If you can only do one thing for your health, do this

by Kim on June 25, 2014

Hey friends!

First things first: the winner of the Pure Via Summer Fit Kit giveaway is posted! Is it you??

Next important topic of the day: I’m wearing a white T-shirt to work today. And I’m nervous.

When you’re pregnant, something you spill that might otherwise go to the floor in front of you (or your lap if you’re sitting down) is going straight to The Belly Shelf.

It’s terrifying.

I’m being ultra careful right now, but I can’t promise the same thing for 2 PM. Anyone want to place bets on how long this shirt will survive?

I’m also wearing a super-long maxi skirt (like one of those floor-grazers), which means I’ll be doing this all day:

maxi

It also means that the chances of me falling on my face sometime today WHILE wearing a stained white T-shirt are pretty high.

In other news: tomorrow is class #2 of my prenatal fitness club! It’s also the first class that will be happening outside at a park, so fingers crossed for good weather!

I’m really excited for class, but also a little nervous about the workout I have planned. It’s almost entirely bodyweight exercises–meaning lots of squats and combo moves and plank work–and I just hope it’s not too hard! Obviously I’ll have tons of modifications, but I certainly don’t want any preggos overdoing things. (Last week, I was worried that I’d forget to offer modifications along the way, but I was actually surprised at how easily and often they came to mind.)

We also have a few new members this week (woohoo!), which is of course awesome, but I’ll have to work a little harder to monitor how everyone’s doing and adjust accordingly.

Along with the workout, our discussion topic of the week is going to be breathing.

Ahhhhhh breathing.

A couple years ago, I would have rolled my eyes at the idea. Yeah yeah, breathing is important, yadda yadda, we get it.

But the more I learn about how much proper breathing really impacts our bodies, the more evangelistic I feel about the whole thing. Obviously, breathing is the most important thing our bodies do for us, and they’re willing to sacrifice anything to make sure we get oxygen.

If that means using different muscles to breathe because the right ones are restricted by stress and poor breathing habits, so be it. And if using those different muscles leads to shortness of breath and heart palpitations (due to shallow breathing), so be it. And if those poor overworked secondary muscles eventually leave us with chronic neck and back pain (neck tension is almost always a sign of poor breathing mechanics), well, too bad for us. The air has to get in, priority numero uno.

breathe

A few years ago, I was in a job I didn’t love and totally stressed out (although I didn’t realize it at the time). I constantly felt like I couldn’t get enough air in my lungs (I was always having that scary drowning feeling), and started having heart palpitations, to the point where I actually went to the doctor to make sure I didn’t have a heart problem (they run in my family).

The doctor put me on a heart monitor, which required me to go to the cardiac center downtown. I was the only person there under the age of 60, and the technician said he’d never put anyone my age on a heart monitor before.

Oh the joy!

My heart checked out fine, and since I was thinking about getting pregnant at the time, the doctor didn’t want to put me on anxiety meds. So I ended up leaving without answers or solutions.

Only years later am I able to see what my real problems were: stress and chest-breathing.

When you take a deep breath, what do you notice moving the most? Does your chest rise, or does your stomach go out? (Some people even do reverse breathing, where they suck in their stomachs while breathing in. Not good!)

The healthy way to breathe is with your diaphragm, deep in your belly. When you breath in, you should see your stomach go forward and your sides expand a little. Your chest should be the last thing to move, if it moves at all.

Stress shuts down this process. When your body senses stress, it goes into fight-or-flight mode and switches to shallow chest-breathing–which is the same thing it would do if you suddenly started sprinting.

Your body doesn’t know the difference between you worrying about a work deadline, working out super hard, or running from a tiger–it’s all stress, and your body only knows one way to deal with it.

The problem is that when the body’s in fight-or-flight mode, it puts other bodily processes on the back burner until you’ve outrun the tiger and you’re back in a safe place. Some things that get put on hold are:

–Immunity

–Nutrient and waste exchange

–Toxin removal

–pH regulation, which affects hormonal balance

–biochemical regulation, which affects mental/emotional stability

So…all bad stuff, right?

If you’re trying to lose weight, your hormones need to be balanced first. And with too much stress in the picture, that’s not going to happen.

If you’re wondering why you’re getting sick so often or easily, could it be stress?

As for toxin removal, everyone loves talking about cleanses and sweating and liver support, but actually, the body is designed to discharge 70% of its toxins through breathing alone. (Per Gay Hendricks, PhD, Conscious Breathing.) A little bit of sweat at a hot yoga class is a drop in the bucket compared to what proper breathing could do to help us detoxify.

But breathing just isn’t that sexy is it? Because it’s harder to fix than just drinking a green juice here and there.

Luckily: if we can train our bodies to breathe properly, the benefits are practically immediate. You can get your body to switch from sympathetic (fight-or-flight) mode back to parasympathetic (rest/growth/repair) mode with just a few minutes of deep diaphragmatic breathing.

Some people use meditation-style chants while breathing, like Leeet Goooo (Let on the inhale and Go on the exhale), but you could also try: The Tiger Is Goooooone…

Or maybe more accurately: The Tiger Is Still Here, But He’s in a Cage, So I’m Totally Saaaaaaafe…

(Haha. Yeah. Totally kidding about those.)

Anyway, I could talk about this for hours, but I’ll leave it at that for now. At tomorrow’s class, we’ll be doing some breathing practice and learning how to engage not just our diaphragms (for inhalation) but also our TVAs (transverse abs, for exhalation) in the breathing process.

I’ll be back to tell you more about that!

Have a great day!

Do you ever struggle with chest breathing?

How do you manage stress?

xoxo

Kim

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

char eats greens June 26, 2014 at 1:55 pm

I definitely don’t deal with stress well and I think I’m starting to take on anxiety. I hope that leaves though, seeing as our roommates move out today and that was about where 50% of the stress was coming from. As for the breathing, I need to work on that too. Hope your second class goes well. Can’t wait to hear about it!
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emma @ be mom strong June 26, 2014 at 5:41 am

Good luck at your class. Would love to come! You should video tape it for us long-distance gals!
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Caroline @ Fighting For Wellness June 25, 2014 at 5:54 pm

I love the practice of deep breathing, and try to pause a few times a day to focus on deep belly breathing for a few minutes. It definitely requires practice outside of the stressful situations in order to really work well!
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Nicole@mypurplespoon.com June 25, 2014 at 3:01 pm

I loved this post. In fact, after reading it, I took a few minutes to do some deep breathing. Thanks for sharing.
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Kim June 25, 2014 at 3:03 pm

That’s awesome :) :)

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Katie @ Daily Cup of Kate June 25, 2014 at 12:27 pm

I totally agree with you on this one. I am not a huuuge fan of yoga (even though I know it has tons of benefits) but the one thing I really like about it is the fact that it concentrates on breath the entire time. It’s a lot harder than it seems! Good luck with class!!
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Kim June 25, 2014 at 2:35 pm

So true–you’d think something as natural as breathing would be easy!

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Holly @ EatGreatBEGreat June 25, 2014 at 12:10 pm

I’m constantly spilling stuff on myself now! The Belly Shelf can definitely be a problem sometimes!

I need to work on breathing! I seem to be carrying the babies pretty high, so as a result, everything is pushing up, which sometimes makes breathing difficult. I need to start focusing on belly breathing rather than just chest breathing because for whatever reason when I do belly breath, I feel a lot better and less like I’m suffocating. Plus, it seems to be much more relaxing and calming.
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Kim June 25, 2014 at 2:39 pm

Exactly!! :)

It’s good that you’re cognizant of it. When those babies get bigger, your diaphragm’s going to have a lot more work to do to push them out far enough to fill your belly with air, and it’ll be easier than ever to slip into chest-breathing. Hold strong mama!

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Katie June 25, 2014 at 11:30 am

Good luck!!! As far as modifications go…..watch your students, I used to have modifications that were my favorite…but once I started really looking at what my students’ bodies were doing, the modifications changed….side plank does need a high hip, but if you lift your fingers to the sky, your hip should naturally rise an inch.
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Kim June 25, 2014 at 2:41 pm

Well that’s good–we’ll actually be doing that exact thing! (Planks in the middle with opening to each side.)

Let me know if you have any other modification gems!

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