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Health Archives - Page 2 of 5 - Lifestyle Integrity




Practically Ideal

duck bacon

My friend Logan has a great podcast called Practically Ideal, “the podcast for idealists who like to keep it practical.” Aside from having a great name they offer a somewhat Libertarian take on technology, media and politics. Perhaps you remember that I wrote about Practically Ideal a while back when they asked if they could use some of my music for the show. Well, today I am a guest on said show. I am filling in for Logan’s partner Bob Caswell while he is out. My first ever podcast appearance! Honestly, I’m kinda afraid to listen to it. I drank a ton of coffee and then we talked about smartphones, duck bacon, the Singularity, Vikings, Danny Boyle and, of course, Life Coaching!

Yes, that is a picture I took of Duck Bacon.



The Power of Belief in Changing Habits



Have you ever read the AA bible, the 12 steps manual? For those at all familiar with AA’s approach to overcoming alcohol addiction (a STRONG habit) there is one crucial element that appears repeatedly. It turns many off, but those who are the most successful with AA often site it as the thing that empowers them to succeed in overcoming their drinking problems. These people make “a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand him.”

AA was started by a one time agnostic who, while in the hospital being treated for alcoholism was given large doses of the psychedelic belladonna. He had visions and wrote ‘the book’ very quickly afterwards. This book mentions God in 7 out of the 12 steps. A belief in a higher power is not recommended for AA, it is required. For many, a lack of this type of faith is enough to turn them off form AA altogether. For years people have debated whether or not a belief in god is crucial to recovery. I suggest that it is not god, but the belief itself that is transformative. Faith is the key. A higher power is the thing that inspires such unwavering faith, but it is the belief itself that inspires and transforms.

Two weeks ago I introduced you to the habit cycle as described in “The Power of Habits” by Charles Duhigg. Last week I introduced the technique known as Habit Reversal Training that can be used to help change any habit. I also mentioned that there is one crucial element that can make any habit change either bulletproof or susceptible to failure at a crucial moment. This element is belief. More specifically, it appears to be belief in something bigger than oneself.

A study conducted by the NIH, UC Berkeley and Brown University looked for correlations between religious belief and how long people stayed sober. What they found was what that while yes, habit replacement works, it also fails at critical, stressful moments. A woman may get sober for two years, but when circumstances arise, when strong enough cues are present, she may well go back to drinking UNLESS there is a strong enough belief in place that empowers her to maintain her course. In AA this belief is that a higher power has entered ones life. People who succeed genuinely believe that things are going to get better. Faith is not a simple, black and white happening, but it may not be all that mysterious either.

In AA God is the name given to this faith. When it comes to habit change in general it might be more helpful to think of this faith as not in god, but in the process itself. AA inspires this in a few ways as well. First, AA provides you with proof. When you sit in an AA meeting you are surrounded by those for whom this process has worked. It is hard for even the biggest skeptic to maintain disbelief the entire time. Reality is telling you that this has worked before. You would be a fool not to believe. The second thing AA provides is the experience of something greater than yourself. You are part of a group and you are offered opportunities to serve that group. Whether setting up chairs, offering encouragement or becoming a sponsor for someone earlier along the path there is the continuous experience of being part of something that is bigger than the individual. The process itself is something bigger than any one individual that you must surrender to for it to work. It may feel like a stretch to call this god, but the AA book does ask you to define God however you choose. For many the need to have a specific definition is trumped by the direct experience of being a part of process that they can not fully understand. The key for many, if not to fully believe, is to at least suspend disbelief for long enough to let grace in.

One other key to belief that AA provides is community. Whether or not you have a supportive group of people around you can make all the difference in whether or not you believe that change is possible. remember, community can be as small as one other person.

What habit do you have that can not be addressed by applying this process of Habit Reversal Training coupled with a healthy dose of faith? Almost no matter what you are struggling with, you know that others have succeeded before you. You likely know that you yourself have succeeded at times. The key is to remove judgement, apply a healthy dose of logic via a proven process, all while letting go and having a bit of faith, in yourself, in the future and in the fact that you are a part of something far bigger than yourself that will carry you when you allow it.

You may have noticed that changing some habits seems impossible while other, really simple habits are easy to change. What is really amazing is that if you find just the right simple, easily changed habit it can create a cascade effect that leads to effortless change in the rest of your life. Duggins refers to these as keystone habits. I wrote about something quite similar a while back. I call them TrimTabs.

What habit would you most like to change?


This post is from a series called INSIGHTS that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life & Career Coach.

If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose than I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.



Jack Andraka – Discovers a test for pancreatic cancer at 15

At only 15 years old Jack Andraka has discovered a test for pancreatic cancer that is 168 times faster, 26,000 times less expensive, and over 400 times more sensitive than the current standard.


Listen to him describe his process.
All bets are off when kids have access to the internet. Love this guy.

This man is are AMAZING!

Find More Amazing Men by clicking HERE



Habit Reversal Training – How to Change Habits



Last week I began talking about how habits work and how, by increasing our awareness of the simple pattern that all habits seem to follow we can choose to replace bad habits or install good ones. The ideas that I am discussing are from a new book by Charles Duhigg called “The Power of Habits.” I Introduced the cycle of cue – routine – reward that Duhigg describes and gave you a brief overview of how to identify and bring more awareness to the cues that precede the behavior or habit you wish to change.

Once you have identified and tracked the cues that send you into autopilot you can now choose to follow that cue with a healthier, more supportive behavior. Consider the woman I mentioned who bites her nails. When she gets bored and feels a tingling in her fingertips her old behavior was to start rubbing her finger tips feeling for bumps or edges. When she found one she would chew on it and then, on autopilot, proceed to chew every nail on her hand until here nails were completely smooth (or completely removed). Once she had smoothed out the skin and nails on every finger she felt a sense of completeness, her reward (more about this later).

Step two of reprogramming her habit after identifying and tracking her cues was to install a new program. Whenever she became aware of the cue, of boredom leading to a tingling sensation in her fingertips, she was to do something which physically stimulated her fingertips such as rub them on her arm or wrap them on a hard surface. She practiced this routine with her therapist for 30 minutes and was then sent home with another index card. This time she made a check when she felt the cue and a hashmark when she successfully engaged the new physical stimulation. A week later, after biting her nails only 3 times instead of the usual 18 she rewarded herself with a manicure. This felt satisfying and rewarding in much the same way that completing a round of nail biting did.


Did you catch that? The key is not avoidance. When I say “don’t think of a purple elephant” what are you doing? You are thinking of a purple elephant. When I say “don’t bite your nails” what are you thinking about? Biting your nails. This can actually increase the compulsion and anxiety. If I help you to recognize the trigger that leads to biting your nails and then offer you an alternate behavior suddenly you have options. You have a new coping mechanism and instead of simply trying to shortcircuit the cycle you are completing it in an alternate way.

A similar routine replacement is described for other patterns. A man who snacks when he is bored at work recognizes that the rewards of going to the cafeteria include a break from his desk and some social engagement. He chooses the routine of walking over to a co-workers desk and talking to them instead. New habit installed, same rewards felt. One of the reasons that AA meetings work so well is likely that the habit of drinking is replaced with a habit of meetings (90 meetings in 90 days). The cues such as anxiety remain the same, but the coping mechanism or habit is replaced and the reward can be surprisingly similar. The social engagement, sharing of stories and camaraderie of a meeting are often shockingly similar to those at a bar, party or other social drinking event.

A cue must be identified, a new routine chosen and a reward given for following it. Sound too simple? Too good to be true? This simple process is called Habit Reversal Training. Duhigg quotes one of the developers of this process, Nathan Azrin, “It seems ridiculously simple, but once you’re aware of how your habit works, once you recognize the cues and rewards, you’re halfway to changing it. It seems like it should be more complex. The truth is the brain can be reprogrammed. You just have to be deliberate about it.”

Let’s be clear. This tool is massively powerful. A simple awareness of it and dedication to following it has helped many and can be a positive tool for anyone. But it will not always be enough. Each habit is complex and unique. And there is another factor which plays a huge role in both whether or not we can succeed at changing a habit and in whether or not the habits that we do change last. This factor is belief.

Next week we take a look at the role that belief plays in changing habits. Belief is the key to understanding how to succeed in creating the habits we do want, changing the habits we do not want and why some new habits fail completely at critical moments.


This post is from a series called INSIGHTS that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life & Career Coach.

If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose than I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.



What are Habits?

Devin Martin Nail Biting


Do you have a bad habit…or 12? Maybe you have or have had an addiction? Have you ever tried to pick up a new, more healthy habit? Do you know how to change bad habits? Or how to install good habits? That’s right, I said install, like installing a program in a computer. Conventional wisdom tells us that habits are mysterious and control over habits is an elusive and mysterious process. A new book by Charles Duhigg tells us otherwise.

“The Power of Habits”, published by Random House in 2012 takes the complex issue of habit change and boils it down to a simple formula with cute little graphics and one magical element. Much like computer language, Duhigg refers to habits as routines. A routine is a patterned behavior that we perform with such frequency that it has become mostly automatic. We routinely repeat habits with little or no effort or conscious awareness of a decision to do so.

If we have good habits we pat ourselves on the back. When we have bad habits we often chastise ourselves and feel as if we are failing somehow. Either way the behavior seems to happen without much effort. Some will say that they have created a good habit implying that their will-power is strong. Most are aware of some habit that they have tried once or a thousand times to alter with little or no sustained success. Most of time you hear someone speak of the effort that habit requires they are referring to failed attempts to create or curtail a habit. What if there really were a formula for changing habits that any of us could use to choose our behaviors?

Cue – Routine – Reward


This is the forumula that Duhigg offers to explain all of our habits, good and bad, from working out to smoking cigarettes to drinking coffee and alcohol to over eating or biting our nails. The exciting thing is that bringing awareness to this loop with a very simple plan does seem empower people to change their subconscious patterns. As I love to say, consciousness is curative. When we increase awareness enough we tap into enormous power with very little effort.

First we must understand cues. A cue is a trigger. It is the stimulus or experience that starts the cycle of a habit. Most of us focus on the habit itself and put all of our effort into preventing or creating a change in our behavior but completely overlook the very thing that put that pattern in motion. Duhigg describes a woman who can’t stop biting her nails even though it causes her much pain and embarrasment. When asked by a therapist when or why she starts biting she describes a sensation, a tingling in her finger tip. This sensation is the cue. Becoming aware of the cue is step one. Her task then was simply to carry an index card with her and make a check every time that she felt this sensation. Instantly her awareness of the cue increased. Later, when asked when she felt the tingling sensation she was able to recognize that this happened when she was bored. The habit was not fixed, but she was on the way to increasing her conscious awareness of the process simply by developing her awareness of it at an early stage she had never before attempted to objectify.

A cue can be identified and monitored for any habit. For smoking or snacking or drinking we can look for and find a feeling or experience that precedes the actual habit. An uncomfortable emotion such as boredom, anxiety, frustration or restlessness is common. The need to take a break, relax or simply switch gears while working is often cited as the reason to smoke a cigarette or take a snack break. Often times physical cues such as dread in the stomach, shortness of breath, tension in your shoulders or an elevated heart rate exist much like the tingling in her fingertips. For some a particular type or tone of thought might be a cue. Identifying and charting this cue will bring you one step closer to understanding and changing your habit. For some, this alone will radically alter your relationship to your habit or addiction. For most this the necessary groundwork to then take a look at the rest of the cycle.

What I have described are the types of cues that precede a negative habit that you wish to change (notice I am not saying get rid of, but change). This same concept will be important as we talk about installing new positive habits. First we must understand the rest of the cycle. Then we will explore the magical element.

Next week we talk about routine and reward.


This post is from a series called INSIGHTS that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life & Career Coach.

If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose than I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.



Mushrooms Becoming Legal

mac mushroom

On Monday Integral New York (disclosure: I am an organizer) hosted Alexander Belser for a presentation and discussion titled “Taking Mushrooms Before Dying: Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy”. Belser and his research team at New York University are part of a small group of scientists who, in recent years, have gotten government approval to conduct studies on the potential health effects of psilocybin, the active compound in “magic mushrooms”. Currently, psychedelic mushrooms are a schedule 1 drug. This makes them the most illegal of all drugs. Schedule 1 is defined as a category of drugs not considered legitimate for medical use with a high potential for abuse (addiction).

Belser was quick to point out that there is no scientific evidence for either of these claims about psilocybin. In years past, when research was allowed, and now in recent years, as it has begun again, scientists are actually gathering data to the contrary. Far from being damaging, psychedelic use is again and again shown to have a wide range of positive effects on those who partake. Belser’s study looks at anxiety levels in those with cancer or a history of cancer. Most of these people live in constant fear of a disease that could claim their lives in a very short period of time. Anything that could help alleviate their suffering is worth exploring. Lucky for us, psilocybin appears to be a potent treatment.

The NYU study is ongoing. Their 2010 paper was the first time a paper like this has come out in a prestigious psychiatric journal in 40 years. Behavioral Biologist Roland Griffiths from John Hopkins University was quoted saying  that this “demonstrates that such research can be conducted safely and that doses have palliative effects.” It is worth noting that this population is not generally regarded as responding well to psychological therapies. In stark contrast to the minimal results from months of therapy, participants in psychedelic research regularly report not only large state shifts during the experience, but overall quality of life improvements that carry on for months or more. Besler reported that it is not uncommon for participants to cite this one psychedelic experience as one of the most important events in their lives.

Other evidence for the positive effects of psychedelics is piling up across the country. MDMA is an effective treatment for severe P.T.S.D. LSD has been shown to greatly reduce symptoms in people with cluster headaches. Psychedelics have been recently examined as treatment for alcoholism and other addictions. There is a growing history outside the US of using the african root iboga to treat both heroin and alcohol addiction. Researchers in London are using M.R.I. to scan peoples brains to see what regions are effected. It is documented that in people who suffer from severe depression regions such as the anterior cingulate cortex are overactive and psilocybin may work to shut it down. My own speculation is that rather than a specific effect within the brain researchers would be better served studying its potential adaptogenic (non-specific) potential within the entire human body/mind system.

Officially, the NYU study is a Phase II randomized double blind placebo-controlled crossover study investigating the effect of psilocybin on end-of-life anxiety in patients with advanced cancer. They give people mushrooms and see what impact this has on their life. At the meetup we got to watch a 10 minute clip of one of the participants describing her experiences with the study. She is an intelligent, well spoken retired medical health professional. Her experiences were profound and transformative. To say that taking psychedelics reduced the anxiety surrounding her cancer would be an understatement of the largest degree. Her entire life was impacted by this one dose of psilocybin and she had not one negative side effect to mention. You should see the way her eyes shine when she describes months later spontaneously dancing in the kitchen with her husband in the morning. Her experience re-ignited something in her that is ineffable, but easy to feel when you see her speak.

Those of us with personal experience using psychedelics likely find this science reassuring but largely unnecessary. Other than the occasional anecdote about “the guy who thinks he’s a glass of orange juice and is afraid you are going to tip him over because of a bad trip” we have witnessed ourselves and others accessing expanded states of consciousness leading to feelings of love, connection, empathy, joy and probably had a few good laughs along the way. Psychedelic experiences, such as my own that I wrote about on ayahuasca in Brazil can certainly be terrifying, sad and difficult to endure. But in my experience when the set and setting are correct, when the approach to these powerful substances is sacred and not casual, the benefits far outway the costs and the most harrowing experiences lead to the greatest and most long lasting positive insights and transformations.

Before we left I asked Belser if he personally was hopeful for a rescheduling of psilocybin to make it less illegal or even legal. He said that he is hopeful and offered marijuana as a model for how mushroom legality could evolve over the coming years. Legally there are no significant efforts underway to change the legality of mushrooms, but scientific evidence is hard to argue against in a court of law and currently all of the available evidence disagrees with the letter of the law. This I find hopeful indeed.



The Master Cleanse

The Master Cleanse

Today I am on day 7 of The Master Cleanse. I have done the Master Cleanse once a year for the past 8 or 9 years. It gets easier every year. Honestly, the first times you do it the first three days can be a little difficult. If you have any addictions to caffeine or sugar or anything else you may experience headaches and other withdrawal symptoms. Once you get past the first days you start to fly. By the end I always feel amazing and each time I do it I have insights into my relationship with food. I will get to that but first, what is the Master Cleanse? The Master Cleanse revolves around what I like to call “Cajun Lemonade”. You drink this drink for a minimum of 10 days (some people go as long as 40).

For 10 days you ingest only 3 things:

Cajun Lemonade
Laxative Tea
Salt Water Flush

How to make Cajun Lemonade

Organic Lemon Juice – 1/2 lemon (2 Table Spoons)

Organic Maple Syrup – 2 Table Spoons (Must be Grade B)

Organic Cayenne Pepper – 1/10 teaspoon or more

Water – 8-10oz (warm to hot)

Put the above ingredients in a glass and drink. That’s it. That’s your entire source of calories for the next 10 days!

Laxative Tea – Drink this before bed. Smooth Move by Traditional Medicinals is one option. When you wake up you will have to use the toilet.

Salt Water Flush – I skip this step as long as I am pooping every day. It’s takes a little experimenting to find the right balance of water and salt so that it just goes straight through you and when you get it wrong it tastes terrible and wreaks havoc.

How Much Cajun Lemonade Do I Drink?

Drink the Cajun Lemonade every time you get hungry. For most people this means 6-12 glasses a day. Some times I have less. I have never had more. If you are feeling weak or light headed you are not drinking enough. You should ingest NOTHING other than the above three things and water.

How Do I End the Cleanse?

Your stomach will need to re-adjust to digesting normal food. It is best to end the cleanse slowly. On day 11 you should drink fresh squeezed organic orange juice. I used to do this for the entire 11th day into the morning of the 12th day and then on the evening of the 12th day I would make some vegetable soup. My stomach is very strong. I now know I can go quicker. I drink orange juice in the morning on the 11th and have a little vegetable soup by that night. BE CAREFUL. It hurts when you go back to food too quickly. I make a very simple vegetable soup with a garlic broth and a few, well cooked, chopped vegetables. No meat or pasta! After that I recommend staying on a raw fruit and vegetable diet for as long as you can. Pay close attention to how your palette adjusts. At first your sense of taste will be very amplified, simple things will taste great. As soon as you eat rich or sugary food you begin to drown out your ability to appreciate the subtler tastes.

Can I Exercise During the Master Cleanse?

I recommend considering a cleanse to be a time of rest and rejuvenation. Take it easy. The best exercises are ones that stretch you, massage your internal organs, encourage deep cleansing breaths, promote mindfulness and don’t break down your muscles too much. I love light yoga for this. If you know tai chi or ballet I’m all for that too.

Why Do The Master Cleanse?

You will lose a good amount of weight on the Master Cleanse. Some of it will come back as soon as you start eating. This depends on whether or not you go back to your old diet or use this as an opportunity to eat a cleaner, smaller and simpler diet made up of whole foods. Ultimately, weight loss is not my main motivation for the cleanse.

I do the cleanse as an exploration of my relationship to food. When on the cleanse I know that all of my dietary needs are being met. I do not NEED to eat anything else. But I want to! Cravings come up and must be looked at. Are you aware of why you eat most of the time? For most Americans there are a varied list of reasons. Sometimes we eat when we are bored. We eat when we are stressed. We eat when we are lonely or sad or happy and want to celebrate. We eat because the people around us are eating or because a meal is just how we spend time with certain people. We eat to avoid certain thoughts or feelings and to create other thoughts and feelings. Often times we eat simply out of habit because it is breakfast time or lunch time without even considering what or if we need food at all.

For me, above all else, doing a cleanse such as this is an opportunity to observe myself; my cravings, my thoughts, my actions, my habits and my fears. I can choose to go out to dinner with friends and hang out without eating solid food. I learn a lot doing so. More often, I say no to plans, stay home and rest. A cleanse is an opportunity for rest and rejuvenation. Consider the bodies three biggest users of resources: 1- our brain, 2- our digestion, and 3- our immune system, likely in that order. When we drink a light, liquid diet we free our body from having to digest solid food. This makes resources available for our body to mount an immune response and address problems that it has not been able to clear up. Have you noticed that sickness often follows a period of over eating? Ever need a nap after a big meal? Living life with a full digestive system, as many of us do most of the time, is exhausting.  Your energy is diverted to digesting any time you have food in you. Removing the burden of digestion all together can really feel like a huge boost to your health, energy and vitality. I always come off of a cleanse feeling refreshed and renewed. I help this process along by getting as much rest as I can during the cleanse. The Master Cleanse is a great time to get back in touch with your meditation or light yoga practice.

Be on the lookout for an amplified sense of smell, extra-ordinarily clean sinuses, ease of meditation, increased mental acuity and a good excuse to skip social engagements t. You can read the book below and search online to discover the many benefits of lemons, cayenne pepper and maple syrup. What few mention is the profound experience of not eating for 10 days. That alone is worth the effort. Aren’t you curious?


  1. Free up resources for your immune system
  2. Clear thinking
  3. Detoxify your body
  4. Amazing clear sinuses
  5. Amplified sense of smell
  6. Lose weight
  7. Shrink your stomach (and your appetite when you go off it – until you over eat and stretch if back out)
  8. Reset your palate – You will enjoy the subtler tastes again / for the first time 🙂
  9. It is a meditation on your subconscious eating habits
  10. Break all your eating patterns / Choose better ones

For more information get The Book: The Master Cleanser by Stanly Burroughs. You can buy it for $5 on Amazon. It is very short and very informative.

Good luck. Luck me know how it goes. Reach out if you would like some support.



Jamie Oliver’s TED Speech

A man with a huge heart looking to help everyone eat better, starting with kids.

This man is AMAZING!

Find More Amazing Men by clicking HERE



Treat Asthma with Yoga

devin-martin-yogaHave you ever had a great yoga class? One of those classes where you walk out sweaty and smiling? Perhaps you even went into the class in a less than stellar mood, but when you walked out you felt like the world was a bit brighter and your outlook a lot more positive? I have. Sometimes when I’m in a funk I know that a good workout will do me wonders. When it comes to cleansing myself emotionally yoga is one of the best workouts.

Another thing I notice is just how much better I breathe after I do yoga. My breath is slower and deeper and feels like it flows easier. My lungs seem to expand more and I can take in more air with less effort. I have battled asthma over the years. I had inhalers for a short while, but I quickly decided that the more I used them, the more I seemed to need them. Luckily I got off before my body adapted to them too much. I have learned to do breathing exercises, monitor my diet and mood and otherwise regulate my breathing without drugs. To be honest, I have a history of ignoring the prevailing medical wisdom and simply experimenting on myself. Most are not this cavalier with their health. Most modern people like to see scientific evidence lead to widespread medical community acceptance of alternative treatments before trying things on their own.

Lucky for most, scientists are now studying the effects of non-pharmacological approaches to treating conditions such as asthma. In a recent study published in the National Journal of Medical Research three scientists examined “the concept that yoga is helpful for the treatment of bronchial asthma.” Their findings are hopeful, but first a bit of background. The prevailing medical wisdom attempts to relieve asthmas bronchiolar obstruction by prescribing adrenaline, salbutamol, aminophylline and administering steroid therapy. The side effects can be many and patients tend to become more reliant on medicine over time, not less. The authors note, as I was lucky to find on my own, that “long term therapy with these drugs is successful but the patient comes to depend on these drugs.”

It is largely accepted that asthma is not simply a physical condition. Also from the authors, “Asthma is considered to have a multi-dimensional etiology which includes allergic, infective, climatic, endocrine, and emotional factors. In most patients with asthma there is a strong psychological aspect. Indeed many regard asthma as a psychoneurosis and the allergy manifestation as secondary to psychoneurosis. Psychological stress is known to trigger asthma via the vagus nerve.” The authors go as far as to say that asthma is increasingly being considered a psychosomatic condition.

Because of the complex, multi-faceted nature of a condition such as asthma it makes sense to treat it in ways that are more comprehensive than administering chemicals. The authors note, “Yoga helps to slow down an overactive mind while, at the same time toning up the body, removing toxins and relieving pains, backache and injuries.” Yoga is a whole system method for balancing mind/body/spirit. So, did the authors find measurable health benefits for those suffering from asthma?

They did

Prior to this study all participants “were on medications for a prolonged period with no relief and their drug usage was increasing day by day.” During this study “the number of attacks of asthma and drug intake was decreased” in those practicing yoga. But why?

The authors not that “there was a significant decrease in respiratory rate in asthmatic patients after yoga therapy.” If you are familiar with another asthma treatment called The Buteyko Method than you are aware that one of the issues with asthmatics is actually over breathing. People with asthma tend to breath too much, not to little. This hyperventilation creates an imbalance in the CO2 in the body leaving the bodies cells oxygen starved. Much like Buteyko, during yoga the authors note that “the subject may change his ordinary rate of 15-18 to 1-2 resp/minute and reduce his ventilation volume a great deal.”

Participants were trained in yoga for “one hour for 15 days. The patients were then asked to do yoga practice, one hour daily at home and to keep a record of the practice done.” Three months later participants were assessed and compared to a control group. Statistically significant improvements were noted “in pulmonary functions; decrease in respiratory rate; decrease in pulse rate and body weight (not statistically significant); decrease in frequency of asthma attacks and decrease in frequency of use of inhalers. The disease status in controls deteriorated. “

Both yoga and the Buteyko Method give practicioners the ability to regulate their breathing consciously. The result in both cases is less reliance on medication. Anecdotally I have heard reports of Buteyko getting asthmatics off of medications altogether. As with many western treatments, inhalers and other asthma medications treat the symptoms and not the underlying condition. The authors state, “While modern medicine aims at immediate relief, yoga aims at removal of the basic cause. “

Most importantly, the side effects of yoga are little to none and you do not need to stop your medicine first (most would advise against this). It is a win-win situation. Yoga has helped me immensely, with everything from depression to my breathing to strength and flexibility. I’m having a hard time seeing a reason not to give it a shot.



Breathing Exercises

(This post inspired by the Art of Living)

Meditation is the deepest pool of water. It goes on beyond ideas. To overstate its reach would be hard. But simple breathing exercises have had a bigger effect on my life thus far. While meditations dive into an infinite abyss in ever subtler and less physical ways, that first dip of my head under water that I felt by doing breathing exercises was a profoundly simple awakening to the control that I can choose to have over the experience I have of my body, my emotions and the thoughts in my mind.

Much of what happens in our bodies we are either unaware of or feel as if we are powerless to control. We each have an autonomic nervous system. This is the term we use to describe the control system for our bodies functions that generally happen beneath or outside of our conscious awareness and control. Heart rate, digestion, perspiration, salivation, arousal, our immune system and our breathing are controlled by processes that we are normally not aware of. By knowingly taking over a task that is normally controlled without our awareness such as breathing we are able to exert conscious control over physiological functions that often times seem to be controlling us. Because of the way that all of the body’s functions are intertwined, by changing just our breathing we are able to have an effect on everything from our heart rate to our happiness.

Anyone who has ever felt anxious, angry, excited or sad should be familiar with a number of things that are happening in their body while feeling these emotions. One of these is the depth and rate of our breathing. For a simple example look at your breathing while you are calm. It will be deep, filling up much of your lungs and possibly causing your chest, stomach and or shoulders to expand. This breath will be slow as well as deep, potentially lasting more than a few seconds. What you are likely not directly aware of is the way that all of the bodies other autonomic functions are working in concert. When we are resting and stress free this is a synchronization that happens in the body that keeps us healthy, happy and alert.

The opposite is true when we worry or get nervous, angry or over excited. Then our breathing tends to become shallow and quick as our heart rate goes up and certain muscles in our body constrict. At these times our resources are diverted away from our digestive as well as immune systems and into our muscles in the early stages of a fight or flight adrenal response to stress. Even our higher reasoning in the foremost part our brain seems to lose resources. Studies show that students taking tests perform at a much lower level than would be expected if they experience nervousness or stress for exactly this reason. While the most evolved parts of our brain are correlated with performing the most complex reasoning tasks we are capable of, this ability to meta-analyze complex concepts from afar is understandably a far slower process than the rapid instinctive reactions that potentially dangerous situations require. Fight or flight reactions shut down complex reasoning and amplify our tendency to be reactive. When we see a rapidly approaching lion we don’t stop and ponder the existential implications of life and death, we run. Fear facilitates the functioning of large muscle groups at the expense of the bodies other systems. This is great for physically threatening situations, not so great for the simple stresses of day to day life. Put another way, when we are anxious or nervous we are prone to getting sick, having digestive issues, muscle soreness and often make mistakes on things that we should have been thinking through more thoroughly.

When introduced to formal breathing techniques I began learning how to take control of my breathing in a measured and rhythmic way. While sitting in a calm, restful state I studied the symbiotic relationship between my thoughts, my mood, the activity and sensations in my body and the length and depth of my breathing. By controlling my breath I began to see quick and meaningful changes in both my physiology and the tone and volume of my conscious inner monologue. It became clear in a very short time just how many of the formerly automatic responses that my body would have to a given situation I could actually choose to control with purpose and direction. When we take the reins of our bodies functions by controlling breathing we get a chance to guide so many of the other processes that seem to be happening beyond our control. Most of this happens without any effort or awareness other than breath control. The associations built by slowing and deepening breath while in a resting state carry forward so that in stressful situations all one must do is change the rate and depth of breathing and within seconds a calm, resting state can be accessed based primarily on the way that our body associates states with breathing, but strengthened by the associations we build between feeling calm and breathing slowly each time that we practice this.

On a more subtle level, when I began working with my breathing I also began to have a deepening trust in the intuitive understandings that so often hang out a couple of notches on the volume knob below conscious chatter. In the process of learning to have more poise and be less reactive in everyday situations I found myself having a deepening trust in my own judgment and ability to act quickly in any situation without feeling the need to stop and ponder. With increased breathing exercises my everyday sense of readiness inches ever closer to what many refer to as a ‘flow’ state. This is the state of being that artists and athletes describe where it is almost as if times slows and the most appropriate actions are automatically taken without any conscious effort or hesitation. The calm that I am describing here should not be mistaken for detachment or lethargy. It is an incredibly alert and active stance that is simply free from worry, distraction and unhelpful mental chatter.

I don’t mean to say that I quiet my mind. Many talk about meditation, used here to mean simply focused attention, as stopping the mind from thinking. As I have written before, this is not exactly how I experience it. My mind goes quiet no more than hands go numb, ears fall deaf, or my tongue fails to taste when I stop focusing on it. It has helped me to think of the brain as a sensory organ that picks up on thought. You are not your brain. You are the one who is aware of it. In a moment of slowness between breathes I have the experience of turning my attention to my right ear and hearing the room. My eyes are closed, if I ask myself what I see I will look and realize that I see only black. If I then change my attention to my mind I become attuned to the many thoughts that churn through my waking head. But to rest in between….this is where the wise man prays.

What we learn is that from this resting place of experienced stillness comes the quickest, most precise and in tune movements we can make; but also the most relaxed and effortless. And in the waiting there is no wondering or stress. This is not a place of denial of the outside world. There is a finely tuned listening, an awareness of the environment, that only such centeredness can allow. When the normal tendency to fixate upon and amplify one specific sense, including that of thought, is relaxed we are free to witness the present moment with much greater clarity and joy. The actions that we take from this expanded place of consciousness include all of the functions of our previous awareness, but add an element of choice and a sense of empowerment that is otherwise so often missing.

And all from breathing exercises he says?

I do.

The line between focusing on breathing and deep meditation is a thin one. Many meditative traditions begin with purposeful breathing as a means to learn focus and control. This skill is then utilized for prayer, koan practice, mantra, chanting, or to focus on ‘nothing’. From breathing a practice can continue for a lifetime. But I would posit that this is daunting and largely unnecessary for the lay person. What I hope all children will be taught and I offer all adults should seek is to learn to take control of their breathing. The benefits are immense, the effort minimal and really, you are doing it already, so why not do it well?


This post is from a series called Insights that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life Coach.

If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose than I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.