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Insomnia? Gone. Anxiety? Gone. All without medication. Unpleasant side effects from blood pressure pills? Gone. A cheap and effective way to combat cardiovascular disease, immune dysfunction, obesity, and GI disorders? Yes. Sounds too good to be true? Believe it.
Contemporary science confirms what generations of healers have observed through centuries of practice: Breath awareness can turn on the body’s natural abilities to prevent and cure illness. The mental and physical stresses of modern life, such as anxiety, frustration, sexual dysfunction, insomnia, high blood pressure, digestive woes, and immune dysfunction can all be addressed through conscious control of your breath. In addition, it can increase energy, accelerate healing, improve cognitive skills, and enhance mental balance.
Yet most of us stopped breathing in the anatomically “right” way, the way to take advantage of these benefits, when we were four or five years old. We now mostly breathe in a way that is anatomically incongruous and makes for more illness. Dr. Vranich shows readers how to turn back the tide of stress and illness, and improve the overall quality of their life through a daily breathing workout. In a fascinating, straightforward, jargon-free exploration of how our bodies were meant to breathe, Dr. Belisa Vranich delves into the ins and outs of proper breathing. By combining both anatomy and fitness with psychology and mindfulness, Dr. Vranich gives readers a way of solving health problems at the crux and healing themselves from the inside out. BREATHE is an easy-to-follow guide to breathing exercises that will increase energy, help lose weight, and make readers feel calmer and happier.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||7.40(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
As a clinical psychologist with over twenty years of experience, DR. BELISA VRANICH has spent the last decade dedicating herself to the study of breathing. She is the founder of The Breathing Class and has appeared in dozens of national media outlets, including Anderson Cooper, CNN, Fox, The Today Show, Good Morning America, Inside Edition, The Wall Street Journal, Cosmopolitan, Men's Fitness and Huffington Post. She is the former sports psychologist for Gold's Gym.
Read an Excerpt
The Simple, Revolutionary 14-Day Program to Improve Your Mental and Physical Health
By Belisa Vranich
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Belisa Vranich
All rights reserved.
DO YOU BREATHE, TOO?
You'd think that I'd introduced myself as a sex expert when I divulge that I teach breathing nowadays. People get all excited, and I get railroaded with questions about breathlessness, smoking, breath-holding, high-altitude training, yoga breathing — the list goes on and on. Some ask questions because they have a strong hunch that something is wrong with their breathing.
Due to my having worked with a wide and varied population as a psychologist over the last twenty years, I handle diverse and elusive topics easily. I've conducted neuropsychological evaluations on seizure patients, worked with violent ex-convicts, with crack babies in the '80s, with emotionally disturbed, hearing-impaired French fifth-graders, with pro athletes, with stressed-out mothers-of-multiples, and with corporate CEOs. And guess what? Everybody breathes.
My knowledge about how the brain works, about child development, the significance of IQ, and the effects of psychopathology and trauma makes my analysis of your breathing something above and beyond a respiratory test at a hospital. In fact, all breathing tests can tell you is whether or not you're "within normal limits." I do all the same tests, but then I do something only a professional who has studied personality and motivation can do: I look at your style of breathing — where your breath is coming from. Because while a test will measure your lung capacity, only a diagnosis of how you breathe can give you information on how it is affecting your emotional health, your posture, and — even more important, since it is a functional assessment — how it is affecting your life emotionally and physically, and, ultimately, how to fix it without a prescription.
Everybody breathes, and the breath affects everything. Everything. I've written this book so that you can find help for your anxiety, your sleeplessness, that sense of constriction around your chest, your irritable bowel. Breathing incorrectly may either have caused any one of these ailments or exacerbated it. So working on your breathing should be part of the solution.
Nevertheless, rarely does the clinician you are seeing, whether it be your GP or your chiropractor, know to whom to send you in order to correct your breathing. And if they do give you a referral, that practitioner's style of teaching may be way too esoteric or way too technical to make sense to you.
How did we get so lost when it comes to something as basic as breathing? We know we can live for some time without water or food, but not without air. We know oxygen is critical, but our understanding of the specifics is poor. The time we dedicate to the health of our lungs and the efficiency of our breathing is usually nonexistent. While we give breathing lip service in songs and inspirational Facebook posts, we assume that efficient breathing just happens. Notwithstanding, our collective health has been getting worse and worse: increased blood pressure (directly affected by breathing), asthma attacks, panic attacks. Now we spend so much time just trying to plug up the dam that is our health that we've lost sight of the big picture, and especially of the fact that the strength of our breathing muscles and the balance of oxygen in our body are the cornerstones of our health.
The human body can be very tough and resilient; it can work for a long time on one cylinder, limping around for decades. You can live taking in hamster-size breaths, but you'll suffer, your sleep will suffer, and so will your concentration, feeling of balance, and ability to perform. You'll be alive, but not a very happy hamster.
This book is very personal — it's about your breathing. And how you'll use this knowledge is very personal, too. Perhaps, after this, you'll teach your yoga class differently, go on to study different styles of meditation that seemed highly unlikely before, or solve your spouse's digestive problem and neck pain.
Or maybe you'll now nod knowingly when you hear Tony Robbins tout the importance of breathing or agree with Arianna Huffington when she does the same. You might feel even more moved by Rocky's puffs of white exhale vapor as he runs atop of the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, or hum along smugly with Pearl Jam's "Just Breathe," as if you know a secret others don't.
So, your hunch that something was not quite right, is right. Most people are intuitive enough, when called on it, to know that something is wrong with their breathing. Or that their breathing could be better. I repeat throughout the book that "breathing is something your body has done well before, and it is something that it wants to do well."
You've probably heard some talk recently about breathing exercises. You may have brushed off the idea as trendy, but now there is a feeling that yes, yes, actually that is something you'd like to try. Though you don't know how, you do know in your gut that improved breathing could help you feel better. Still, even the term "better" is vague. Perhaps better breathing could energize you a little, rid you of the feeling of being tired all the time, or improve your memory. Maybe it could even help cut down the number of medications your doctor has prescribed. And maybe, just maybe, it could help you deal with the increasing stress in your life that — regardless of how many New Year's resolutions you devote to finding balance, taking time to relax, and being in the now — you can't get under control.
You shake your head and roll your eyes, but then you think, what if this is the magic bullet? What if something this simple can make you healthier?
You are right. Your intuition is right. Your instinct is right. Despite not being able to peer into your own chest, and knowing that the important stuff you inhale and exhale is totally invisible, I can say that you are absolutely 100 percent right. In fact, it can lessen pain and help you heal faster; help your digestive problems, be they acid reflux, irritable bowel, or constipation; lower your cortisol level, making for easier weight loss; and lower your blood pressure faster and more permanently than any medication on the market. You got it all right.
OXYGENATE FROM THE INSIDE OUT
Breathing: at first you might dismiss it as the stuff of pop songs, but once you realize that oxygen is body fuel at a cellular level — it's how you nourish your brain and muscles — well, it starts making sense. A lot of sense.
And you do know this: you consider buying that face cream that professes to "oxygenate," you toy with the idea of taking supplements that promise increased oxygenation, and you drink alkaline water that promises to lower your acidity and oxygenate you better. So now consider something you could do just as quickly and more cheaply, merely by adjusting your inhale and exhale just a tad. After all, the goal of all the supplements you take, green juices you drink, and workouts you do is to oxygenate you better. So why not go to the source?
How well you breathe is the best indicator of how healthy you are and how long you'll live. "If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip," says Dr. Andrew Weil, "it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly."
The opposite is true as well, and even more extreme than you may realize: "All chronic pain, suffering, and disease are caused by a lack of oxygen at the cell level ... Proper breathing nourishes the cells of the body with oxygen, and optimizes the functioning of the body on all levels," states the eminent Dr. Arthur C. Guyton. So why hasn't this been evident to everyone? I'll give you three reasons:
1. You didn't realize you felt so crummy. Succinctly put, until you feel better, you don't realize how bad you were feeling before. Plus, you can't really see the damage that's taking place. For example: when your stomach doesn't feel good, the upset is pretty obvious in your bowel movements (or lack thereof). With breathing and oxygen, the results are widespread throughout your entire body; however, lack of oxygen isn't something that cries out for immediate attention or needs a visible bandage or crutch. The good news: the changes will be unquestionably evident after two weeks of doing the breathing exercises that I'm going to outline.
2. You got used to Band-Aids (and pills). Medical care usually makes us feel better right away with a pill, a shot, or surgery — but it doesn't go to the source of the problem. As a society, we're neither accustomed to nor taught to search for the root of the problem and solve it from there. Take blood pressure, for example: medication is highly effective, whereas breathing exercises are just as effective for lowering it without side effects by going to the source (in this case, overarousal of the sympathetic nervous system).
3. The change from the healthy breathing of a child to the dysfunctional breathing of an adult could creep in over the years. A bad fright in adolescence, for example, could change one's breathing from full to shallow. And this Shallow Breathing, reinforced by a hunched posture that is the result of years of sitting at a desk or driving, could become ingrained. A stressful event, followed by a back injury as a young adult, could lead to dysfunctional breathing, which becomes a habit after a few years; then stress and a culture of "gut-sucking" leads to sipping air haltingly, not exhaling completely, and never getting as much oxygen as is needed in order to think clearly and sleep well.
ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK: WE HAVE EVOLVED, BUT OUR BREATHING HAS DEVOLVED
While our brains have gotten bigger and we have the potential to live to 120 and to break records in speed and capacity in sports every year, most of us breathe in a dysfunctional way. Our breathing has actually devolved over time. This is not to suggest that we are turning back into fish, but rather that our breathing has become incrementally inefficient in view of what it could be.
Why? We want everything fast: We walk faster than we did ten years ago, we eat faster, we communicate faster, and we actually age faster when exposed to oxidative stress for too long a time. Acid reflux can even come from swallowing too fast, then jumping to the next task. We are under constant pressure to go to sleep quickly and to wake up quickly. And, consequently, what happens? Our breathing is constantly in "fast mode," shallow and quick, which in turn has terrible health repercussions.
You get it; it makes sense. Many illnesses are caused or made worse by a lack or imbalance of oxygen. Your system may be too acidic or inflammatory, or perhaps you're carrying stubborn pounds that won't come off because of high cortisol, or you're suffering from memory problems owing to an oxygen-starved brain. And yes, your energy level is low because you don't fuel your cells with the one thing that they need to make all those expensive organic foods and supplements digestible: oxygen. Every time you breathe, you nourish your body and brain. So why don't you start to feed them better? You can start now.
THE ULTIMATE ANSWER TO STRESS
By changing your breathing you will be able to control stress — not let it control you. How?
By deactivating dysfunctional breathing patterns
By realigning your breathing to work with your body, not against it
By learning to activate your underutilized diaphragm muscle and working your breathing muscles, just as you would in physical therapy
Make sure you log in your baseline numbers for stress, pain, sleeplessness, fatigue, etc., at the end of this chapter. Observe how cumulative breathing exercises start to change your health overall, and then after fourteen days, fill out the forms in Appendix 3. Daily exercise makes a difference immediately in the short term as well. Keep notes for each of the fourteen days by using the pages provided at the end of this book.
CAN THIS BOOK REPLACE A BREATHING CLASS?
Yes! This book is organized in the same way my class is, with the same exercises and the same positive results. But, you may ask, what is a "breathing class" anyway? A breathing class is a modern, practical approach to an ancient healing art; it is an exercise class (you'll sweat!) for your lungs; it is a meditation-for-people-who-can't-meditate class. It deals with anatomy and psychology, it can alleviate back pain, address your acid reflux, get you oxygenated faster and better than any medication. (Even for athletes, it is a secret weapon. They don't need more cardio for their endurance; they need this book.) Breathing exercises can energize you better than a Red Bull and get you to sleep faster than an Ambien.
If you are going to make a New Year's resolution this year, let it be retraining yourself to breathe in a way that nourishes your body at a cellular level.
Whether this is the start of a whole new mind/body makeover or you just want a full night's sleep, a satisfying deep breath, or better endurance, you actually do have the solution within you. Your hunch that your breathing is important was right on target.
Where you go from here is up to you. Make it life-changing.
It was funny how I really had to understand that my breathing was in a completely separate part of my body, not up by my head. And like Dr. Belisa said, it's cluttered up there (in my head). Breathe better and you'll feel like you have more space, and are more balanced. It made me chuckle that it actually made sense once I was doing it right. — Liam, age 29
This book, then, is about relearning how to breathe — a breath where the lungs hug and release the heart lovingly, aid in the rhythm and muscle movement of digestion, and really just let the body do what it is supposed to, what it wants to do.
1. Stress: On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most stress, how stressed are you now? Over the past week, what was your average stress level? Over the last month? Don't judge your stress by the event that caused it. Stress can be caused by worries about an impending problem, not necessarily the result of a direct trauma. This is a subjective number that has to do only with you. Over the next fourteen days, rate your stress.
2. Pain: If you're experiencing pain of any type, from fibromyalgia to back pain, rate your pain as well. A rating of 1 is no pain, 5 is average (tolerable), 10 is acute. As with #1 above, don't judge whether your pain "deserves" a certain number or should be higher or lower; simply rate it by the way it feels to you — regardless of whether you have a high or low pain threshold.
3. Energy level: While your energy level may fluctuate throughout the day, rate your level on an average, as compared to prior days. Start by noting how you remember feeling last week and the previous month. Rate each day with a number for the next fourteen days.
4. Sleep: If you under-breathe, it's quite possible that your sleep is affected. Do you have difficulty going to sleep or staying asleep? If you have trouble "turning off the chatter" — the running commentary in your head that keeps you up at night — rate how severe your sleep problems are. If you take medication to help get you to sleep, rate this problem a 10.
5. Mood: Rate your mood last week, and last month. If you've had specific changes in your mood (depression or anxiety), note when they started and record any fluctuations in severity. Then, every day over the next two weeks, measure your mood. Remember that a higher number means a severe increase in your depression or anxiety. A 1 or 2 would be a very good day, with little or no symptoms of depression or anxiety, while a 10 would be one where you would consider seeking ER care.
6. Cravings: If weight loss is an issue with you, give your feelings of hunger or cravings a number. Again 1 is none, while 10 is intolerable. Note your history with feelings of hunger and cravings over the last month, and the last year in general. Note the time of the craving and type of food you craved as well.
7. Describe and rate your neck and shoulder stiffness/discomfort.
8. Describe and rate your sense of mental clarity and memory.
9. Describe and rate any problems with your digestion, including not emptying your bowels once a day, acid reflux/heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome. Include any pelvic-floor problem; e.g., light leakage, incontinence, or urgency, if it's applicable.
10. Endurance: Rate your endurance, whether it be when going up a set of stairs you take every day or a five-mile run several times a month. Factor in your energy level, and strive to get a clear sense of how your endurance changes as you do these exercises over the next few days. The number, in this case, is very subjective and should reflect how you assess your conditioning (ability to catch your breath).
Excerpted from Breathe by Belisa Vranich. Copyright © 2016 Belisa Vranich. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
How This Book Works 5
1 Do You Breathe, Too? 9
2 How Bad Is It, Doc? 22
3 You've got It All Wrong 33
4 Activate and Relearn 42
5 Stretch and Warm Up 69
6 The Workout 85
7 Posture 99
8 Back and Front 110
9 The Diaphragm's Counterpart 120
10 Your Breathing Brain 128
11 Essential to Your Brain Health: Sleep 138
12 Why "Work Hard, Play Hard" Is Hurting You 144
13 Recovery Breath (And Meditation for People Who Can't Meditate) 153
14 Breathing Exercises: The Best Kept Secret in Sports - Whether You're a Weekend Warrior or a Pro Athlete 162
Takeaway Points 176
Glossary of Types of Breathing 179
Appendix 1 Measures 185
Appendix 2 Science of Breath 187
Appendix 3 Progress 192
Bibliography and Recommended Reading 207
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I found this book to be very helpful. The author shares steps to increase your breathing capacity and explains the positive results from breathing appropriately. I highly recommend the book and checking out her website for more tips and information. I received this book from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. You can see my full review at More Than a Review dot com where I rate the level of sex, violence, language and drug/alcohol use in books.
I was curious about this book that promised so much, and it would not cost me a penny to try since I already had everything I needed to get started. The author states that in 2 weeks, I’d notice a difference. My biggest hang-up was finding the time to add breathing exercises to an already busy day; however, there was that tempting promise that it would improve my life, and after all, the reps in the beginning were only supposed to take 3 to 10 minutes. So I committed to doing the two weeks. My biggest problems are: trouble sleeping, anxiety, lack of energy and I’m a bit overweight. At this point I am at the one week mark. I can honestly say that my sleep has improved somewhat, and I am happy about that. I am finding doing one set of breathing exercises before I go to be bed to be a very relaxing ritual. I do the other set in the morning, because I couldn’t find another time to consistently do them, and that seems to be working out ok. At first, it really isn’t my preferred time because I usually hop out of bed the minute the alarm goes off and head for coffee. After a week, I’m beginning to think this might be a calmer way to start my day, and I’m glad I’m starting my day more relaxed. The book continues with other exercises. Some of them are ones I am familiar with from the Yoga classes I went to in the past. The exercises promise things like better flexibility and posture. I haven’t tried them all yet—I’m still working on the beginning poses, but there is a lot of variety. I am feeling that this definitely worth working on.
"What if I said I had a medicine that would keep you calm but alert? That would relax and energize you? That would help you recover, boost your immune system, lower the oxidative stress that causes aging, power you up, and fuel every cell in your body, from your frazzled brain to your taxed muscles?" Some pretty powerful words and all you have to do is breathe right. To say the least, I was intrigued. I remember being told a long time ago that to get enough oxygen to your brain, you needed to breathe deeply. So when I saw this book, I had to get it. I'm curious what I could possibly do for my health just by breathing differently. I just finished this book so I can't say that this will change my life, but I liked what I read and I'm going to give it a try. ARC provided by NetGalley