Heal, Lose Weight, and Live Better With Your Breath
It may be a new idea to think that some of us might need to simply relax more often to feel better, but the reason for this is pretty simple, and it has to do with evolution.
Back when early man and woman were living amongst predatory animals, our bodies evolved to use mechanisms triggered by hormones for survival. When we came into an encounter with a sabertooth tiger for example, the first thing to happen was the pre-frontal cortex in our brain sent a signal out to dispatch adrenaline throughout our body. This turned all of our senses on high alert and allowed our bodies to move quickly and swiftly to escape.
During that heightened state, our body puts a halt on anything it doesn't have to do like grow hair and nails, digest food, heal, metabolize nutrients, detoxify, etc. Instead it does only what it needs to get away from the tiger.
Although we usually don't have to worry about tigers chasing us, today many people, especially Americans, tend to hang out far too long in that "flight or flight” state also known as “the red zone”. This not only happens when we're trying to run a marathon using up adrenaline stores, but also when we are just dealing with any kind of stressors throughout our day.
When our bodies are in the sympathetic state or the red zone too long, our bodies are not able to perform the basic functions they needs to thrive. If we cannot turn off those flight or fight mechanisms and hormones, we can get very ill, lose sleep, have high anxiety, feel like we have no energy, gain weight, develop chronic disease in our bodies. We might not be able to get better or loose weight, no matter what kind of diet or exercise program we might be on.
This is why taking time to slow down and breath deeply is important. Scientists and meditation experts say that when we are born, we naturally breathe deeply, into our belly. If you've ever observed an infant you will notice their belly rise and fall with each breath. Over time, as we develop more stressors in our life, we switch to breathing into our chest more often and when we are doing this, we are in the red zone mode without even realizing it. When we focus on our breath going into our belly slowly, this activates the parasympathetic system or rest and digest mode in our body. This is the state in which we are able to digest, grow, heal, and metabolize. Some people even lose weight when they learn how to live in the green zone more often. That's right, as hard as it might be to believe many people actually lose weight- and a lot of it, by simply tuning into their bodies and being present with their breath or meditating on a daily basis.
This is not to say that we shouldn't move. It is also true that we need some time in our sympathetic state but it's all about balance. Short bursts of high intensity interval training or HIIT has become really popular and has been fascinating scientist lately because of its results for people (even for just 5 minutes a day!). And, we know that activity, movement, and exercise is beneficial. Also sometimes, when we’re moving in a way that we just LOVE we get feel good hormones our bodies need too. My husband talks about how when he plays soccer for fun, he feels this way. He says it’s like he is totally present in the moment, letting everything else go- almost as if it’s a type of meditation for him and he feels stress melt away.
There are many ways for us to keep our stress hormones balanced and stay in the green zone as much as possible. The point here is that we need to find balance in work, life, exercise, and down time. We have to find what works for us in meditation and exercise the same as we have to learn what foods work for us. We are all very different biologically and we have to learn to listen to our bodies and look for signs of what they tell us we need or what they don’t.
Taking time for ourselves to slow down, just breathe, or meditate is difficult in our fast paced day to day life today. But, it is just as important as any other kind of exercise that we know we need. If we can think about ways to incorporate some slow, deep belly breaths into our day we will feel much better.
So the next time you are stuck in traffic, at a stop light, in a long meeting, or at a gathering you’d rather not be at, maybe look at those moments as opportunities to practice focusing on your breath, and relaxing your body. You’ll feel so much better afterwards and throughout the day if you do not let the flight or fight mode kick in, and you can remain calm and present.