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Right under your nose: A simple way to lower holiday stress and overeating

December 22, 2010

Turns out, we can actually use our mind to improve our physical health. With a little practice, you can be well on your way to reaping the positive benefits from breathing exercises.

Breathing exercises are built-in stress relievers and can have immediate positive effects like lowering blood pressure and triggering your relaxation response. Deeper breathing triggers the parasympathetic nervous system—the one that calms us down.

With heightened stress-levels and abundant holiday treats lying around, it’s sometimes a perfect set up for overeating and feeling overwhelmed. What if you could try breathing instead?

Practicing breathing exercises can actually train the body’s reaction to stressful situations—lowering the production of harmful stress hormones (the same ones that contribute to overeating tendencies). It’s a powerful and easy tool for increasing your overall health and wellbeing. Give yourself a present this holiday…It’s free and right under your nose (literally). Breathe!

To get started, try this simple breathing exercise:

Lightly rest one hand on your chest and the other one on your abdomen area. As you breathe deeply in, aim to have the hand on your abdomen rise higher than the hand on the chest. This will mean you are taking in air into the lower part of the lungs.

Exhale through your lips and then take a slow, deep breath inhaling through your nose and imagine you are taking in all of the air surrounding you. Hold it for as long as you are able to comfortably (it’s not an underwater breathing contest!).

Slowly exhale through your mouth in a gradual and gentle manner. As you let out all of the air in relaxation, slightly contract your abdominal area to release any remaining air from your lungs. (*We deepen breathing not by inhaling more air, but by completely releasing it).

Repeat the cycle for four or five more breaths or until your body begins to relax. If you want a guideline for breath frequency, each exhalation should aim to be about twice as long as the inhalation.

For more, check out Breathing: Three Exercises by Integrative Nutrition guest teacher, Dr. Andrew Weil for a great way to learn more.

Do you have any favorite breathing exercises?