As a result of my long-time personal interest and my recent certification in health and wellness coaching, I have made an attempt to continue to learn as much as I can about the latest practices in the area. I attended a unique 3-day workshop this past weekend with the founder of integrative medicine, Dr. Andrew Weil. If you haven’t heard of Dr. Weil, he is a legend and pioneer in the health and wellness arena.  He is responsible for the rise of the practice of integrative medicine, which addresses not just managing disease, but the full range of physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual and environmental influences that affect a person’s health.

While spending time learning from this master “guru” was full of incredible insights and interesting advice on how we can achieve optimum health, one of the things that struck me most was the discussion about stress and the lifestyle factors that help us manage it.

He shared one simple exercise that has a profound impact on stress management.

Before I share it with you, bear with me and let me first explain the simple biology behind it.

Our nervous system is divided into two parts: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic.  The sympathetic part gets us ready to run away from danger or fight an aggressor.  It raises our heart rate, blood pressure, tenses our muscles, and evokes the production of hormones that will assist us in our survival in danger.

The second part, the parasympathetic nervous system, has the opposite effect.  It lowers our heart rate and blood pressure, relaxes the tension in our muscles, and prepares us for a state of rest, sleep, and rejuvenation.

In our overly stressed lives, the sympathetic nervous system is over stimulated and in a constant state of alert.  Chronic elevated blood pressure and heart rate and muscle tension put us at greater risk for heart issues, disease, headaches, and other dangerous physical ailments.  Something as simple as anxious thoughts can stimulate our sympathetic nervous system and create a stress reaction.

What to do?

There is something we can do right now that will help us trigger our parasympathetic nervous system into action more regularly to help us regulate our stress responses.

It is a simple breathing exercise that can stimulate the “rest” response in our bodies and help us manage our stress.

Yes– a breathing exercise.

There really is something that rings true to the old adage that tells us to “just breathe” when we are upset or stressed.

The Relaxing Breath

Sit up with your back straight. Put the tip of your tongue on the ridge behind your top front teeth and keep it there for the entire exercise.  To begin–exhale through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
1. Close your mouth and inhale through your nose to the count of 4
2. Hold your breath for the count of 7
3. Exhale through your mouth, making a whoosh sound, to the count of 8
4.  Repeat steps 1-3 two more times

Do this exercise at least twice a day.
You may repeat it more often, but don’t do more than 4 breaths each time.

Yep, that’s it.

If you practice this twice a day, you will begin to train your parasympathetic nervous system to kick in, and give your sympathetic nervous system a much needed rest.  It apparently does wonders for anxiety, and can be quite useful before you are entering a stressful situation such as giving an important presentation.

Give this exercise a try for a month and let me know what you experience as a result.  Sometimes the simplest things can work wonders as we pay attention to our bodies and notice and monitor the signals we get from it.

There was lots more useful information about nutrition and mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being as well as health aging, which I can share in other posts.  One thing I know for sure–and it was reinforced again this weekend; You are not successful in anything without your health.

Here’s to your health,