Selfcare is Healthcare

The science behind improving health with practical breathing and mindfulness behavior training.

SOME BASIC FACTS

Did you know one in four doctor visits are for stress-related ailments? That sixty percent of human illness is directly traceable or correlated to stress? Or, in the US alone, nearly $300 billion is spent on stress-related health care costs and lost productivity?

Everyone manages stress throughout life. How well you do it has a big impact on your long-term health, productivity and enjoyment of daily experience. The good news is science has proven you can take control of stress simply, naturally and affordably.

Interested? Read on to learn more!

NEXT: What is Stress?

WHAT IS STRESS?

Stress is a natural response in your body and brain that helps you react effectively to danger. When your brain-driven “fight-or-flight” response and sympathetic nervous system are activated you produce stress hormones like cortisol and norepinephrine. This causes heart-rate and blood pressure to go up, metabolism and digestion to go down, and your brain is optimized for reaction time and memory retrieval. All of this is to get you ready for a crisis.

The problem is your over-stimulated brain often perceives a crisis or danger where it’s not, and you end up in a chronic state of stress. Often you don’t even know it. Over time this builds physical tension and mental anxiety, consumes extra energy, suppresses your immune system, retains cholesterol and sodium in your blood, among other consequences. In other words, long-term stress breaks down your body and brain.

NEXT: The Art of Self-care

THE ART OF SELF-CARE

Addressing day-to-day or chronic stress, even when it is low-grade, begins with understanding why you experience stress in the first place, which can be simplified into two essential components.

The first is largely out of your control, and has to do with the world around you. Busy schedules, job pressures, work-life balance, money concerns, technology and video screens, continuous advertisements, long commutes, lack of exercise, illness, caring for others with illness – you can probably come up with a few more of your own. Though you may be able to adjust or influence some of these, more often you can’t - they are the realities of life in the twenty-first century.

The second factor is completely within your control: how you respond to daily stress and proactively reduce it. This is the art of self-care, and includes a wide variety of factors ranging from diet, exercise and mental outlook, to the use of mind-body techniques. The most important idea in stress management is this: you can choose how and if you react to stress in most day-to-day situations. And, it’s a skill and habit you can readily learn, master and integrate into your lifestyle!

NEXT: Breathing

BREATHING

Breathing is at the heart of limiting physical stress throughout the day, and learning to exert control over your stress response.

Your nervous system responds directly and automatically to conscious breathing, counteracting the stress response by stimulating your parasympathetic nervous system and relaxing your body. Yes, you read that correctly: breathing to relax is built into who you are, and how you work. Studies show that conscious breathing leads to physical benefits such as reduced heart rate and blood pressure, better balance of oxygen and CO2 in the bloodstream, reduced tension throughout the body, and even better performance (expression) of your genes.

Breathing also has an amazing benefit on your brain and mental health. Focusing on the act of breathing itself is a mini-meditation. When you can focus on one thought, idea or action, peripheral thoughts and worries begin to drift away. From this calm, relaxed place, you can use mindfulness and visualization techniques to further control your stress, improve energy and focus, work on self-improvement, and much more!

NEXT: Alignment

ALIGNMENT

Body alignment has an enormous impact on the efficiency of your breathing, and more generally how you feel, how well your body works, and how it holds up over time.

Most of us have experienced firsthand the discomfort of misalignment and injuries from repetitive activities, whether sitting at a desk, typing, hunched over a phone or driving, to name a few. The specifics of preventing injury and pain vary, but one thing is always true: learning to be aware of your body from moment-to-moment and making little adjustments throughout the day improves overall health and wellness.

The benefits of training yourself to move around, stretch and adjust your body continuously and habitually throughout the day range from improved blood flow, greater mobility, reduced wear and tear on muscles and joints, to just feeling good!

NEXT: Mindfulness

MINDFULNESS

Mindfulness is a broadly used term these days, so let’s specifically review what it means from a health and science perspective. Mindfulness is paying attention to something in the present moment (eg. breathing) and learning how to separate what you experience or sense from how you react or respond to it. It is learning how to observe yourself (interoception) and the world around you (exteroception) with awareness, so you can fully recognize and feel your experiences, but still have the presence of mind to remain calm, focused and thoughtful in your reactions.

The benefits of cultivating mindfulness are broad, but perhaps most important to your health is general stress reduction, and how this practice literally changes your brain by what is called neuroplasticity. Remember how we said you can choose whether or not to react to stressful situations, and how you experience physical and mental stress? Not only can you choose it, but you can train your brain to respond this way naturally! Advanced practitioners go even further to reduce or eliminate anxiety and pain.

NEXT: Want to Learn More?

WANT TO LEARN MORE?

The earliest writings on breathing practices are thousands of years old. Endless resources can be found with a simple search in any language.

Of the many scientific papers, popular media, books and videos that are available, here are a few links we'd like to share from Harvard and Stanford Universities, The Wall Street Journal and Huffington Post, NPR and CBS, as well as Nature and the NIH Library.

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