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Natural Awakenings Fairfield & Southern Litchfield Counties

The Breath and Nutrition—Vitality Part III: The V in Positive Psychology

Aug 31, 2021 10:00AM ● By Ann C. Reeves
Positive Psychology (PP) is the scientific study of optimal human functioning, its research encompassing neurobehavioral, cognitive behavioral and physiological science. The acronym used in PP is PERMA-V. We continue to explore V, or Vitality, an overriding factor that encourages and supports the success of Positivity, Engagement, Relationship, Meaning and Achievement/Accomplishment in bringing about a deep sense of well-being. 

Two important factors that encourage personal vitality are the way we breathe and what we eat. 

Breath Work
Breathing is our most basic connection to life, and it is the quickest way to shift the quality of our minds. It is the only autonomic function of the body we can have control over on a moment to moment basis—a direct link to our body’s nervous system. When we inhale, we activate our body’s sympathetic nervous system (the fight, flight or freeze response). Exhaling activates the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest response). It is healthier to breathe through the nostrils than through the mouth as they moisturize, warm and clean the air as it reaches the lungs.

Author and dream therapist Tzivia Gover says, “When you breathe, you create a connection to the world around you. As you breathe in, you take what you need from the world and use it for your own survival; then you release the air that the trees and plants need for theirs.” The presence of breath is truly life giving, and breathing is just another example of give and take in our lives. Our quality of breathing can influence either the Rest, Digest, Restore function, where we feel relaxed and at ease, or the Fight, Flight, Freeze function, when we are experiencing stress.

Conscious regulation of the breath has a profound influence on such psychological conditions as anxiety, depression, stress and PTSD. The benefits of conscious breathing are that it is cheap, quick and it works physiologically to counteract the worry juice. It may stop us from a knee-jerk reaction to things and will offer more mental clarity. Breathing lowers blood pressure, eases our mental baggage and reduces emotional dis-ease. Below are a few breathing exercises to try.

Circular Breathing.
Sitting up comfortably, but with a straight back, place your attention on the bottoms of your feet, feeling how they are placed on the surface they are on, and sensing a connection with that surface. Imagine sending tendrils of roots down into the earth from your feet, helping you to feel deeply connected and grounded. As you become aware again of your breathing, begin to breathe in a circular way, drawing the breath up from the bottom of the feet, where you’re grounded, moving up along the back, around the head, down the front, and back into the ground by your toes. Continue this for about five minutes or as tolerated.

Alternate Nostril Breathing
(nadi shodhana pranayama) is a yogic breath control practice. It may take a while to master, but is very effective for ease and relaxation.
Sit in a comfortable position with your legs crossed. Place your left hand on your left knee. Lift your right hand up toward your nose. Exhale completely and then use your right thumb to close your right nostril. Inhale through your left nostril and then close the left nostril with your fingers. Open the right nostril and exhale through this side. Inhale through the right nostril and then close this nostril. Open the left nostril and exhale through the left side. This is one cycle. Continue for up to five minutes.

The Mini-Vacation 3-B-C Personal Palm Pilot
is a technique described in Millie Grenough’s book Oasis in the Overwhelm Overwhelm.

Close your eyes and let your mind wander off to a restful and beautiful place where you would like to go. Choose one place that feels the best for right now and go there. Notice what time of day or night it is. Rub your palms together until you feel their warmth and gently place them over your closed eyes. Bring up the pictures of your vacation place and, as you slowly inhale, sense the wind on your skin, note the temperature, notice the color of the vegetation, let the sound wash over you. Are you alone, or with others? As you exhale slowly, let your body sink into the deliciousness of this vacation scene, totally relaxed. Let your mind delight in the ease. Inhale and exhale slowly three long times. Enjoy your vacation. When you have finished your three breaths, take a little time to savor your trip before opening your eyes.

We are what we eat, and our nutrition is an essential key to vitality. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) surveys on the standard American diet report a vastly insufficient average intake of various essential nutrients. Much of our produce is grown in poor soil that is either infused with chemicals or is technologically manipulated. For this reason, many persons choose to take supplements.

We have to be careful about what they contain based on their bioavailability—the portion of nutrients that are actually absorbed into the body. It makes sense to research all the nutrients in a supplement to ensure absorption. There are many factors that can prevent optimal bioavailability and absorption. These include alcohol, caffeine and medications that include oxides, statins and other substances. Digestive problems can also affect bioavailability, as does the hormone cortisol, which is released through stress. In fact, a recent literature review presented evidence that stress alters the status of three minerals in the body: magnesium, zinc and iron. Factors that enhance the bioavailability of supplements include: time of day taken (magnesium at night), taking them with food and storing them away from heat and sun.

There are many websites online that list food with optimal or poor nutritional value. Researching an anti-inflammatory diet, such as that by the University of Wisconsin Integrative Medicine Department of Family Medicine, we learn how many of our aches and pains, especially as we grow older, are initially related more to inflammation than to a disease process. Eating more fiber, fruits and vegetables, and eliminating some fats are key anti-inflammation factors. Seeking out antioxidant foods such as goji berries, wild blueberries, dark chocolate, artichokes or herbs such as cilantro or boswellia can be added to the diet to reduce and absorb free radicals.

Positive psychology techniques can be found online to help with goal setting if sticking to a plan gets in the way.

Ann C. Reeves, Psy.D is a Licensed Psychologist in Wilton. Connect at [email protected].

We will wind up this series on Vitality next month with learning how physical activity, nature and stress reduction can enhance our vitality.

Ann C. Reeves, Psy. D, CAPP

Dr. Reeves blends traditional psychotherapy with holistic practices, helping clients through difficult patches in their lives. With training in positive psychology, mindfulness-based stre... Read More »