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By Lisa Browdy
Meditation is right up there with hydration and mastication in my top three free ways to improve your health. Notice I didn't say it was easy. Sitting down to 20 minutes of calm and focus is a lot to ask most people, but there are more than a few ways to tune in to your breathing if you are a beginner.
I have to confess I stink at meditating. The "monkey brain" that chatters incessantly (What should I make for dinner? Did my kid forget to turn in that permission slip again? Did I remember to pay the electric bill?) is a challenge for me to overcome for any length of time.
While I'm still working on that, I've learned a short-and-sweet breathing exercise that has helped. One of the biggest proponents of this practice is the integrative medicine "guru" Dr. Andrew Weil. He teaches that nutrition, exercise and breathing can stave off many of the effects of illness, stress and aging.
While it is easy to find much in the media on diet and exercise, there are few resources out there on breathing -- probably because it is hard to make money from it!
Studies have even shown that people can lower their blood pressure with regular breathing exercises that encourage longer exhalations. Dr. Weil explained to our health coaching class that making our breath deeper, quieter, slower and more regular will help with sleep, stress and cravings.
He taught a breathing exercise that can be done anywhere and takes about two minutes:
1) Place the tip of your tongue on the ridge of your top teeth.
2) Let out a breath, making a soft whooshing noise.
3) Breathe in for four counts.
4) Hold your breath for seven counts.
5) Exhale for eight counts.
Repeat this pattern four times (no more than that if you are a beginner) once in the morning and once in the evening.
Next time you are waiting in line, don't pull out your iPhone (which likely will increase your stress anyway!). Just breathe instead. Your mind and body will both benefit.