Friday, February 17, 2012

Breathing – your Secret Weapon against Menopause Symptoms


There are multiple symptoms of menopause which are annoying, maddening, and exhausting, like mood swings, anxiety, hot flashes, and insomnia. There is one thing in common about them, besides the original source – they all can be more or less managed through relaxation techniques. While you may not always eliminate totally the negative effects, you can definitely diminish their severity and put under control. The importance of relaxation is even higher due to the stressful life events, which surround the menopausal woman on top of the stressful internal processes in the body.

How Can I Relax During Menopause?

In order to learn how to relax during menopause or any other time, you need to become familiar with your own breathing patterns and change them in ways that will help you relax. Your breathing pattern is often disrupted by changes in emotion. People who are anxious tend to hold their breath and speak in a high-pitched voice as they exhale. On the other hand, people who are depressed, tend to sigh and speak in a low-pitched voice as they exhale.

Below are a few useful breathing techniques. But first, be sure that you have a quiet location that is free of distractions, a comfortable body position, and a good state of mind. Try to block out worries and distracting thoughts.

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Rhythmic Breathing

If your breathing is short and hurried, slow it down by taking long, slow breaths. Inhale slowly then exhale slowly. Count slowly to five as you inhale, and then count slowly to five as you exhale. As you exhale slowly, pay attention to how your body naturally relaxes. Recognizing this change will help you to relax even more.

If you want to extend you art of rhythmic breathing to the next level, you can start learning the ancient secrets of 3-steps rhythmic breathing (3 SRB), recommended by yoga masters. They claim that this way of breathing is simply the natural way we were born with and we forgot as adults. Observe the breathing pattern of a healthy newborn – it is the same rhythm of 3 SRB, but a bit faster. Somewhere along the way we lose track of this natural, rhythmic way of breathing.

A conscious and focused practice of 3 SRB will guide us back to this rhythmic way of breathing. The three steps of 3 SRB involve the technique, volume and rhythm of breathing.

Technique


• While breathing, both your chest and abdomen should rise and fall simultaneously.
• The chest will require more air because of the space created by the rib cage.
• The abdomen should not be blown up unnaturally during inhalation.
• To figure out if you are breathing correctly, get a friend to observe you or lie down before a mirror with two heavy books, one on the chest and the other on the abdomen.
• Check if both move together.
• Our habit of breathing from the lower part of the chest results in shallow breathing, depriving the body of much needed oxygen.

Volume

• When you breathe in, it is particularly important to note that the breath flows freely and fully from neck to navel. This simply means that the middle and lower abdomen should be filled to normal capacity.
• The volume of breath intake during 3 SRB should be the same as the intake during normal breathing.
• Continuous deep, heavy breathing can exhaust a person and is not recommended in 3 SRB.
• Initially, to establish the rhythm, your breath will be deeper, but once you are comfortable with 3 SRB and the volume of air that is to be drawn in, the breath will become normal.

Rhythm

• To establish the correct rhythm of breathing, inhalation should take three seconds and exhalation two seconds.
• To keep to the pattern of rhythmic breathing, do not retain the breath between inhaling and exhaling.
• One complete breath takes five seconds or six pulse beats. The exact rhythm is to count 1-2-3 while inhaling and 5-6 while exhaling-4 is not counted.
• Unlike breathing exercises, in normal breathing rhythm, the duration of inhalation is longer than that of exhalation.


To master 3 SRB, you must consciously work to complete 12 cycles of breath in a minute. Inhale to the count of 3, exhale to the count of 2, and repeat the cycle 12 times in one minute. Initially, as you sit down to observe your breathing pattern, you will find that you probably breathe beyond 18 cycles per minute. This can be reduced to the mandatory 12 breaths a minute with the practice of 3 SRB.

To start with, this rhythmic breathing can be practiced for a fixed duration during the day or night, till you learn to continue breathing in this manner all 24 hours of the day. You can work to increase the duration of your practice time by five minutes every fortnight till one hour of conscious 3 SRB is reached by six months. The time that it takes to turn this practice into a lifelong habit will vary from person to person.

It could take anything from two years to a lifetime. To facilitate this process, you can practice 3 SRB to taped music. Special tapes are available for this purpose. The advantage of working with 3 SRB in this manner is that soft music can play in the background, and you can practice rhythmic breathing even as you are lying, sitting, standing, walking or busying yourself with any mechanical chore. It is a good habit to switch on the soft, taped music at night and fall asleep while you practice 3 SRB.

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Deep breathing

The respiratory system consists of the diaphragm, windpipe and lungs, and the rib cage surrounds the system structure. Upon inhalation, the diaphragm travels down, while on exhalation it progresses upward. When we inhale, the lungs expand to their maximum capacity as more air is inhaled, and likewise, the diaphragm reaches the lower abdomen. It should be noted that the lungs work better when inhaled deeply and downward, as they are larger at the bottom and narrower at the top. Deep breathing works positively on health, because with the inhalation and exhalation process, the movement of the diaphragm, lower back, rib cage and stomach takes place, which in turn massages the muscles of the heart. It helps in pumping enough blood to the entire system and helps detoxify the vital organs.

The theory is brief and simple. Imagine a spot just below your navel. Breathe into that spot, filling your abdomen with air. Let the air fill you from the abdomen up, then let it out, like deflating a balloon. With every long, slow exhalation, you should feel more relaxed.

In practice, start deep breathing exercises in sitting position. Sit up straight, not arching your back. First, exhale completely through your mouth. Place your hands on your stomach, just above your waist. Breathe in slowly through your nose, pushing your hands out with your stomach. This ensures that you are breathing deeply. Imagine that you are filling your body with air from the bottom up. Hold your breath to a count of two to five, or whatever you can handle. It is easier to hold your breath if you continue to hold out your stomach. Slowly and steadily breathe out through your mouth, feeling your hands move back in as you slowly contract your stomach, until most of the air is out. Exhalation is a little longer than inhalation.

After you get some experience you don’t need to use your hands to check your breathing. You can also do the above breathing exercise lying on your back. Deep breathing exercises can help you to relax before you go to sleep for the night, or fall back asleep if you awaken in the middle of the night.

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Visualized breathing

Both visualization and breathing exercises have been found to be really successful stress relief strategies. Here are some ways that you can use visualization techniques with breathing exercises to achieve quick and effective stress relief.
  1. Find a comfortable place where you can close your eyes and combine slowed breathing with your imagination.
  2. Picture relaxation entering your body and tension leaving your body. Breathe deeply, but in a natural rhythm.
  3. Visualize your breath coming into your nostrils, going to your lungs and expanding our chest.
  4. Then visualize your breath going out the same way.
  5. Continue breathing, but each time you inhale, imagine that you are breathing in more relaxation. Each time you exhale imagine that you are getting rid of a little more tension.

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General Breathing Exercises

There are multiple researches and approaches on how to let your breathing to improve your mood, release your stress and anxiety, and allow functioning better in daily life. We will provide several examples of the exercises, which are easy to follow and do not require special knowledge, techniques, or physical training. Read each description carefully, and note all the requirements to the fine details. Try to follow the guidelines as close as possible for best results. Be patient, and do not expect magic results immediately, as your body might need time to accept the instructions. Be patient and persistent, and you will definitely see positive results in your well-being.

Exercise 1: To become aware of your breathing pattern

The following exercise will enable you to become more aware of your own breathing pattern:
1. Lie on the floor in a corpse pose in a quiet place. Lie down on your back with your legs straight and slightly apart, your arms at your sides and not touching your body, palms up, and eyes closed.
2. Focus your attention on your breathing.
3. Place your hand on your body where it rises and falls. If this spot is on your chest, your breathing is too shallow and you're not fully using your lungs.
4. Place your hands on your abdomen and feel how it rises and falls. Does your chest move with your abdomen? If not, focus on allowing them to rise and fall together.
5. Concentrate on breathing deeply through your nose, filling your entire lungs so that your chest and abdomen rise and fall with each breath.
6. As you breathe, check your body for tension. If you discover any part of your body under tension, concentrate on those tight or rigid muscles and let the tension flow away.
By practicing this exercise, you will become more aware of your breathing patterns and habits.

Exercise 2: To deepen your breathing

1. Lie down on the floor with your knees bent and feet apart. Your back should be flat on the floor.
2. Mentally examine each part of your body. Is there any tension in any part of your body? If yes, let it flow away.
3. Rest one hand on your stomach and the other hand on your chest.
4. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, taking the breath into your stomach so that your hand feels it rise. Your chest should move slightly along with your abdomen.
5. Practice step 4 until it feels comfortable to be breathing air into your abdomen. Once you achieve this comfort, inhale deeply and then blow the air out gently through your mouth.
6. Deep-breathe for five to ten minutes once or twice each day. 

After you have become comfortable with this technique, you can practice the exercise for up to twenty minutes at a time, whenever you feel the need to relax and focus your energy.

Exercise 3: To combat depression

A simple, effective technique for combating mild depression is to increase the depth of your breathing. Close your eyes and focus your full attention on breathing deeply. This relaxes your body and will open your mind to experience positive thoughts and creative images. If you increase the depth of your breath so that you are taking no more than four breaths a minute, within five minutes this exercise will change the way you feel. Try it.

Exercise 4: To let go of your depression and feel energized

This exercise lets you to get rid of your depression and feel energized.
1. Sit on a chair with your back straight and feet flat on the floor.
2. Reach straight up with both hands.
3. Inhale deeply. Hold your breath and while holding your breath, squeeze your fists so that the muscles in your arms tighten.
4. Exhale slowly. Keeping your arms tense, lower your fists to your chest, as if you're pulling down on rubber bands.
5. Repeat steps 2 and 3 a few times.
6. On the final repetition, cross your arms over your chest. Rest your fingers on the upper outside spots of your chest, with your wrists crossed in the middle.
7. Drop your chin to your chest.
8. Inhale four short breaths without exhaling.
9. Hold your breath.
10. Exhale slowly through your mouth.

Repeat steps 8-10 for a few minutes, concentrating on the rhythm of your breath.

Exercise 5: To increase energy and alertness level

This exercise called the Stimulating Breath is adapted from a yogic breathing technique. Its aim is to raise vital energy and increase alertness.
1.       Inhale and exhale rapidly through your nose, keeping your mouth closed but relaxed. Your breaths in and out should be equal in duration, but as short as possible. This is a noisy breathing exercise.
2.       Try for three in-and-out breath cycles per second. This produces a quick movement of the diaphragm, suggesting a bellows. Breathe normally after each cycle.
3.       Do not do for more than 15 seconds on your first try. Each time you practice the Stimulating Breath, you can increase your time by five seconds or so, until you reach a full minute.

If done properly, you may feel invigorated, comparable to the heightened awareness you feel after a good workout. You should feel the effort at the back of the neck, the diaphragm, the chest and the abdomen. Try this breathing exercise the next time you need an energy boost and feel yourself reaching for a cup of coffee.

Exercise 6: To relieve anxiety

This is a skill that must be practiced.  Try this daily for 10-20 minutes as well as during periods of anxiety.
1.   Place one hand on your upper abdomen, right below your right cage.
2.   Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose into the “bottom” of your lungs.
3.   Pause for a moment, and then exhale slowly.
4.   Take 10 slow abdominal breaths, keeping your breaths smooth and regular. It may help to slow your breathing by counting to four (1 – 2 – 3 – 4) as you exhale. Pause briefly at the end of each inhalation and exhalation.  If you begin to feel lightheaded, take a 20 second break before resuming your breathing exercise.
5.   Five minutes of abdominal breathing done correctly will have a profound effect on reducing anxiety and early symptoms of panic.

Exercise 7: To relax and relieve your stress

The following exercise requires a partner and is effective in relaxing and energizing you.
1.      Lie on your back. Have your partner put one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your chest.
2.      Inhale and exhale as in deep, relaxed breathing, but each inhale is taken in two stages abdomen, then chest. Imagine that you are breathing into your partner's hand as you fill your belly with air. When your abdomen feels full, continue breathing into your chest. Watch your partner's hands as it rises.
3.      Exhale fully through the chest and belly simultaneously.
4.      Repeat. It is important to keep a rhythmic rolling effect between abdomen and chest. Breathe at your natural pace, however.

Exercise 8: For deep relaxation

This exercise is very simple, takes almost no time, requires no equipment and can be done anywhere. Although you can do the exercise in any position, sit with your back straight while learning the exercise. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.
1.       Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
2.       Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
3.       Hold your breath for a count of seven.
4.       Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
5.       This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

Note that you always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in position the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation. The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is important. If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise up but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice you can slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply.

This exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. Unlike tranquilizing drugs, which are often effective when you first take them but then lose their power over time, this exercise is subtle when you first try it but gains in power with repetition and practice. Do it at least twice a day. You cannot do it too frequently. Do not do more than four breaths at one time for the first month of practice. Later, if you wish, you can extend it to eight breaths. If you feel a little lightheaded when you first breathe this way, do not be concerned; it will pass.



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