Hi, I’m Beth Misner, and I want to welcome you to episode #2 of the Abundant Health podcast.
I’m glad you’re joining me today, and I hope you’ll come back over and over. In my weekly podcast, I tell stories, share strategies, and practical information about creating abundant health.
My focus is three-fold: body, mind, and spirit. I believe abundant health needs all three of these areas to be working together, they are like a three-legged stool! Without any one of the legs, the stool is going to fall over.
I’m bringing over 35 years of experience in health and wellness to this podcast series. My experiences and the things I have learned along the way will benefit YOU so you don’t have to make the same mistakes I did.
Today’s topic is breathing—something we all do without having to even think about it. But most of us are not breathing in a way that supports Abundant Health. Most of us breathe shallowly, quickly, or we breathe in, but we hold our breath before breathing out. Stop whatever you are doing right now, unless you are driving, of course!
Notice if you are breathing in for a count of two, of three, or maybe a count of four.
Notice if you are inhaling longer than you exhale—or are you exhaling longer than you’re inhaling.
The beauty of breathing is that it is something that happens automatically, and it also can be consciously controlled. It is possible to train your breathing pattern so you are breathing more deeply, and that your breath is even.
Why is this important, you wonder? Well, your breathing pattern sends a message to your brain regarding the conditions of the environment around you. And depending on what message your brain receives, a wide variety of chemical cocktails are released to prepare you for what may be needed.
Understanding what messages you are sending your brain with how you are breathing can put you on the path of becoming a Body Whisperer. You will be able to consciously send the signals you WANT the brain to receive, rather than signals you unconsciously send.
Breathing deeply and slowly cues the brain to release relaxation chemicals. These relaxation chemicals send signals to the body that all is well, there are no tigers in the grass stalking you—they signal for the body to rest deeply, to digest completely, and for immune function to optimize.
When we breathe in the opposite manner: quickly, shallowly, or even holding our breath, the body gets a far different signal and cues the brain to release chemicals that will support the body into springing into flight from a predator or fighting off an attacker.
In my book, Healing Can Be Easy, I wrote about my cancer healing strategies in 2017, after I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. One of these strategies was to pay great attention to my breathing. When I became mindful about my breathing pattern, I realized that I was inhaling, and then holding my breath for a long period of time. It took me months to retrain my body to breathe slowly, deeply, and evenly, and it was sooo important that I consciously made the effort to do that.
How can we use breathing as a health protocol? By doing what’s called Tai Chi breathing on a regular basis.
I know many of you go to yoga classes, where they talk about belly breathing, or deep abdominal breathing, which is an important part of the inhalation phase of Tai Chi breathing. It’s deep abdominal breath brings the diaphragm, a large, strong muscle, down against the organs in the upper region of the abodomen: the spleen, stomach, pancreas, liver, and gallbladder. These organs actually get a gentle massage from the diaphragmatic muscle pressing against them in this deep belly breath. We refer to this as “wringing out the tissues,” because the muscle pressing into them allows a transfer of fluids and stimulates the flow of lymph.
But did you know that the rest of the breath is meant to open the chest and allow the lungs to really expand. We are going to practice the Tai Chi breath together in a moment, but let’s first visualize the lungs. Most of us see our lungs in our minds eyes like two balloons on either side of our chest which inflate and deflate, but in actuality, they are two fleshy organs with separate lobes to hold and exchange the gasses we both breathe in and release within from various bodily processes.
The left lung has two lobes, while the right lung, interestingly enough, has three!
So when we move from the belly breath to the chest breath, all on the same inhalation, we want to get the sense of filling the lungs from the very bottoms of the lower lobes, up into the middle lobe on the right and into the upper lobes on both sides. Then hold in this expanded state.
Holding the breath while the lungs and chest are expanded triggers the production of neurotransmitters which are stimulated by the vagus nerve because of the pulmonary stretch receptors and the baroreceptors, also stretch receptors, in the cardiac system. This is why deep breathing can be prescribed by some medical doctors for people who need to lower their blood pressure.
So this full expansion on the inhalation creates pressure and stretching in the tissues, which triggers the receptors that signal for the release of neurotransmitters to move our bodies OUT of the fight or flight state.
What happens next in Tai Chi breathing is fascinating. At the top of the inhalation, there is a pause. We hold the breath for a moment, allowing for a slight accumulation of carbon dioxide within the lungs. Now, a lot of carbon dioxide is bad, that is why we can hold the breath for only so long, then the body forces the exhalation to happen. But a slight pause tests the resiliency of the system and stimulates biochemical reactions that are good.
After the slight pause, the exhale follows in a slow, controlled out breath. And we visualize the lungs emptying from the tops down to the very bottom of both sides. We feel the diaphragm moving up, and the chest closing. So when I teach the Tai Chi breathing technique, I like for you to place one hand on your belly and one hand on your upper chest, so you can feel the expansion and contraction during the inhalation and the exhalation.
And then we pause again. Holding the breath after exhaling fully. The pause here also triggers a beneficial biochemical reaction. One of these reactions is that nitric oxide that expands into the nasal passages when we are pausing the out-breath here. Nitric oxide is called an information molecule, and it supports the blood vessels and helps to lower inflammation in the body. So when we inhale through the nose for the second breath, we are delivering that nitric oxide into the lungs where it can be moved right into the bloodstream.
Now that I’ve explained the dynamics of Tai Chi breathing, let’s do a couple of rounds of breathing this way.
Place one hand on your belly and the other on your upper chest. Breathe normally. Notice how you are feeling right now. I’m going to ask you to notice how you are feeling along the way, as well. As you breathe normally, where are you feeling the breath the most in your body? Just notice that.
Now we are going to take that big, deep breath, filling the lower belly, feel the diaphragm pushing down into the lower abdominal cavity, pressing against the organs, and now feel the chest rising and expanding as the lungs fill from the bottoms to the tops.
Pause here just for a moment feeling the expansion and stretching of the tissues.
And now begin to release the air from your lungs from the tops all the way down to the bottoms and feel the diaphragm contracting back up against the bottoms of the lungs to help expel all the gasses your body does not need. You can even draw the abdominal muscles up and in to support the pressing being done by the diaphragm pulling the belly button to the spine.
And hold here, pausing just for a moment to allow the accumulation of nitric oxide in the nasal passages.
Now begin to breathe in though the nose, feeling the belly expand as you relax the abdominal muscles and feel the diaphragm expanding down into the abdomen, massaging the organs. Feel the chest expanding as the lungs fill completely from the lower lobes all the way up to the top.
Pause, feeling the expansion and stretching. Notice how you are feeling . . . This exchange of energy is triggering positive biochemical reactions in your entire body.
Start your long, slow complete exhale, once again releasing the air from your lungs from the top down and feeling the diaphragm moving up against the lungs. Bring the abdominal muscles in toward the spine.
Gently return to your normal breathing, and notice how you feel. This feeling is what we call your Qi circulating. In yoga, we call it Prana. In regular language, we can say that we are feeling increased functional capacity.
This is so important for your health. Any time you are feeling fear, or worry, or pain in your body, you can stop and do some of the Tai Chi breathing. And I think you’ll notice after two or three or four breaths of the Tai Chi Breathing pattern that fear, the worry, and even the pain will fade.
Ah, I hope you enjoyed that breathing exercise, and feel free to come back to it time and time again to practice until you’ve internalized all the steps of Tai Chi breathing.
And I do want to say thank you for being with me on the second episode of the Abundant Health Podcast. I would really love to meet you back here again next week!
Until then, may you experience Abundant Health.