One simple thing to improve your health

What is one thing you can do throughout the day, that doesn’t take a lot of time and will significantly improve your health (and decrease any pain you may have)?  Take a few breaths! Many people are familiar with the health benefits of meditation or mindful breathing. Simply focusing on your breath can help reduce inflammation and your response to stress.  Inflammation and a negative response to stress contribute to every pain and disease we experience. Many people understand the importance of mindful breathing. However, it tends to be low on their list of priorities.  They are too busy to take time to focus on their breathing. Being too busy to take time to breathe means it’s even more important for you to do it!

If you don’t have time to set aside 10-20 minutes for mindful breathing, you can reap many of the same benefits (if not more) by taking micro breathing breaks.  Simply choose something that happens repetitively throughout your day and use that as a trigger to take a micro breathing break. For example, every time I wash my hands in between patients, I take a few deep, slow breaths.  Our brains work by association. Associating a micro breathing break with something that occurs frequently throughout your day means it is more likely to happen automatically.  

If you are someone who already has a meditation or mindfulness practice…fantastic!  I encourage you to take micro breathing breaks as well. If you meditate for 20 minutes in the morning and don’t think about your breath the rest of the day, you are likely falling into poor breathing patterns.  This includes shallow breathing that comes mostly from the chest. Ideally, our breathing pattern is slow and calm coming from the diaphragm (belly breathing) most of the time. However, if we are in pain or feel stressed, it is common to have a quicker, more shallow breath.  This pattern tends to become our “normal”. Taking frequent micro breathing breaks will help you reset your breath throughout the day with the intent of the slower, calm breath becoming your normal way of breathing. This pattern will help reduce any pain you have and help you respond better to stressful events in you life.

There are many different breathing patterns that can be helpful so feel free to experiment and find what works for you.  A good place to start is breathing through your nose focusing on taking slower, deeper breaths through your belly (minimize chest movement).  A slower exhale can be especially beneficial. It can help to think about making your exhale twice as long as your inhale. Slowing down your breath should feel calming and relaxing..  If you breathe too slowly it can create more anxiety and make you feel more stressed. Do what feels right to you. Slow down…and breathe!

Dr. Terry Gebhardt is a physical therapist at Colorado In Motion

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