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Hi Everyone!

Happy New Year! Apologies for the long silence...I last wrote in October last year, 6 weeks into my flat renovations, stressed but still naively cheerful. 6 weeks later, sleep-deprived, and beyond caring anymore, I was so desperately in need of a holiday that I didn't even manage to send out Happy Christmas/Hannukah/Festive Season wishes! I hope you had a good break and have come back refreshed and ready to tackle 2011, and the challenges and excitement it may bring.

New Year's resolutions are always an interesting thing (especially when one finds oneself writing down a repetition of last year's...!). After my rather frenetic end to 2010, I vowed to make 2011 different, and to that end attended a meditation course this last weekend. On it, we were taught a powerful breathing technique,  the Sudarshan Kriya, and only when practising it, did I realise how shallowly I had been breathing for the last three months due to stress and tension. It was a timely reminder as to how effective deep breathing is for stress relief on both a physical and emotional level, and how well it grounds one in the present moment.

So it's a very simple newsletter theme to kick start 2011- the art of breathing and the physical and emotional effects.

"We need to do a cleansing process within ourselves.

In sleep we get rid of fatigue, but the deeper stresses remain in our body. 

Sudarshan Kriya cleanses the system from the inside.

The breath has a great secret to offer."
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar


Take care until next time!




(adapted from the Art if Living: Science of Breathing Brochure and the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide)

Mounting scientific research continues to suggest that health, quality of life, and even the very length of life, are all profoundly affected by our mental and emotional states. The emerging field of mind/body medicine
explains how our thoughts and emotions can powerfully affect brain, endocrine (hormone), and immune system function. This influence is facilitated by chemical messengers called neuropeptides, which are released with one’s every emotion. They are rapidly picked up by cells in the immune, endocrine, and autonomic nervous systems, and directly affect their functioning.

Most of us are familiar with the term “fight or flight,” also known as the stress response. It’s what the body does as it prepares to confront or avoid danger. When appropriately invoked, the stress response helps us rise to many challenges, but trouble starts when this response is constantly provoked by less momentous, day-to-day events, such as money woes, traffic jams, job worries, or relationship problems.

“Negative” emotions linked to these events, such as anger, fear, anxiety and sadness, produce chemicals that can adversely affect the brain, endocrine, and immune systems, resulting in less resistance to disease and poorer overall health. Thus feeling stressed can lead to significant alterations in physiology, and can contribute to a broad range of diseases, ranging from cancer and cardiovascular disease to headaches, high blood pressure, colds, asthma, depression, and ulcers.

We can’t avoid all sources of stress in our lives, nor would we want to, but we can develop healthier ways of responding to them. One way is to invoke the relaxation response: a state of profound rest that can be elicited in many ways, including meditation, yoga, and progressive muscle relaxation. Breath focus is a common feature of several techniques that evoke the relaxation response, the first step of which is learning to breathe deeply.

The benefits of deep breathing

Deep breathing also goes by the names of diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, belly breathing, and paced respiration. When you breathe deeply, the air coming in through your nose fully fills your lungs, and the lower belly rises.

For many of us, deep breathing seems unnatural. There are several reasons for this, one being that body image has a negative impact on respiration in our culture. A flat stomach is considered attractive, so we all tend to hold in our stomach muscles. This interferes with deep breathing and gradually makes shallow “chest breathing” seem normal, which increases tension and anxiety.

Shallow breathing limits the diaphragm’s range of motion, so that the lowest part of the lungs doesn’t get a full share of oxygenated air, which contribute to feeling short of breath and anxious.

Deep abdominal breathing on the other hand encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, it can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure. It has also been shown to lower the level of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the blood, improve immune function through the production of anti-oxidants, relieve anxiety and depression by stimulating our good hormones, and improve mental alertness and focus.

Practicing breath focus

Breath focus helps you concentrate on slow, deep breathing and aids you in disengaging from distracting thoughts and sensations.

First steps: Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down. First, take a normal breath. Then try a deep breath: Breathe in slowly through your nose, allowing your chest and lower belly to rise as you fill your lungs. Let your abdomen expand fully. Now breathe out slowly through your mouth (or your nose, if that feels more natural). Continue the practice until your breathing slows and your capacity to take a deep breath increases. It may be helpful to try holding your in-breath for a few seconds before breathing out, and holding your out- breath before breathing in again.

Breath focus in practice: Once you've mastered deep breathing, you can move on to regular practice of breath focus. Try to practice for 10-20 minutes a day, sitting or lying comfortably in a quiet place with your eyes closed, focussing merely on the movement of your breath, or blending the deep breathing with other meditation techniques such as mindfulness, guided imagery, or perhaps a focus word or phrase that helps you to relax. You can also combine breath focus with movement e.g. slow walking, yoga, tai chi or qi gong.

Try different techniques until you find one that works for you. Remember, don't try too hard as it may just cause you to tense up, but don't be too passive, either. The key to eliciting the relaxation response lies in shifting your focus from stressors to deeper, calmer rhythms, and having a focal point is essential.

Taking breath focus into the day: Beyond your daily practice, try to take the breath focus into your day with you. At any time in the day, pause and become aware of the rhythym of the breath in your body. Taking a deep breath at opportune moments can give you the space to think before giving an irritable response, stop you giving in to road rage, or merely allow you to halt the repetitive story line in your head that keeps you from enjoying the beauty of the moment you are in.

"The breath is the link between the body and the mind -

every rhythm of the mind has a corresponding rhythm in the breath.

When you cannot directly handle the mind, it is easy to do so through the breath."

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

For more information on meditation courses available in Cape Town, go to:



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