Tag Archives: stress

Catching your breath helps manage stress

While lamenting the distortions that my Kindle Fire HD has introduced in my reading habits, I did managed to finish a book this past week. In fact, I recommend that you buy a print copy because it comes with an audio CD that may be helpful in getting the knack for a breathing technique.

The Healing Power of the Breath: Simple Techniques to Reduce Stress and Anxiety, Enhance Concentration, and Balance Your Emotionsby Doctors Richard P. Brown and Patricia L. Gerbarg (Shambhala, 2012) is a useful primer on why you should develop a breathing practice even if you are not into yoga. It reviews the scientific research on the use of breath work in improving resilience to stress as well as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and trauma-induced emotions and behaviors. Brown and Gerbarg recommend a simple technique that slows your breathing to five breaths per minute, combined with simple visualizations of moving energy along the spine or from the head to the soles of the feet. They call it Coherent Breathing, and it can be modified to resemble the ujjayi (Darth Vader) Resistance Breathing that most yoga practitioners already know. I’ve used the technique to slow my mind down before going to bed or while seated on a train or waiting in line.

The key is to slow down the pace, and that can be harder than you’d expect. For instance, with my sudarshan kriya practice, the tendency is to speed up the pace and make it energizing. After working with the practice for a while, you’ll catch on to the pace and it will become second nature. The slower pace makes it easier to slip into a meditative mindset.

The CD contains a half dozen instructional takes on breathing techniques, and then it moves into a full 15-minute session, plus a short body scan.

More information is available on their website. There are also some audio files of radio interviews, podcasts and other material. Additional information can be found at Coherence, which goes into science behind the technique.

Knowing the limits of yoga

The Boston Globe Stretching the boundaries of yoga points out that the use of yoga in mainstream medicine is slowly gaining acceptance, but it is rarely reaching some of the people who could use it most, working class people who don’t shop at Lululemon or drink coconut water, and probably don’t have health insurance.

Because many yoga postures stretch and strengthen the muscles affecting the back, at least 10 published studies have been done on yoga and chronic low-back pain, says Saper. But though the majority have shown yoga to be promising as a low-cost treatment, all have been done on predominantly white, educated, affluent populations, he (Dr. Robert B. Saper, director of integrative medicine at Boston Medical Center) says.

The article runs through a number of medical studies that support the value of yoga, but also cites how yoga has helped real people. I loved this quote.

Streeter (Chris Streeter, lead author of two research studies and an associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University School of Medicine) says that yoga helps with balance and can reduce stress. “But you have to be careful not to over-promise. The effectiveness of yoga on mood may depend on the individual. For a person who hates yoga, it may not work.”

My one reservation about the “medicalization” of yoga is that the practice has a systemic or holistic application, and it cannot be isolated on single muscle or structure, and I am speaking as someone who came to yoga to seek relief from pain (suffering). You may take up yoga for back pain, but the whole myofascial system will get the benefits, plus better blood circulation, improved range of motion and deeper breathing. Yoga is not going to cure anything, as if it were an injection of antibiotics or a pill of Paxil. Its effects are not standardized.

Veterans use yoga, meditation to reconnect (Wisconsin TV, November 28, 2011)

Mindful listening

Photo: meditators sitting cross-legged on the floor
Meditating after taking a master class at Thrive Yoga

At lunch hour, I checked out the Diane Remn Show and realized that I had missed several shows that I wanted to listen to. Since giving up my FM-receive cum cell phone a year ago, I’ve gotten out of the habit of listen to NPR. Thanks to the marvels of the Web, I was able to go back and find find the following two shows:

June 22: The Power of Meditation with Josephine Briggs, a researcher, physician and director of the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine; Jonathan Foust, senior teacher, the Insight Meditation Community of Washington (IMCW); and Richard Davidson, director, Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior and the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Briggs is more of a NIH administrator who shied away from doing more than outline areas that the NCCAAM was funding. Davidson is a leading neuroscientist who is a trail blazer on the power of the mind and has been mentioned repeatedly in this blog. I’ve heard Foust give a short talk and lead mindfulness session and also heard him give a dharma talk at IMCW recently.

August 25: Relaxation Revolution with Dr. Herbert Benson who was the first scientist to identify the relaxation response as an antidote to the “fight-or-flight” response (i.e. stress). Benson recently brought out a book, Relaxation Revolution: Enhancing Your Personal Health Through the Science and Genetics of Mind Body Healing, which brings together much of the scientific and medical thinking since he started in the field 35 years ago.