Week 2: The Breath

Summary
We have summed up our approach to wellness in five interconnected aspects of our being, which we call the Five Points of Health and Wellness. They are:

  1. Body
  2. Breath
  3. Mind
  4. Attention
  5. Engagement

In our second week, we will begin discussing and practicing a breathing technique called Ocean Breath, which is performed along with the wellness and mindfulness exercises.

How to use this

  1. Please watch these videos sequentially.
  2. Acquaint yourself with the movement and breath by following the instructions included in each video a few times before moving on.
  3. Acquaint yourself with the language and breathing cues that are used in each video, noticing patterns of movement and breath.
  4. After you have watched and practiced along to the first 7 videos, there is an 8th video that will lead you through a short sequence, tying together the individual videos. This is a sequence that you will be using when you teach, and that you can also use for your own short practice.
  5. After completing the videos and the reading, please take and submit the quiz.

Lesson

The breath plays a vital role in these practices because it is an indicator of three things:

  1. Our energy output.
  2. Our mental state.
  3. Our emotional state.

The Technique

Ocean Breath is created by lightly constricting the throat to create a hissing sound as you breath in and out through your nose. It is important that the breathing is done through the nose as much as possible during all of the exercises, because there is a tremendous amount of autonomic nerve innervation in the nostrils, and breathing through the nose helps to stimulate and balance the nervous system in a way that breathing through the mouth does not.

For example, when you play a vigorous sport or go for a run, you expend a lot of effort. In order for your respiratory system to keep up with your effort, you will have to breathe through your mouth. At the same time, your body is releasing adrenaline to help you go faster for longer. In the wellness practices, we are trying to do the opposite—we are trying to decrease the adrenaline output through focused, calm, and relaxed effort, and to remove excess stress hormones from the bloodstream. These actions will support more effective levels of self-regulation and attention.

Let’s try it out.

  1. Inhale through your nose. As you exhale, whisper the sound ahhh through your mouth. Repeat two or three times. On the second or third time, close your mouth, exhale, and send the whisper sound through your nose.
  2. Bring your hands to your ears. Press gently so that outside sounds are muffled. Concentrate on the sound of your breath as you inhale and exhale through your nose. You might notice that what you hear is similar to the sound of a seashell. Fun fact for the students: The cochlea is the part of your ear that enables you to hear this sound. The name is derived from the Latin for “snail shell,” because it is spiral-shaped, like a snail shell.
  3. Attempt to pair this breath with the wellness exercises that are included in the videos. Avoid straining the breath or the throat. The sound does not need to be too loud.
  4. The sound does not need to come right away. Breathing consciously and purposefully while moving the body is a good place to start. If you can’t find the sound at first, just keeping practicing. The sound might initiate as you begin to exert effort in the sequences.

Benefits of Ocean Breath

  1. Helps focus attention.
  2. Helps measure our energy output (if you can’t breathe through your nose during the exercises, and have to breathe through your mouth to catch your breath, you are trying too hard, need to improve your stamina, or your nose might be blocked).
  3. Warms the body.
  4. Extending your exhale stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which has a calming effect. A healthy parasympathetic nervous system is related to our capacity to relax, to self-regulate, and to foster positive social engagement.

Physiological Benefits

  1. The health of our lungs has a lot to do with our overall health and wellness. Most of the time we only breathe in the bottom portion of the lungs, but full, deep breathing carries oxygen to all parts of the lungs.
  2. Fuller inhalations allow oxygen exchange to happen over a greater surface of the lungs, bringing more oxygen into our bloodstream.
  3. Full exhalations help in removing carbon dioxide from the red blood cells.
  4. When our blood is more oxygenated, all of our internal organs become well oxygenated, too, and this gives our bodies more energy.

Benefits of Nasal Breathing

  1. Filters dust and impurities from the air.
  2. Warms air to the body temperature.
  3. The diaphragm is more easily controlled when you breathe through your nose, which supports the development of internal core strength.
  4. When you breathe through the nose, you can have more control over lengthening the breath—longer breath is important in self-regulation.
  5. Extending the exhalation has been shown to have soothing effects during anxiety attacks. It is also useful for asthmatics.
  6. When the breath is long and slow, you can calm the nervous system and focus your mind.
  7. When you breathe short, quick breaths, the nervous system gets overexcited and you might begin to panic, just like when you are upset, angry, or crying.
  8. Breathing through the nose stimulates the production of nitric oxide (NO), which kills bacteria and expands blood vessels.

How can you use your breath to boost your energy?

Try practicing Ocean Breath when you feel tired and would like to generate more energy in your body. You can also try using it when you need to focus yourself, or when faced with a stressful situation that requires you to calm yourself down before reacting in a way that you might regret.

What can your breath tell you about your current emotional or mental state?

During the day, notice how your breath changes depending on the circumstances. Check in with your breath every once in a while just to remind yourself that you are breathing, then consciously take a few deep breaths and see how it can focus you. Use your breathing to calm yourself down in a stressful situation. See if it has any effect on your ability to respond, rather than react, to the situation.

Videos

Takeaways

Enduring Understandings

  1. Ocean Breath is an audible breathing technique that has three main benefits.
    • Helps to focus attention.
    • Helps measure our energy output.
    • Warms the body.
  2. There are benefits specific to breathing through the nose.
    • Filters dust.
    • Warms the air.
    • Helps to slow the speed and length of the breath, which is calming for the nervous system.
    • Stimulates the production of nitric oxide, which is helpful for eliminating harmful bacteria and expands blood vessels for increased oxygen absorption.
  3. There are physiological benefits to nasal breathing.
    • Longer, deeper breathing delivers fresh oxygen to a greater surface area of our lungs, which results in greater oxygenation of the blood.
    • Oxygenated blood equals improved energy.

Quiz

In our second week, we will begin discussing and practicing a breathing technique called Ocean Breath, which is performed along with the wellness and mindfulness exercises.

Resources

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