Dr. Barb: As I’ve interviewed women across experiences and professions, self-care has been a recurring theme, and some kind of mindfulness has been a continuing thread. That was overlaid for me when my yoga instructor, Michelle Shaw, shared a book she hoped I would read: Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, by James Nestor.
You can listen to our conversation about it; here’s an exercise in breath that we hope you’ll return to again and again.Michelle Shaw is a former coach and high school English teacher who came to yoga instruction at midlife. She holds Yoga Alliance Certification through Kia Miller and Tommy Rosen in Radiant Body Yoga. Radiant Body Yoga is a holistic approach that combines physical posture, breath work, kriyas, meditation, and chanting to increase strength, build vitality, and create mental clarity. She is also a certified Kripalu Yoga in the Schools instructor, for a curriculum developed in partnership with Harvard Medical School, and is interested in bringing the benefits of yoga into the educational system and more.
Michelle: For this breath today, welcome and just take a moment. You could be lying on your back. You could be sitting on a yoga mat. You could be sitting in a chair. You could be in any bodily position. You could be standing up. That’s the beauty of this, you don’t need any special equipment or anything else.
So just take a moment, and just try to give yourself a little bit of stillness. Settle in right where you are. And wherever you are and whatever position, go ahead and rest one hand, or both—doesn’t matter—onto your belly. As you rest the hand(s) on the belly—and many of us maybe have a love/hate relationship with this area—go ahead and give it some love and see if you can start your inhale all the way in from the bottom of that belly.
So as you inhale, you are going to expand the belly into your hand. Lift that bottom hand. And as you exhale, you’re going to relax that belly back down. Let’s try that again. So inhale. Expand your belly. Go ahead, let it live. And exhale; let it back out. Let’s try one more round like that. Big inhale. We’re trying to breath through the nose. Inhale through nose, expanding belly. Exhale releasing that all back out.
Now let's just keep one hand on the belly and float the other hand onto the heart. So we’re going to start that inhale way at the base of the belly. Lift that bottom hand, and now keep inhale going up into that top hand. See if you can take the breath up into that heart. And as you exhale, relax that all back down.
Good. Big beautiful inhale lift the belly up and up into the heart, and a nice, slow, relaxing, complete exhale. Let’s do a few more rounds like that. That big, smooth inhale, and a long, relaxed exhale. Two more rounds. Wonderfully expansive inhale, keep taking in air, maybe lifting this time all the way up toward your collar bone, and exhale releasing all that all back out. One more time, please. Inhale lifting belly, lifting up the heart, keep lifting those lungs. Keep going. And exhale. Relax it all back down. Good. You can just release your hands and continue with this beautiful big belly, lift chest, lift heart, and relax on your exhale.
Continuing here, now as you breathe, see if you can add a count to your inhalation, and a count to your exhalation. Maybe your inhale is a four. And then let’s try to get our exhale to be that same four. Expansive; if you like hand on belly and heart, great, stay there. Or, if you prefer, resting down. Wait. Continuing to find this rhythm where we soften any edges, we smooth out any glitches. We’re coming into this ease of inhale and exhale.
Most of us will find one or the other much easier to extend; completely natural and normal, but try to find this balance exchange. The seamless effort of inhale and exhale. Good. So we’re going to try to come all together into this now. So hopefully you’ve established a rhythm that’s working. And we’re going to try together now to have that inhale for four and exhale for four.
So here we go; joining in, inhale from nose, lifting for one… two… three… four. Exhale one… two… three… four. Inhale for one… two… three… four. Exhale one… two… three… four. Inhale for one… two… three… four. Exhale one… two… three… four. Inhale for one… two… three… four. Exhale five: one… two… three… four… and five. Inhale four. Exhale five. Inhale four. Exhale six. Inhale four. Exhale six. Inhale four. Exhale six. Continuing there, having that exhalation, like slowly letting the air out of a balloon. Pacing yourself. Relaxing, never letting yourself come into a place of strain.
And as you continue your lung capacity will increase. You will find more flexibility through the diaphragm and extension through the lungs. It will come more naturally. And if you have the ability to draw out that exhalation, continuing it to a count of seven, maybe even extending it eventually to a count of eight, so that our exhalation is double the length of the inhalation. Yeah.
This all comes back to this important, this beautiful, even rhythm of breath, and the importance of the exhalation to the body’s response to rest and digest. So as you continue to breathe just know that this is a breath that can serve you at any time of day. Whenever you want to come back to feeling more like yourself, when you want to reconnect, bring things down a notch, come back into a greater place of calm, shift energy away from fear or anxiety. Simply a few moments. You have great impact even after ten to twelve rounds of breath. Even as few as six rounds of breath, it will help your nervous system.
And again, breath is the only way that we have access to our own nervous system. So it’s a beautiful gift you are walking around with at all times.
Whenever you are ready finishing your breath, just coming back in, offer yourself a moment of gratitude for turning down the level of stress, tuning up your own awareness, and coming back into a more neutral place of calm and clarity.
Thank you for practicing with me today!
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten. Read more about and from her here.