Sophia Kamveris, MS, RDN
From the looks of people’s Facebook feeds, the globe was hopping with vacationers escaping the past few years of Covid’s confinement. Hope you all had a wonderful summer despite the steamy temperatures. When I think of autumn in New England, my head conjures up blue skies with cooling, crisp winds, and while many associate the start of a new year by the turn of December’s calendar, I consider the fall my reboot. That’s when we get back on the fast train, so to speak—school, work, alarm clock beeps, commuting nightmares, time crunches, skipped meals, and ugh, the dreaded daylight savings time change. Need a break, already? Pause and take a deep breath!
Something as simple as controlled breathing can help improve both your mental and physical health. As you all know, I am of a huge fan of Pilates, and am a member of Robin Long’s (newly renamed) Lindywell health and wellness program. As a mom of four kids under the age of five, I figure she has lots of tricks up her sleeve to deal with the stresses of everyday life.
One of her podcasts focused on using your breath in times of stress. From the get go, breathing is our first, official “act of life.” Every cell in our body needs two key essential nutrients to survive—water and oxygen. You might think food fuels our bodies but without oxygen, the metabolic pathway to make energy doesn’t happen. Our lungs are the gatekeepers to our oxygen supply. We breathe in oxygen-rich air and the lungs diffuse it into the blood stream, which gets delivered to the heart. The vascular system pumps the oxygenated blood to all the organs in the body for use in vital, cellular functions. We all know how lousy we feel if the brain doesn’t get the oxygen or glucose it needs to function at its peak performance, right? Eventually, deoxygenated blood (now full of carbon dioxide) gets exhaled by our lungs, and per the marvel of photosynthesis helps the plants survive, and the balance of the interdependent ecosystem continues.
Pilates also improves posture, which can impact the breathing process. Hunching over puts more pressure on the lungs by compressing them, and thus impeding their air exchange efficiency. So, the instruction to “sit up straight” imparted by my second grade teacher had a physiological outcome. Better posture means more blood flow of oxygen to your brain! Using your breath during exercise workouts also helps to get through the movements, as well as to energize and relax muscles.
Research demonstrates that controlled breathing helps to control stress. Focusing on counting while breathing detaches you from the in-the-moment crisis. Inhale to a count of SIX, then exhale to a count of EIGHT. Do that a few times and you will see how it helps to calm your brain down.
Robin also shared a BOX breathing method; it’s also called square or four corners breathing. It begins with visualization. Close your eyes and imagine there’s a square box hovering in front of you (or you can draw an imaginary box on your thigh with your finger). Starting from the left hand corner of the box, and going in a clockwise direction, inhale to a count of FOUR as you trace the top line of the box. Stop at the right hand corner and exhale to a count of FOUR. Begin again. Inhale to a count of FOUR as you trace the downward line along the right side of the box. Stop at the corner and exhale to a count of FOUR. Continue around the perimeter of the box in this manner until you are back to where you started and have completed drawing a ☐. Now open your eyes. How do you feel? Better, I hope!
The mere act of focusing on your breath relaxes your mind and brings you to a healthier place, mentally and physically. Kind of like those vintage “Calgon, Take Me Away!” TV commercials that promised forgotten troubles and lifted spirits after soaking in a tub full of the bubbly soap suds. That sounds good, too!
In Good Health,