Monday January 11, 2010 | 3 comments
We are living in a time of tremendous fear. Fear of losing a job. Fear of losing a home. Fear of losing one’s health insurance. Fear of getting ill from all the stress. Fear of losing our cognitive abilities. The list is endless. Many of you know that in my former life, I was a clinical psychologist. I must admit to having succumbed to many fears myself in recent times. Life is indeed scary. The good news is that I’ve managed to create an interesting ritual that involves the two healthiest things I do each day…breathing and drinking tea.
I recently attended a lecture by Dr. Andrew Weil. It was a thrill for me to finally see this icon of integrative medicine in person. He had the audience participate in a breathing exercise that he said was one simple thing anyone could do each day that would have long-term profound consequences for their health and wellness. He called it “4-7-8”.
Let me begin with a basic lesson about fear and why it’s so problematic for us to live in that state for too long. When we experience fear, imagine an automatic switch that gets flipped, without our having to do anything. This propels our body into a fight-or-flight response. All of our systems prepare to either run for our lives or fight for our lives. Our blood pressure increases as our heart beats faster. Our digestion shuts down as it’s considered a non-essential task at the moment. Blood is reduced from our limbs so that we won’t bleed to death if we’re running away from our enemy and getting scratched/cut along the way. Our body is protecting us during this situation, which it perceives as a life-and-death crisis. In most cases, however, we’re not truly experiencing a life-and-death situation. In fact, we’re just scared about something that isn’t really going to kill us imminently. However, this chronic activation of our body over days, weeks, months, and years will eventually do us in. Dr. Weil’s simple breathing technique will actually flip that switch to the off position and it only takes about 1 minute and 20 seconds. He recommends doing this twice a day and promises improvements within a month’s time. Here’s what’s required to practice this:
Start by closing your eyes; breathe in and exhale. Now you’re ready to begin. Place your tongue in the middle of your upper palate with the tip right against your front teeth and keep it there. Breathe in for a count of 4. Hold that breath for a count of 7. Exhale to a count of 8 while pursing your lips as if saying OH, and exhaling loudly. Do this for 4 breaths in total. And don’t forget to do it at least twice a day. Now you ask, what does this have to do with tea? Well, I’m glad you asked.
Tea has always provided a calming ritual for me. It begins when I select the tea I want to drink along with the pot I’m going to brew it in and finally the cup I’ll enjoy drinking from. With my Zojirushi waiting for me, I fill the pot, place the lid on it, and move to my favorite chair. I’ve definitely eased up on my brew timings, specifically for teas that I’m familiar with and drink most any day. This doesn’t apply to something new I’m trying where I actually use a timer to ensure the best brew time for that particular tea. Here’s where the breathing comes into play for me. Now I proceed with my 4 breaths and voila – it’s time to pour. I feel relaxed and de-stressed. What could be better to await me than a delicious cup of tea. I’m in heaven. Won’t you join me?