Did you ever hear of the quote "Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it" by Charles R. Swindoll? When you feel overwhelmed or stressed, does your breathing become shallow? Do you feel like you just can't catch your breath? Becoming aware of your breathing will help your nervous respond in a way the body will appreciate.
It took me over 30 of my 51 years on this earth, to realize my breath would become shallow when I became anxious or stressed. I would take a deep breath, or so I thought I was, but felt like I could not fully feel the relief I was searching for. The funny part was I didn't know what that relief was supposed to feel like, until I began my journey into breath work and a mindfulness practice about 5 years ago. While I am no expert, I can tell you, once I learned what it felt like to take a full breath, the sense of relief my nervous system experienced was one of bliss.
Mindful breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system to reset and rejuvenate your brain. This one, simple choice has the power to activate all repair and healing function in the body. This is not hyperbole. Our body is constantly sensing our environment for cues and clues about the status of our world. Our breathing pattern is a powerful piece of data for the brain because we are doing it constantly. If our breathing tends to be shallow, frequent, with a focus on inhalation and short, quick exhalation, the body knows we are stressed. This serves us by promoting the flight, fight, and hide response for survival. But it does not promote healing and vitality. Only when we are relaxed, feel safe, and at ease is our breath able to deepen, slow, and allow long steady exhalations with pauses between breaths. The body knows the truth. Think about what a new born sleeping baby looks like when they are sleeping. Their abdomen slowly fills and then slowly deflates as they breathe.
Here is how you can try to experience the power of mindful breathing.
Prioritize taking a short pause during a busy time of your day. Take a full 5 minutes just for your care. Yes, 5 minutes is all it takes. Set aside all other priorities and activities. Sit somewhere comfortable, where you won't be disturbed. For me that is the first thing in the morning before everyone else in the household, including the dog, needs my attention. Consider using earplugs or a headset if it helps you to focus away from ambient sounds/noise.
Aim to focus fully on nothing but the simplicity of your mindful breathing for a full 5 minutes. Turn off your phone for a full 5 minutes, or put the phone in do-not-disturb setting. You can set a timer on the phone on the vibration-only setting.
Close your mouth softly. If you wish, touch your tongue tip lightly on the roof of your mouth just behind your top front teeth. This signals the amygdala, at the base of the brain, to relax and not react to a perceived threat. Now breathe through your nose. Feel the cool air come in at the nostrils. Feel the body expand. Feel the warmth of your breath leave the body. Be patient. Relax into it. Allow the breath to deepen. Don't rush or force it. Let the breath flow on its own. With ease.
As you begin to relax, close your eyes and take a minute to scan your body lovingly. Relax any taut muscles. Relax your belly. Relax your anus. Sit up straight. But allow your shoulders to relax and lower. Feel your muscles become heavy. Visualize the breath entering the top of your head, as it travels throughout your body to the soles of your feet.
Realize gently that you are alive. You are a blessing. In this very moment, there is no where to go, nothing to do. Just be with the breath. Just one breath at a time.
How do you feel now?
There are many effective patterns and practices for Mindful Breathing. None are optimal. Find what you feel works best for you, in that moment.
You may enjoy exploring a variety of approaches.
Realize gently that you may choose this freedom to refocus and reset at any time. As often as you desire. As a daily, mindful practice. And as needed during any stressful time.
For almost 30 years of my life, healthy meant being thin. At all of 5’1” I believed, the more I exercised and the less calories I ate, the more weight I would lose. Or the less weight I would gain, the healthier I would be. What I did not realize at the time is that true health is much more than that. It is more than food and exercise, calories in and calories out. It is about having more energy, preventing disease, thriving, and feeling alive in all aspects of my life.
If you want to live a life with less illness and more energy, the key is to create an environment that will help your body to heal, get well, stay well, and thrive.
Here are my top health foundations that may help you navigate the waters and discover the healthiest version of you. Some of them may seem redundant, boring, and not so sexy. However, I promise if you try each one of these and commit to building these into your daily routines, you will begin to see the positive changes in your health.
Increase Sustainable Nutrition. No matter what else is at play, nutrition heals. Begin simply with the goal of eating real, whole, nutrient-rich foods. Explore and document what you are working on to try and what you love. Where possible, focus on positive additions versus a lot of restrictions, especially upfront. Restrictions = Not Fun + Lots of Rules. Understand clearly what you are typically consuming daily. If needed, try using a food log (~3 days at most). Don’t try to be ‘good’; just be honest and detailed.
Introduce more vegetables in ways you are ready to explore. Include vegetables at every meal, even breakfast. Not only do we need nutrients such as vitamin A, C, D, E, magnesium, potassium, calcium etc. We need more of Vitamin J(Joy) and Vitamin L(Love). The importance of daily, unapologetic, guilt-free joy. Do not ask permission from or explain to others. Do not just save joy for the weekends. Every single day find joy in something you genuinely connect to. Ask, “If you knew your life would be over in 5 years, what would your chosen, daily routine look like?” Are you part of something larger than yourself that lifts your heart and inspires your soul?
Hydration. Move in the direction of more clean water. Primarily in between meals.
Eating Hygiene. Good eating hygiene is important for digestion. Treat eating as sacred/meditation. Do not eat while distracted, not in the car, not at your desk while answering phones and emails. Sitting down, at a table, with no TV or cell phone, take 5 minutes to express gratitude for your food, smell it, look at the colors and textures, and fully chew your food. Chewing your food at least 20 times will help your body to break down the food so that your body can digest and absorb the nutrients needed for your unique body. Connect to how the food you have chosen to eat makes you feel during, immediately afterward, and2-3 hours later.
Sleep Hygiene. Rest does not just mean sleep. It means finding activities during the day to help the body to reset. Relaxation walks for fun and fresh air (vs. “exercise”), naps, freedom to just be. Just like eating, bedtime rituals are important to quality restorative sleep. How is the temperature in the room? The lighting? Is it dark enough? Removing all electronics, including the TV will help the body’s nervous system to enter a state of “rest and digest”. Identifying things in your life that you are grateful and writing them down in a journal before bed, is a great way to clear negativity from the day.
Stress Relief and Mindfulness Solutions. Make an honest effort to take inventory and define tangible actions to change the major stressors in your life. This includes your thoughts and those “ANTS”, automatic negative thoughts. This is the place to bring in more joy and laughter. Laughterstrengths your immune system, boosts mood, diminishes pain, and protectsyou from the damaging effects of stress. Turn off the news and accept the“present” moment of what-is. Take a walk-in nature and notice the colors, the scents, and the sounds that surround you. Include other forms of movement throughout your day, begin a gratitude journal, and breathe. Taking deep breaths when you feel anxious and tense, will help your nervous system to immediately go from an “anxious and excited state” to a relaxed state that will help you feel more grounded in the moment.
Movement. A sedentary lifestyle – all by itself –promotes dis-ease. Your physiology is stimulated by movement and activity. It is not about how many minutes or hours you spend in the gym. It is about incorporating movement into the normal course of your life. Instead of fighting someone for the closest parking spot to the entrance, save yourself the stress of getting annoyed and aggravated and park at the end of the parking lot. Incorporate movement while you are watching TV and do a set of squats during the commercial breaks. Set a timer at your desk for 25 minutes and when that alarm rings, move; jumping jacks, march in place, stretch for just 5 minutes. The key is to build on what you already enjoy, ensuring sustainability. It is ok to start low and slow.
Cultivating Love and Care of Self. Celebrating and honoring your truths. Including what makes you unique. What makes you happy and not what others are telling you should make you happy. Becoming aware of what “your” body needs, what your body is telling you. See symptoms as a gift. It is your body calling to you. To listen to it and cultivate an awareness and desire to respond lovingly with change until there is relief. Honoring when your body is asking for an earlier bedtime or a day off from work.
Primary Food. What are you *Really* hungry for? Are you desiring more adventure, acceptance, freedom, touch, and affection? Maybe it is more movement, spending more time outdoors, experiencing something new, finding and expressing your artistic side, or just being “naughty.” Explore behaviors that will celebrate your unique and wonderful self, instead of suppressing your true needs by self-medicating with numbing activities.
Toxin Avoidance. Your skin is your biggest ‘mouth’. Consider your personal hygiene products, lotions, makeup, hair care supplies. The skin absorbs the chemicals directly into our body. Do not put something on your skin that you would not eat. Medications can be blessings but are all toxins, so avoid unnecessary ones. Go through your home and look at items that contain estrogen-mimicking chemicals (e.g., glyphosate, BPA), home cleaning products, cookware, and heavy metals.
Create an environment so your body can become well and stay well. That environment needs to be created based on ‘your’ unique body. Do not let others tell you what you should do. Do not get caught up in social media and the success stories of quick weight loss. Look at this list and choose one area you feel you can start to become curious about to try and explore. It is not about trying and failing, it is about experimenting until you find what works for your body, mind, and soul.
I cannot believe it has been one year since the start of the pandemic. Just in a couple of weeks, maybe less, news was spreading fast that grocery stores could soon run out of food. I did not take them seriously, honestly, I am not the type to panic over stuff like that. I finally decided to see what all the panic was about and took a trip to the local Stop and Shop one town over from me. The first section I see when I enter this store is the produce section. To my surprise it was fully stocked! I made my way up and down the isles and that is when I stopped in my tracks. The shelves that were basically empty, were the shelves that had boxes of cake and cookie mix, flour, sugar, and dried pasta. Nothing but all processed foods made with white flour and sugar.
Do you know many pounds of added sugar and sweeteners the average American consumes each year? Would you believe over 185 pounds? Yes,185! That is 35 of those hefty 5-lb bags…or about one of those bags every ten days. With the pandemic and so many in lock down, I would bet this amount increased significantly. This does not even include natural sugars in wholefoods like fruit. I know from experience that some of you are thinking, “Wow –that’s a lot, but certainly I don’t do that. You must be talking about someone else.”
To hit this average consumption rate, you need to eat 1 cup (that is 48 teaspoons) of sugar (or similar sweetener like corn syrup) each day. The reality is that the average American accomplishes this simply in the beverages we choose (without regard to our love of cookies, candy, cakes, muffins, and pastries). A 20-oz bottle of Coke packs a whopping 16+ teaspoons. But did you know that supposedly healthier, flavored iced tea has the exact same amount of sugar per ounce as a soda? A grande-sized Cafe Mocha at Starbucks has 10+ tsp. A bottle of Snapple Lemonade has 14 tsp. Vitamin Water has 8+ tsp. How does your daily drink math stack up?
Now what about our food? If you add a blueberry muffin to your drink in the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through, that’s another 13+ tsp of sugar. A package of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups? Another 5 tsp. A small cup of Breyer’s Black Cherry yogurt? Another 10 tsp. Granola bars? Another 4 tsp.
Food manufacturers load up the sugar in their products on purpose. It is not an accident. And they do it for one reason: it makes them a lot of money. They understand our addiction to this powerful stimulant sell’s products. They count on our being easily duped by flashy advertising. They assume we eat mindlessly. Sugar-laden foods taste great, so we keep buying them. Sugar deadens our taste buds, so the more we eat, the more we want. Then it takes a major toll on our health.
Even rats prefer sugar over cocaine. In a study, rats could choose water sweetened with saccharin, an intense calorie-free sweetener and intravenous cocaine, most rats choose the sweetened water. Why? Sugar sets off a reward signal in the brain even stronger than that of cocaine. Do not blame your self for having a sweet tooth or feel you do not have the will power to kick this habit. This white “stuff” shows up in many of our packaged foods and not by accident. Tricking our minds to want more.
The average daily intake may be 48 tsp, but you might be wondering just how bad that can be. Well, hold on to your hat: the American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 tsp/day of added sugar for women and 9 tsp for men. Yes, our current habit is a full 5 to 8 times what is recommended by a national medical organization that has historically been quite conservative about guidelines. And the reality is that you need exactly 0 tsp. per day for energy (yes, even if you are an avid athlete). Great for a treat here and there but completely unnecessary for our health.
Sugar and other refined sweeteners have been tied to a devastating array of chronic ailments and diseases. It is not just about weight gain. There’s also high blood pressure, high cholesterol and triglycerides, hyperactivity, diabetes, osteoporosis, atherosclerosis (clogged arteries),heart disease, mood swings, migraines, arthritis, poor eyesight, depression, and impaired immune response. Our diet is often the reason we end up on medications. Refined sweeteners are highly acidic and inflammatory .Inflammation, among other things, makes our artery walls “sticky” so that otherwise innocent things like calcium, cholesterol, and fats are prone to building up and creating arterial plaque. Plaque causes blockages. Blockages cause a lot of heart attacks.
Our bodies simply have not evolved to be able to process these relatively modern, refined sweeteners. White sugar has only been around for a little over 300 years; that is a fraction of a blip in human evolution. And what about the Three Musketeers bar? Invented a miniscule 77 years ago? I believe that the number one most important thing you can do to improve your diet and your health is to eat less sugar. You really can wean yourself off it, slowly and surely. I have helped people to do this successfully and to heal from related illness.
Because of our uncontrolled consumption of sugar and other refined carbohydrates, over half of Americans today are hypoglycemic. We crave sweets uncontrollably. We experience unexplained mood swings, anger, tiredness, and major binges. But it does not have to be that way! You can reclaim your health. Start reading labels. Learn how much sugar is in your (and your family’s) daily diet. Then start making small, step-by-step changes to bring it down on purpose. If you need it, get some help. You can do it! Your health depends on it.
I always start my day off with some time to connect with what is Good in my life. What I am Grateful for… It is an opportunity for some meditation, dog cuddling, juicy visualization about what I am creating in my life, and some gratitude journaling. A delicious hour of positivity and self care. I believe it is so important to Make Time to start my day off on purpose and on my terms.
I often choose a bit of inspirational reading as well, and of course, I usually end up reading something that is exactly what I need to hear that day. A gentle prompting. A sign. from the universe. The other morning, I came upon a quote I am inspired to share with you,
“Sometimes we can’t find the thing that will make us happy,
because we can’t let go of the thing that was supposed to.”
– Robert Brault
I was struck by the fact that “let go” can sometimes mean ‘walkaway from’ and can sometimes mean “release the old disappointment’ and be willing to live in the present moment…with what is Real today.
I invite you to consider this for a moment. Where are you holding on to something from the past that will not let you move forward? It might be from one hour ago or 10 years ago.
Sometimes the smallest act of Release – of Allowing Change –enables us to see finally the amazing opportunity available to us. The smallest surrender to change can start a downpour of synchronicity and opportunity. And our lives zoom forward, with ease. There is that adage, “Leap! And the net appears.” We can spend hours of quiet desperation, clinging to the past we wish to release but waiting for the net to appear first. Waiting for something – besides ourselves – to change.
Many of us would readily and happily encourage a dear friend tolet go of fear and seize these opportunities for Freedom. But can we practice giving ourselves the same loving attention and courageous support? With Spring’s encouragement just around the corner, I encourage you to cast off what is old and over, consider right now: what is your own best opportunity to Let Go and choose what will best move you forward? Can you ask for the help you need to make it happen?
According to Webster’s Dictionary, to succeed is to achieve the desired aim or result. When we achieve success, we have achieved the desired outcome.
How do you celebrate success? Do you go on vacation after getting a promotion at work? Do you throw a big party for your child’s graduation from high school or college? Do you buy the new car or home that you have been saving for, for half of your existence?
The magic question, the one I ask my client’s during their work with me, “How do you celebrate success on a daily basis.” What happens? They sit back, cross their arms over their chest and go “huh” I do not.
Why does success have to be so grandiose? That is because we have been conditioned only to celebrate the major milestones in our lives and the lives of others. We wait to experience those feeling just a few times in our lives. What if you decided to celebrate the small successes daily? How would that feel?
The magic word here, is feel. Let us look at what it takes to adapt a healthy lifestyle. Instead of waiting for the 30lb weight loss to celebrate, acknowledge, daily, even the tiniest of positive change and celebrate that change. In the book, The Tiny Habits, by B.J. Fogg, the feeling of success is a powerful catalyst for change. When you celebrate your small, tiny habits, your confidence grows. It helps you to connect to a positive feeling because you are getting better at being kind to yourself instead of berating yourself. You begin to seek out opportunities to celebrate. To feel good.
If you do not know how to celebrate your small successes, try the following:
1. Think of a song that makes you feel happy and sing or hum it.
2. Physical movement that makes you feel successful, e.g., Superwoman or Superman pose, Rocky Balbo arms raised above your head, fist bump.
3. Verbal statement, such as a "Whoop Whoop" or Awesome! Wisper it or yell it at the top of your lungs.
4. Bring a child into your celebration. Children are so good at expressing excitement.
I am giving you a high five right now. Do you feel it?