Breath, Mindfulness, Eating, and Our Health

As you may recall, I attended a week long workshop in August at the Cape Cod Institute called Breath-Body-Mind Techniques for Stress-Resilience and Well-Being” by Richard Brown, MD and Pat Gerbarg, MD. I loved this seminar! It wasn’t just about what I learned – which was great, but how I felt after class each day – which was at least equally great!

The course was composed of science info regarding the health impact on people who practice 5-second breaths-per- minute (bpm), aka – coherent breathing, for 20-minutes daily, as well as experiential hands on breathing practice with accompanying slow, healing body movement ala qigong.

According to this course’s presenters and their related research, daily coherent breathing changes our almost chronic stress status, (sympathetic nervous system), to the relaxation/safe state (parasympathetic). Essentially, one inhales gently and slowly for a 5-count, then exhales equally slowly for a second count of 5 bpm. It is during the easy, slow, gentle release of the breath that our vagus nerve is impacted. This nerve extends to the brain and gut and promotes feelings of safety and goodness. I can absolutely vouch for the aftermath 'goodness of feel' which lasts for hours.

As you may have already guessed, this coherent breathing technique, if practiced daily, can impact our state of health as well as our body size. Just as a reminder, reducing our cortisol and insulin levels, (which occurs during the relaxation response), stops the breakdown of our lean body tissue and fat storage. Drs. Brown and Gerbarg also described a study they conducted on multiple subjects with regard to food cravings, i.e., chocolate, both prior and after coherent breathing.

Of course, breathing is enormously helpful and valuable to us. I think though that coherent breathing coupled with active, deliberate mindfulness is phenomenally helpful in multiple ways including how we’re feeling, what we’re thinking, what we say, our state of health, our body size and improving our relationship with eating and food, reducing stress and increasing resilience, pain reduction, sleep challenges, anger control, and more.

I’ve spoken a bit about mindfulness in the past. What is it exactly? “Mindfulness is paying attention to something, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”₁ Coherent breathing slows us down and helps move us into a safe, place which builds our resilience over time. Mindfulness allows us to really get distractions and noise out of the way so we may truly focus on us through in through. The focus is non-judgmental so negativity, self-deprecation, etc. is not in this calmer, healthier picture.  

I plan to revisit this topic of mindfulness in future articles, but I’d like to close here with a piece of a passage from a terrific little book I found during my recent stay at the Cape. The book is, “How to Eat”, by Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, and the passage is called “Mindful Eating.” I can’t recommend this book strongly enough for warming and appreciative mindful considerations when eating or interacting with food in any way. I think you’ll love it as well!

One last brief note. Since September 17th, is National Eat an Apple Day, I leave you with a smile, slow, gentle, deeper breaths, fewer racing thoughts, more mindfulness, appreciation, health, love, and delicious apple awareness. Namaste for now my friends!

 

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1.        Kabat-Zinn, J. Mindfulness-based interventions in context: Past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 2003; 10: 144-156.

2.        Hahn, T.N. (2014). How to Eat. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.