My Lips are Sealed

my lips are sealed | MindBodyPlateI’ve been running in the mornings with my husband, and I’m trying something new. I’m trying not to breathe through my mouth.

Come again?

I’m trying not to breathe through my mouth. In fact, I’m attempting to sustain my morning runs breathing in and out through my nose and my nose alone.

Specifically, I’m utilizing a style of nasal breathing called ujjayi pranayama or ‘victorious breathing’, a slow and controlled style of yogic breathing which produces oceanic (or Darth Vader-like) sounds due to a slight constriction of the throat. Why? Well, it’s an experiment.

It’s based on some research I heard about, research conducted by Ayurvedic physician Dr. John Douillard in his book Body, Mind & Sport: the Mind Body Guide to Lifelong Fitness and Your Personal Best.

Basically, when you participate in strenuous exercise and start huffing and puffing through your mouth, your brain recognizes it as the same kind of breathing you do when you get surprised, or stressed… or scared. And it registers that you might just have a reason to be stressed or scared.

running huffing and puffing | MindBodyPlateNasal breathing, on the other hand, allows for deeper diaphragmatic breathing, which stimulates the vagus nerve, which stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system — in other words, breathing through your nose makes you feel less stressed. It lowers cortisol levels. It sets you up for ‘rest and digest’.

And I want the very act of running to feel relaxing to me. I never want running to feel any more strenuous than a few sun salutations. I don’t want any small part of my subconscious to think that there’s something wrong when I hit the pavement at 6:45 AM every morning, that I’m running from something, that there’s an emergency. Because ultimately I think that will sabotage my goals. In some small way, I think it will set my mind against doing it.

When I was a kid, and let’s face it, pretty much up until the age of 25 or so, I hated running. And it wasn’t just because my cheeks turned a particularly Irish shade of beet red when I exerted myself. It was because it felt awful.

And I think it felt awful because it was something I just didn’t do on a regular basis. I rarely ran for fun, let alone for relaxation, and then all of a sudden, my PE teacher would bark out orders to run a mile, and my body was like, exsqueeze me? So infrequently was I asked to run, that whenever I did it felt like torture. My body wasn’t prepared for it, so it felt like death.

And the more I came to associate running with, you know, feeling like death, the more my distaste for it grew.

I’m trying to rewire that distaste. I won’t settle for just feeling proud because I pushed myself to run and I did — I want to want to run, because it feels good. I want every cell of my body to feel joyous when I run, so for now I’m breathing through my nose.

Now I can’t run as far or as fast when I keep my lips sealed, but I know that’s not permanent. My endurance will get stronger and stronger. Two years ago I ran a 10k, achieving something I never thought I would or could do, and it was a very proud moment for me. My next goal is to run a 10k while breathing through my nose.

breathe deeply kitty | MindBodyPlate

So if you’re not a runner, or even an aspiring runner (which is okay, by the way), how does this all apply to you?

Start paying attention to the way you’re breathing when you engage in any kind of activity. Even just walking to the car or the subway. If you find that you’re taking shallow, non-diaphragmatic breaths, or even holding your breath, you’re not alone; it’s pretty common. Spend some time thinking about the subconscious messages that kind of breath could be sending to your brain.

Imagine the deep, slow, relaxed and luxurious breaths you take when you’re, I dunno… getting a massage. What would it be like to breathe like that throughout the day? Or while you were exercising?

I’m interested to hear from my more experienced runner friends. Do you have a pattern of breathing or an approach to breathing that makes your experience more enjoyable or otherwise fruitful? Can’t wait to hear about what works for you!

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Commitment Therapy / 7 Posts in 7 Days

Today brings my week-long blog writing challenge to a close. I’m feeling pretty groovy: proud that I accomplished what I set out to do and grateful for the outpouring of love and support from the MBP community.

butterfly lens flare - MindBodyPlate

When I started, I made the disclaimer that the posts “probably won’t all be home runs, but they will get written.” And yet I’m delighted to report that I truly poured my heart and soul into every single post and was proud to hit the publish button each time.

We talked about a lot this week:

A little mental health, a little physical health, and a little nutritional health: mind, body, plate.

There were days when I worried that I had nothing to write about. Then, usually over an almond milk iced latte at  my neighborhood coffee shop, I’d come up with a hook, with a little seed of a thought. And to my surprise, those seeds never failed to bloom into fully realized conversations.

Regardless of the quality of the work, what surprised me most about this process was the incredible energy I felt in response to carrying out a commitment. To say you’re going to do something and then actually decide to do it creates a kind of power inside of you, a kind of secret pride that actually makes more space for possibility, not less.

It’s addictive, in a way; perhaps commitment begets more commitment. For instance, five days ago, my husband and I began a new regimen of early morning runs. We’ve been up at 6:20 AM every single day, just making it happen. And now that this week-long challenge is finished, I’m wondering what new area of my life could use a little commitment therapy, as it were.

What area of your life could use a little commitment therapy? What’s the difference between saying you’re going to do something and then actually doing it? Let me know in the comments below. Thank you for a wonderful week!

MBP Daily Three: When Your Lucky Underpants Don’t Help

MBP3 IS A SERIES DEDICATED TO WALKING THE WALK. WHAT ARE 3 THINGS YOU’VE DONE TODAY TO NOURISH YOUR MIND, YOUR BODY, & YOUR PLATE?
calvin and hobbes lucky rocket ship underpants

From Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Woof. Some days, you’re just so, totally down in the dumps. I knew a girl who called it “going to her dark place.” Luckily, the MBP Daily Three is a tool you can use to pave the way toward a better tomorrow, no matter how you feel today. It’s easy to remember: just check off one thing you’ve done today to nourish your mental health, your physical health, and your nutritional health (mind, body, and plate). The MBP3 might not turn your whole day around, but a little bit of self-care today may do a great deal of good in the long run.

Body: My handsome, bearded husband took the day off for a doctor appointment. Though he practically had to drag me out of the house, we ended up going for a short run through the neighborhood together. My brain was doing this weird thing where I thought if I couldn’t go run a 10k, then I shouldn’t run at all (being a perfectionist is really special sometimes). In the end, I just had to strong arm my way through that resistance and get out there. And don’t think I forget for one second how lucky I am to have a partner who can kindly nudge me in the right direction when I’m getting in my own way.

Photograph by Nicole Franzen for Gardenista

Photograph by Nicole Franzen for Gardenista

Mind: Our new neighborhood in Brooklyn is home to this cool little business called Sycamore Bar & Flower Shop. It’s, well… a bar attached to a flower shop. They’ve got all kinds of beautiful moss and ivy creations hanging in glass terrariums in the windows, along with gorgeous and unique flowers littering the mason-jar-filled space. After our run, we stepped inside just to have a look around. There was something about taking in the delicate beauty of some of those little succulents and air plants that demanded mindfulness. And practicing mindfulness helped lift my mood. Maybe we just ducked into a little bar and flower shop, but in some way it felt like a tiny trip to some sort of Midsummer Night’s fairyland, and it shook up my day in just the right way. It’s interesting how the smallest things can affect one’s perspective.

Plate: Finally, we stopped at the health food store, and I pulled up a recipe for red lentil coconut soup that I’ve been eyeing on Pinterest for a while. I took my time perusing the store, an enjoyable pastime for me in itself, and gathered the ingredients to make the dish. The truth is, I may not even make it tonight; I may just not have it in me. But I’ll be able to make it tomorrow. And somehow, just knowing that I have all of the ingredients to make such a rich and healthy meal makes me feel more at ease.  No matter what happens, I know I have some rewarding nourishment coming my way.

Will you tackle your MBP Daily Three even when it seems like a futile undertaking? Who are the people in your life you can turn to for a gentle nudge in the right direction? Let me know in the comments below, and have a lucky rocketship underpants kind of day.