Do you meditate, practice yoga or tai chi, or do another mind-body practice? If so, you have probably noticed that these types of activities help reduce stress. Recent research from Coventry University has identified one way that such mindfulness practices help your body.
This study is from the Brain, Belief and Behaviour Lab in Coventry University’s Centre for Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement. Lead investigator Ivana Buric says,
These activities are leaving what we call a molecular signature in our cells, which reverses the effect that stress or anxiety would have on the body by changing how our genes are expressed. Put simply, [Mind-Body Interventions] cause the brain to steer our DNA processes along a path which improves our wellbeing.
People who practice a mindful activity experience changes in their bodies. These changes benefit health by decreasing the production of proteins that cause inflammation. Inflammation is useful in the short term to boost the immune system and fight infections. However, chronic inflammation is linked to a higher risk of some diseases and mental health conditions.
Are you ready to experience the physical and mental benefits of a mind-body practice for yourself? Community education, faith communities and online resources are all ways to access classes and videos to guide your efforts. You may want to try several options to find the activity that is right for you.
A client asked recently about people unexpectedly experiencing strong emotions while receiving bodywork.
Why would strong emotions occur during a session of bodywork? One explanation is because of how your skin and brain are connected. When an embryo develops, it has three layers. The skin, brain and nerves all develop from the same layer – the ectoderm. These systems remain interconnected throughout life. Manual therapy such as SI affects your neuromuscular system. Nerves in your skin, muscles and connective tissue carry information to your brain. The limbic system in your brain contains the structures that regulate your emotions and form memories. It’s a back-and-forth conversation in the body.
In addition to manual therapy such as SI, exercise like running, yoga or lifting weights can also trigger such emotional releases. Ideas on why emotional releases occur during exercise include how brain chemicals like brain-derived neurotrophic factor are affected by a workout, or how amino acids called peptides flow through your body.
To learn more:
The Endless Web: Fascial Anatomy and Physical Reality by R. Louis Schultz and Rosemary Feitis
Experience Life article: Laugh, Cry Lift
When you feel stressed, anxious or just have tight muscles, how do you approach improving how you feel? What about when your mind is busy or you can’t fall asleep? One option that can be beneficial in many situations is to work with the breath. By changing the pattern of your inhalations and exhalations, you can recruit the calming part of your nervous system. This is the parasympathic, or rest and digest, system.
A technique that I like is to extend the length of the exhalation compared to the duration of the inhalation. First, see what your normal breathing pattern is. Simply observing your breath, breathe in and out through your nose. Count to yourself or time how long the inhalation takes, then the exhalation. Now you know your baseline.
If the exhalation is already the longer portion, you have a good start. If not, the initial step will be to increase the length of the exhalation just slightly. The long-term goal is for the exhalation to be twice as long as the inhalation. It will probably take some time with consistent practice to achieve that 1:2 ratio.
Extend the exhalation exercise
Note: Stop and return to your normal breathing at any time if you feel uncomfortable.
- Sit upright or lie in a comfortable position.
- Take a normal breath in through the nose, counting or timing its length.
- Allow your breath to gently go out through the nose, counting or timing its length.
- If metering the breath out through your nose is difficult, then breathe out through pursed lips or through a straw instead (you will need to hold the straw with one hand). As you become more adept at this exercise, it is likely you will be able to shift to breathing out through the nose.
- At first, just try to have the exhalation a little longer than the inhalation. Eventually, work up to a 1:2 ratio. Do not extend the exhalation any more than twice the length of the inhalation.
- Repeat this pattern a total of 5 times. When you are confident in being able to maintain the pattern, you can gradually increase your practice time to 3-5 minutes.
- Return to normal breathing and observe how your body and mind feel.
Saucha (or sometimes, sauca) is one of the Niyamas in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. It is often translated as purification or cleanliness. In the sutras, we learn that both the body and mind need to be made clean and ready for the practice of yoga.
Off the mat, there are also a number of benefits to cultivating saucha, in the sense of self care. People often put themselves last when they are busy when the opposite approach would likely serve them better. If you take good care of yourself, that’s when you will have enough physical, mental and emotional reserves to also be able to manage your responsibilities. Receiving bodywork, either on an as-needed basis or on a regular schedule, is an important way to take care of your body.
Here are some thoughts by Rolf Gates about sauca, from his wonderful book Meditations from the Mat.
The people I admired seemed to be treating their bodies well … I had a sense that these habits were an extension of the love these individuals felt toward themselves and others … Our body is the home of our spirit. It is the means by which we enact our beliefs. Therefore, the maintenance of the body is a spiritual duty, an act of love not only toward ourselves but toward all humanity.