Breathing Back To Health

Back when I was being life coached for pain relief my life coach Abigail Steidley asked me how I was breathing at that moment. I stopped to take a moment to notice how I was breathing. “Oh my gosh,” I replied, “I don’t think I am!” We both laughed for a second. Holy moly! I was either not breathing at all or I was taking in the smallest little gasps of air every minute or so.

That moment was a bit of a revelation. Actually, no, it was a huge revelation. It was during that weekend that I experienced a different type of contentment I had not experienced before. A contentment so filled with love that I even cried out of pure joy a few times. And trust me, I had not felt very content or joyful for quite a while prior to this revelation. That weekend I started focusing on how I was breathing, meaning, I was making sure I was breathing. When you are paying attention to the way you are breathing it forces you to jump into the present moment because you are not all tangled up in your thoughts. You can’t be mindful of breath and caught up in worrisome thoughts at the same time. That’s the beauty of breath!

That weekend when I was so enthralled with my breathing my pain wasn’t taking up all of my attention anymore. And the result of thinking less about my pain was feeling less pain! I still had pain but it just didn’t have the same hold over me. I was too stinkin’ happy about learning how to breathe! I was excited to see where this could take me in my healing journey.

Fully breathing into my low belly has been one of the most helpful and healing tools I could have ever learned (or maybe, more accurately, re-learned). It may seem silly and completely obvious, but it’s quite astounding how many of us aren’t fully breathing. When we are “stressed out” our nervous system switches to the sympathetic response, which automatically changes our breathing from full body breaths to shallow chest breaths. The reason this happens is so that all of our energy and blood goes to our limbs so we can flee from whatever is endangering us. The problem is that today’s stress is different from our stress in the good old days. We don’t so much have to run from tigers, lions, and bears (oh my) anymore. Our stress accumulates from thoughts and fears created in our mind. Translation: fleeing really won’t help or save us anymore! We can’t run away from our thoughts like we can a tiger. There really is no escaping unless we shine a light on our thoughts and see them for what they are. If we don’t do this, and most of us don’t, our stress lingers, which means our sympathetic response keeps on firing and our breathing remains shallow and unhealthy. The oxygen isn’t able to circulate fully throughout our body, and pain is more likely say hello due a body that isn’t able to function optimally.

The amazing thing about the breath is that the minute we focus on it and pay attention to it, it will automatically switch to a fuller, deeper breath, which means it flicks the switch from the sympathetic response to the parasympathetic, rest and digest, response. The response in which healing occurs because oxygen is freely flowing throughout our entire body. Our entire body can work its magic because it’s being bathed in oxygen.

Ahhh. If that doesn’t sound peaceful, I don’t know what does. 🙂

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Feel Your Weight Off!

One quiet evening I was puttering around my apartment thinking of what to do. Did I want to do one of the bazillion things on my to-do list? Absolutely not. Did I want to do something fun? Not really. Did I want to relax? Maybe later. Did I want to do nothing? Nope. Are you as confused as I was? Well, I knew this much: when in doubt, ask yourself what you are feeling. So I asked myself what I was feeling. Lonely. Then like the push of a button, I automatically had a craving to go to the kitchen and pop myself a bag of salty corn and tear open a bag of chips. *Curiosity entered stage right* Ooh, how interesting, my inner life coach squealed! My mind wanted to save me from feeling lonely by convincing me to shovel fat and carbs into my body. Well, mind, thank you for trying to protect me, but luckily I have learned new tricks that don’t involve me being mistaken for a hippopotamus.

When I became aware of what was going on, my craving to go to the kitchen vanished. And that’s the power of awareness, folks. What I did, instead, was pick up the phone and call my sister. That was exactly what I needed. I didn’t need a plate of greasy nachos. How did I know this? I hung up the phone feeling energized and fulfilled. I’m pretty sure a plate of greasy nachos at 9pm would have left me feeling regretful and round. You do the math.

Does any part of this story resonate with you? Are you sick of failing at another diet because you just can’t control your cravings?! Well, I’m here to tell you that the only “diet plan” you’ll ever need is already within yourself. Yep, that’s right! Your body knows exactly what it wants and when it wants it. Now all you have to do is learn how to listen to it. If you aren’t connected to your body and you are not feeling your emotions, then you lose control of so much of your life.

The funny thing about this inner “diet plan” is that it doesn’t even really focus on what you eat. It’s all about what you aren’t feeling. Weight loss is actually a result of living more consciously and more in your body. When we are living unconsciously and in constant stress, we tend to overeat and eat unhealthily to suppress those uncomfortable feelings. It happens pretty sub-consciously; we have gotten so good at nipping those emotions in the bud before they even show a finger. My most popular times to overeat were while I was studying for an exam or writing a paper, after a long day at a job I didn’t like, and when I was home alone at night. When do you tend to overeat or chose unhealthy options? Can you find a common thread in these circumstances? For me, it was when I was trying to avoid uncomfortable emotions like sadness, anger, and frustration. But let me ask you an important question. What if you simply just felt your uncomfortable emotions, and dropped the finger food and a few pounds?

I’m going to make a bold statement and say that the majority of North Americans are not connected to their body and not feeling their emotions. It makes complete sense why so many people are overweight and struggle to succeed at a diet. Being on a fad diet is like putting a bandaid over a gun-shot wound. It’s not fixing the real problem! The lesion won’t heal if the wound isn’t cleaned and cared for. It’s no different with emotions. The real problem is why the tug-of-war between you and food even started. It all comes down to not feeling emotions. Many people live stressful lives that involve over-working and under-sleeping. We have learned not to feel our emotions. Do these phrases sound familiar to you? Stop crying, suck it up, be a big girl/boy, put on a happy face, just forget about it, you’re fine, etc.  We learned to suck it up and put on a happy face when all we really wanted to do was stick out our tongue, cross our arms, and bawl our eyes out. Now, fast-forward 20+ years. I bet there is a part of you that wants to cross your arms and stick your tongue out at something in your life. But you don’t. Because you are good at pretending that everything is fine and dandy. We push our real emotions away, and food is one of the things that helps us get through.

To be quit honest, feeling emotions is freeing. This is what I’ve learned. If I simply allow uncomfortable emotions to arise and pass, I feel freer and lighter after the fact, and usually learn a thing or two in the process. The happier I am, the less I overeat and crave bad foods. Distinguishing between when I am physiologically hungry and when I am emotionally hungry can actually be quite fun and liberating, and might just be the best “diet plan” you ever adopt. The more curious you get with your eating habits, the more you learn and the faster you will be freer from them. The stress that you create within yourself when you look in the mirror and tell yourself how fat you are is only going to add more pounds to your buttocks. The more you shower yourself in self-love, the more fat that will melt away in the shower (not literally, sorry). 🙂