreshed, and with all hands on deck ready to take on your day.

Maximizing Your Wellness Dollars

As a general rule, we like sales. Companies know it and use coupons all the time. I’m not opposed, in fact we offer several discount programs at my wellness centers. They work. They are a benefit to all involved. However, when it comes to getting the most out of the professional services you pay for, there is an important component that most of us don’t pay attention to. That component is the supporting practices and home based activities that you can do to enhance your service. Instead of always looking at ways to decrease the prices of the professional services we buy, we should consider things that we can do at home as another great way to get more bang for our buck.

It means taking personal responsibility for making your visits to the chiropractor, massage therapist, and personal trainer more effective. I can’t tell you how many people rush into a massage service, and then fly out of the building right back to work. They could enhance the benefits of their massage significantly if they built supporting activities into their day that compliment that massage instead of just relying on the service itself to deliver all the results. By simply arranging a few things in your day or week to compliment the goals of your services you can improve the results, shorten the therapy sequences, and reduce the overall cost. This secondary way of maximizing dollars may be the most underlooked way to save yourself some money.

While only you know the major goals of your wellness plan, here are some basic practices to showcase what I’m talking about.

Getting a Chiropractic adjustment? If you get adjusted don’t go to the gym right after. You should avoid intense, jerking, and rough exercises that jar, aler, or disrupt the correction you just paid for.

Getting a massage? They calm your nervous system and increases detoxification. Avoid alcohol, intense stimulation, or anything else that casuses increased stress for 24-36 hours after that massage.

On perscription meds? They need to stay active in your system to remain effective. Plan ahead so you don’t run out. Set an alarm so you don’t forget to take them. You may need to stay on them longer if you don’t let them do their job.

Taking college courses? Do your homework and show up to class. You are only going to be paying on those tuition bills for for the next 10-20 years, so make sure you get every penny worth of knowledge out of those dollars.

Our lives are busy. We are moving fast and getting pulled in a hundred directions. Sometimes we are too busy to clip coupons, even though they are a great way to save money. You may not always find the time to apply the personal practices I am suggesting here, but bringing home a few supporting practices to enhance your professional services makes every dollar stretch further. Take the idea into consideration and ask your providers, and yourself, what you can do at home to support the services you are receiving. In the long run, it will pay off far more than any coupon.