By Tammera J. Karr, PhD
Local, State and National events of late seem to once more be a buffet line of restrictions, inconsistencies, prejudice, and fear. Twenty-four seven exposure to stories of hurricanes, forest fires, political unrest, riots, violence and just plain nonsense has a deep and for some deadly effect on their health. Heightened anxiety, sleep disturbance, depression, and fear can precipitate in heart attacks, increase the risk of cancer and more.
Life: making ends meet, looking after the family, building a business, dedication to work, travel; these all add some stress to our lives. Breathing, aging, environmental factors, genetics, and physical activity are also forms of stress – ones we do not always think about as they are factors we can do little to change. There is a trend however that has taken over our lives, very different from our parents and grandparents time, in particular, the last ten years with the advent of rapid access to news and social media. It is the twenty-four seven availability of opinion and information that has the effect of increasing fear, anxiety and anger in some individuals including children. In today’s world, we are in a constant fight or flight mode, driving up stress hormones, constricting blood vessels and increasing susceptibility to chronic pain and digestive issues.
Now I am not a believer in hiding one’s head in the sand. However, a growing number of people have lost the ability to step back, turn off or even take a deep breath. Deep breathing has solid research behind it for being effective in lowering stress hormones, improve sleep and cognition, concentration, reducing high blood pressure, and anxiety. Wait for it – you know it is coming – and improve digestion.
Many long-time readers of this column know I am Christian, the divine has been a genuine part of my life since I was a child, gifting me with a certainty of safety. Which is good because I am a bit of a clutz. Hahaha, Grace before meals and meditative prayer have a very very long history, and not just in Judaeo-Christian cultures. With the world being far more global today we have access to Eastern culture and beliefs, and they share aspects with Christianity on meditative or contemplative prayer, even rhythms of music found in worship services have similarities to breathing patterns. Modern research on yoga was the first investigation into supporting prayer and meditation as having a positive biochemical response on health.
I have witnessed personally, and clinically individuals with a personal faith are healthier, their hypothalamus and thymus glad’s and brain function with more elasticity and they are less prone to adrenal fatigue than persons with no belief system. For me, history and human nature demand a belief in something or one greater than ourselves, it has been part of human existence so long, it may even be coded into our DNA. Faith is and should be a deeply personal matter. Regardless of one’s belief system yes even non-Christians, who practice prayer, meditation and chants can stimulate a slow deep breathing response, calming brain chemistry and stress hormones allowing them to weather periods of disaster, strife, and upheaval with greater flexibility.
So my challenge to you in these stress-filled times: At mealtime turn off the TV, Ipad, or radio. Give a moment to quiet the mind; breathe deeply through the nose once, twice, and give thanks for the food before you, the hands that grew and made the meal and the gift of health it provides your body, and for those who make freedom possible. We are but feathers on the breath of God…
“Listen: there was once a king sitting on his throne. Around Him stood great and wonderfully beautiful columns ornamented with ivory, bearing the banners of the king with great honor. Then it pleased the king to raise a small feather from the ground, and he commanded it to fly. The feather flew, not because of anything in itself but because the air bore it along. Thus am I, a feather on the breath of God.”
Hildegard of Bingen 1098-1179
To Peace and Healthy Foods