Do you ever catch yourself holding your breath? If I am deep in thought, stressed, trying to figure something out, or juggling a bazillion things — I often realize I am holding my breath. Even when I am not completely holding my breath, I notice that my breathing can be shallow and short. Many of us don’t think twice about our breathing because it’s automatic — we are apparently doing it just fine if we are alive. However, just because breathing is involuntary and we are meeting oxygen demands doesn’t mean that we are breathing properly. Almost all of us underestimate the power of this essential function, and poor breathing habits can have a negative effect on our health.
The Benefits of Deep Breathing
You might be thinking, “I breathe all of the time so what’s the big deal?” Unfortunately, most of us are not taught how to breathe. In fact, we tend to lose the ability to breathe properly over time. If you observe a newborn baby or an animal you will notice that when they inhale their stomach rises and then falls on the exhale. This diaphragmatic breathing, or deep breathing, utilizes the entire capacity of the lungs. As we go through life and experience stressors, our breathing becomes shallow and we only use the top portion of our lungs. So why is it important to breathe deeply?
Deep Breathing Practices
So how do you breathe? Sounds funny to ask but it is vital to know. One of the key elements in deep breathing is utilizing both the upper and lower lobes of the lungs. To practice for the first time, it can be helpful to lie on your back. Place your hands on your belly. Take a long slow inhale through your nose and your hands should rise. After you fill the lower portion of your lungs (keep breathing in) then allow your chest to rise. On the exhale, do the opposite. Allow your chest to fall first followed by the abdomen. Continue in a slow rhythmic cycle. You will notice that you can breathe in so much more oxygen using this style of breathing.
According to Dr. Andrew Weil, a basic rule for breathing practice is to try to make your breaths deeper, slower, and more regular. To deepen your breathing, practice exhaling beyond your normal breathing sequence. Exhaling completely builds muscles between your ribs, and your exhalations will naturally become deeper and longer over time.1 In addition, by squeezing more air out you will automatically breathe more in. Weil recommends the following “4-7-8 breathing” technique as a way to improve your breathing rhythms:
We have many opportunities in the day to practice deep breathing (remember using upper and lower lungs and exhaling completely are key). Some ways to incorporate deep breathing into your daily life:
Breathe deep my friends!
Acid vs. Alkaline
You may have heard about the acid/alkaline relationship to diet and our bodies, but what does it mean?
First, we need to talk about pH. Our bodies, just like plants, water, soil, etc., have a certain pH that is most optimal. Our bodies optimal pH is 7.35 which is slightly alkaline. The pH scale runs from 0 to 14, with 0 being the most acidic, 14 being the most alkaline and 7 being neutral.
The substances we put in our mouth determine the pH of our body. So what you consume on a daily basis will change the pH of your cells, your blood, your urine and your saliva. Most people have an acidic pH due to eating a Standard American Diet (S.A.D.). This is mainly due to the high consumption of acidic ingredients like alcohol, soda, coffee, sugar, meat, fish, dairy, breads and grains. On a side note, foods we may assume to be acidic such as lemons are actually alkalizing to our body.
Emotions can also affect our bodies pH. Negative emotions such as anger, jealousy, hate, loneliness and fear will make the body more acidic, while positive emotions such as love, joy and acceptance will make your body more alkaline.
So, why is it important to maintain an alkaline system? An acidic system creates inflammation within our bodies. This inflammation will appear as different symptoms for different people. Symptoms may include bloating, constipation, leaky gut, acid reflux, indigestion, asthma, colds, arthritis, gout, headaches, fatigue, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, cancer and obesity.
Disease cannot exist, let alone thrive in an alkaline body! Cancer cells cannot live in an alkaline system. Most parasites, yeasts, fungi and bacteria cannot live in an alkaline system either. Therefore it is vital for us to be aware of our bodies pH level and what we eat if we want to live a healthy life free of dis-ease and pain. An alkaline diet will not only allow your body to thrive at it’s optimal level but will also improve bone density, increase libido and help to shed excess fat.
How to increase the alkalinity of your body
1. Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables. Most fruits and vegetables are alkaline in nature. Try to eat 70% of your diet in alkaline foods every day.
2. Limit meat, dairy and grains. All meats, dairy and bread/grains are acidic. Limit your intake to small portions. If you are having grains/bread try to opt for sprouted grains.
3. Limit your intake of sugar and soda. All sugar, sugar replacements and natural sweeteners such as honey, agave, etc. are acidic. The exception to this is Stevia which is alkaline to the body.
4. Limit your intake of alcohol, caffeine and tobacco. These three items are incredibly acidic to your body.
5. Limit your use of condiments. Mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, etc. are highly acidic.
6. Increase your intake of water. Pure water is neutral on the pH scale and will help to flush the acid out of your system. Remember, the more acidic items you ingest, to more water you will need to remain alkaline.
How to test your pH
The easiest way to see where you are at on the acid/alkaline scale is to get a pack of pH test strips (litmus paper) from your local pharmacy, health food store or online and test yourself at home. These strips are relatively inexpensive and easy to use.
The pH test strips can be used with your saliva and/or urine.
For urine testing: First thing in the morning pee on the test strip (or pee in a cup and dip the strip into it) and wait until the strip turns color and match it to the pH guide that comes with the strips. Your first morning urine will be the most acidic and you want it to be in the 6.5-7.5 range. I would recommend for one week to test every time you pee. When your body is in an alkaline it will range from 7.3-8.0. If your pH is lower than 6.5 you really should focus on adding in more alkaline food and omitting acidic foods.
For saliva testing: (The least favorable of the two tests). When you test your saliva you want to wait at least two hours after eating, drinking or brushing your teeth. You want to gather a bunch of spit in your mouth, swallow and then gather a bunch of spit again and insert the pH strip into your mouth. Wait until the strip turns color and match it to the pH guide. Your saliva will usually read higher than your urine pH and you want it to be in the 7.0-7.5 range.
It is not necessary to monitor your pH every day after you do a week long testing series. However, I would recommend once a month taking your pH so that you can monitor your progress.
Here is a good link to see which foods are acidic and which are alkaline: http://cdn2.hubspot.net/hub/11652/file-2473715827-jpg/images/ph_levels-resized-600.jpg
Here is a good link to a pH monitoring worksheet from Dr. Susan E. Brown: http://www.betterbones.com/alkalinebalance/phRecordSheet.pdf
The importance of water in our diets may seem to be common sense. However at least 75% of Americans are dehydrated. But how can this be you may ask? I have water in everything I consume... from my tea to my soup to my soda... and on top of it, I'm not thirsty! Well please read on and I will give you some interesting facts that may make it more tempting to add more water into your daily routine.
We as humans are made up of 50-60% water. Did you know that water makes up 85% of our brain, 80% of our blood and 70% of our lean muscle? Imagine if your body is dehydrated what effect that will take on your body over time? We can live weeks without food as out body will first consume all of our toxic/fatty areas and then begin to consume muscle tissue while saving the brain and heart for last (the most vital of our organs). However, we can only live 3 days without water (give or take).
The symptoms of moderate dehydration may include dry/sticky mouth, decreased urine output (going 8 hours or more without urinating), midday fatigue, foggy memory, headaches, dizziness or light-headedness, irritability, weight gain, joint and muscle pain, depression, food allergies, Some of the more extreme signals of dehydration may include heartburn, very dry mouth, skin and mucous membranes, migraines, pain in the abdominal area (colitis), nerve pain (fibromyalgia), joint pain, back pain, little or no urination (which is usually dark in color), shriveled and dry skin that lacks elasticity and doesn't bounce back when pinched, low blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, fever, constipation, pain in the heart (angina), late onset diabetes, hypertension, feeling sick when you wake in the morning, and the most severe delirium or unconsciousness. Dehydration is one of the most common causes of hospitalization in people over 65.
As we age we become less aware of being thirsty. As the water in our body becomes depleted the water from our cells are redistributed to our brain and other vital organs. Please give thanks to this miraculous body of yours right now for being so smart as to constantly try to save our lives!!! Thirst is not a reliable tool for whether or not we need water. A better gauge for how hydrated you are is your urine. Clear or light-colored urine signals that you are well hydrated whereas dark yellow or amber urine indicates you are probably dehydrated. If you wait to drink water until you are thirsty, chances are you are already dehydrated. Also, many people mistake thirst signals with hunger pangs. When you feel hungry, have a glass of water and see if the hunger pang goes away, if not, eat.
If you're an average adult you lose 10 cups of water a day simply by sweating, breathing and eliminating wastes. If you are eating whole foods that contain water (i.e., fruits, vegetables and whole grains) you can get about 3-4 cups of water from your food. If it is hot outside or you are working out you need to replace even more water in your body. Other factors that add to water loss in our bodies are prescription medications, pharmaceutical drugs, caffeine, sodas and alcohol. So bear in mind that if you are consuming a diet which is high in processed foods and low in "real" food like fruits/vegetables/whole grains, if you are working out, if you are taking pharmaceutical medications and if you ingest caffeine, sodas and/or alcohol you will need to add in even more water to offset this extra depletion.
The measurement of how much water to drink that I find makes the most sense if 1/2 your body weight in ounces every day. This is what your body needs to just be healthy without adding in the extras such as heat, caffeine, pharmaceuticals, etc.... So for example, if you weigh 160 pounds you would divide that number by 2 and you would therefore be needing to drink 80 ounces of water per day. Some ways to increase your intake of water are to carry a water bottle with you at all times and to have one in your car, use a straw, drink at set times of the day (for instance when you wake up, before a meal, before your cup of coffee, before you brush your teeth, etc.), substitute your soda/coffee for a glass of water, drink at random times of the day (i.e., every time the phone rings or every time you sit down, etc.), set alarms on your watch every couple hours to remind you to drink, get a smart phone app for free that will not only remind you but it will also keep track of how much water you drink daily, etc.
Last but not least lets talk about the water you drink. My recommendation is to drink tap water. If you live in the country and have a good well/aquifer great!!!! Just fill up your glass. If you are wondering what the quality of your tap water is you can purchase a test kit online for not very much money. I was surprised to find that many places I have been living have a higher quality tap water than do most bottled waters. I usually have water filters on my tap as many places I have lived have heavy minerals or sulfur elements, which are not necessarily harmful, they just make the water taste icky. My parents are lucky enough to have the best well water I've tasted! Lucky for me growing up there!
Now, a few words on bottled water. There are only a small handful of bottled water I will consume and they are the ones that when you look at the label under ingredients it says water. Most bottled water is just glorified tap water at 10,000 times the cost. For example, Dasani, which is owned by Coca Cola, is tap water as is Aquafina, Smartwater, etc.... Not only are you paying an exorbitant amount for tap water that is in bottles that pollute our planet, they add chemicals to their water to make it "taste better". Personally, as a person who consumes a large amount of water every day, I can't stand the taste of these waters. They don't taste like real water to me... they are metallic in flavor. Here is a list of some of the ingredients in these waters. Dasani adds AKA epsom salts or bath salts and is a FDA pregnancy category D Teratogen, a drying agent, and laxative. They also add potassium chloride which is a FDA pregnancy category C. Potassium chloride is commonly used as a fertilizer, but it’s also used in lethal injections to stop the heart and, in some cases, in late trimester abortions to stop the heart of the fetus. Interestingly, potassium chloride is known to have a “weak, bitter, unsalty flavor” with a “chemical or metallic aftertaste”. And lastly, they add salt, which is a necessary mineral in our diets but I think we can all agree on the fact that most peoples diets contain more than adequate amounts of salt. Just to list a few others... Smart water contains calcium chloride, magnesium chloride and potassium bicarbonate. Nestle pure life contains calcium chloride, magnesium sulfate and sodium bicarbonate.... and the list goes on.
Please folks, do yourself a favor and buy a water bottle or two or three and leave them scattered around your house, your car, your workout bag. Keep them filled with tap water or filtered water. I really like to use the Nalgene 32 oz water bottles because they have markers on the side so you can see how much you are drinking. I also have a little trick to drink more water. When I wake up in the morning I chug water... ya, some of you probably remember the old high school/college drinking days when you had to ingest a large amount of liquids fast... well that's what I do. And everytime I drink water, I chug water. I figure, here I am doing something good for myself... yay!!!! I remembered, so I may as well drink as much as I can while I'm here. I count my drinking by swallows and I like to try to get 10-12 swallows down every time I drink... which is about 6 ounces.