The Hemp Connection + women's health tips

How Well Do You Breathe?

I'm still working on learning to swim the butterfly stroke. Even though I've been swimming most of my life, something new about swimming occurred to me this past week. As calorically intense as swimming can be, I always leave the pool feeling invigorated. And at night…I fall right asleep and sleep through the night without issue.

I'm a pretty regular exerciser, but the nature of swimming, having to hold your breath, forces me to use my lungs differently than I do with any other exercise. I have to breathe more deeply into my lungs, and hold that air longer, than I do when I run or use exercise machines or rollerblade. My endurance with swimming is a little rusty, so, I have to stop and catch my breath which I don't have to do with any other exercise.

I think, because swimming is using my lungs in a more intensive way, it's better oxygenating my body. And that in turn leaves me feeling more energetic, since oxygen is necessary for healthy metabolism. And I sleep better at night when melatonin is triggered to come out and balance all that oxidation with restorative activity.

How well do you breathe? It is common, when stressed, to breathe more rapidly with shallower breaths. When you don't fully use your lungs, it's hard for adequate oxygen to get to your brain…and when your brain is stressed, it intensifies the feeling of anxiety, shortening breathing even more…thus starting a vicious cycle.

And…since the brain's main fuel is glucose, when you're not breathing adequately, you run the risk of having more sugar cravings.

When you're anxious, it is common to want to have an explanation for it. And the tendency is to blame it on something external, like your infertility, your weight, your appearance, your marriage, etc. It may be, at least some of the time, that your anxiety is directly related to how you're breathing.

Try this exercise the next time you're feeling anxious and see how you feel. Or…rather than waiting till you're anxious, try it several days in a row at a time of day you know you feel stressed (and hungry for carbs), such as when you get home from work just before dinner, and see if you start to notice a change in your mood and your appetite.

Lay down on your bed and place a book or pillow on your stomach. Make yourself breathe so that the object begins to move up and down. If you're breathing shallowly, with the top of your lungs, it will be hard to do this. So if the book doesn't move, focus on breathing into your belly button. Breathe like this for 20 breaths. Next time…30.

This is the kind of breathing you would learn to do in yoga class. It's exactly the kind of breathing I do in the middle of a counseling session or meeting when I feel stressed. I simply place a hand on my stomach to check if my breath is getting into the bottom of my lungs.

Of course, exercise is the ultimate way to do this kind of breathing. But it won't work for you in rush hour traffic, during your midterm, or when you're giving that sales presentation. Keep this technique handy in those situations, and exercise when you DO have time.

I'll be interested to hear from all of you about what you notice when you try this!

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How Well Do You Breathe? + women's health tips