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Lessons From Dogs… Breathe Easy!

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Have you ever seen your dog or any other pet sit or lie down and take a loud and deep sigh or breath? A LOT is going on in their body and brain during that breath.

Dogs can sigh for a variety of reasons; the main reason they sigh is to signal that they are relaxed. The most common sounds of pleasure we hear from dogs are moans and sighs. They can also use whines and growls to communicate happiness. Low-pitched moans are often a sound puppies make and are signs of contentment.

How often do you find yourself taking such a nice, loud and deep sigh or breath?

Some dog trainers say that dogs generally sigh while resting or when they are ‘resigned.’ These sighs seem to mark a physiological transition into a deeper state of relaxation. In fact, a relaxed, deep breath is a direct message to our (dogs’ and humans’) nervous system to “power down.”. It sends the message to the rest of the body that we are safe and content so all systems should be operating on auto pilot. Our heart rate and blood pressure drop; our breath slows and becomes effortless; and our digestion, sleep patterns, cell regeneration and immune system are fully operational now. This state of rest is our parasympathetic nervous system working.​

The ability to breathe so deeply and powerfully is not limited to a select few or those who have practiced yoga, meditation and mindful breath. This is a skill we are ALL born with but often lies dormant. Reawakening it and feeding your body oxygen while dropping physical tension allows you to tap one of your body’s most important self-healing mechanisms.​

Why does breathing deeply seem difficult or unnatural to so many of us? What I know as a wellness practitioner and a nurse for many years is this: at least 90% of people do not take full, deep breaths, nor do they remember HOW to take deep breaths. One reason may be that our culture often rewards us for stifling strong emotions. I have never seen so many people in my life work so hard at “not feeling.” Girls and women have been historically taught to rein in anger as it is not considered “lady-like” behavior. When my daughter was young, if she heard me swear or get angry, she would always say “mommy….lady-like” to remind me that I was not being a good girl. Boys and men have been historically taught “big boys don’t cry” or that crying is a sign of weakness. The unfortunate reality going on when we hold back tears, stifle anger, tiptoe through a fearful situation, or try to keep pain at bay, is that unconsciously, we hold our breath or take short, shallow breaths. A bunny that tries to cross the road and runs into on-coming cars will freeze and not move to protect himself. As he is doing this, he is barely breathing or even holding his breath – just like we do when stressed! ​

When our body is in fight or flight mode, it does not serve us to breathe loud, deep breaths…what if a tiger were chasing us? This is instinctual for animals and humans to hold or shorten and shallow our breath during an emergency. When we are in such a state, our body goes into preservation mode. Breathing loudly at such a time could allow a predator to find us and hurt us. During such a time our body also wants to conserve energy as much as possible as we may need fuel (oxygen and glucose) to flee a situation or fight for survival. Our reptilian brain responds in such emergent situations, and our sympathetic nervous system is engaged to help save our lives. ​

The unfortunate reality in our current world is that most of us are exposed to constant stress, or perceived stressors, such as work, finances, school, relationships and mental illness. Although these are not real life-threatening situations such as being chased by a tiger, our body responds as if they are. Our nervous system does not differentiate between the type or level of stress; it responds and does its job telling the body to “prepare for battle.” Our muscles tighten up; our heart rate and blood pressure increase; OUR BREATH becomes short and shallow, digestion slows or stops; and our ability to make clear decisions is altered.​

Dogs do not have the ability to think “what if this happens;” they generally live in the present moment. They are not driven by ego and/or fear of the future or past. THIS is why you will see dogs take beautiful, deep breaths many times a day or even many times an hour. If they are tired, they lie down and rest. If they are content and happy, they sigh and breathe and express this. Each time they take such breaths, this is a direct message to the nervous system that says “power down,” all systems are at ease. This message then allows the immune system, cell regeneration and hormonal functions to “carry on as usual.”

Unlike humans, dogs live and behave by instinct. They listen to their body and know that relaxation is vital for survival. Humans have learned to by-pass our body’s warning signs to fulfill our ego’s needs. This behavior of constantly reacting to stressors (real or perceived) results in chronic tension patterns. These patterns can be physical, mental, emotional and chemical, or all the above! These chronic tension patterns then create chronic inflammation throughout the body, which then creates DISEASE. ​

This LESSON FROM DOGS is about living in the moment and listening to what your body needs.

WE ALL NEED TO BREATHE.

Breath allows our immune system to work properly, delivers oxygenated blood to our cells for energy, directs our nervous system to power down and drop tension. An amazing side effect of taking a few deep breaths is that IT FEELS GOOD and brings us back to the present moment. As we breathe, we drop tension; as we drop tension, we prevent chronic tension patterns, which prevents inflammation, and as a result, we PREVENT DISEASE.

  • When you find yourself tensing up or “reacting” to a difficult or stressful situation, look down at your feet, remember what is happening right here and now, and take care of what is right in front of you. Re-group…take three nice, deep breaths in through your nose and let your mouth gently drop open when you exhale. Remember, this is a direct message to your nervous system to “power down.”
  • When you feel tired and/or fatigued….STOP, REST, even if for 5 or 10 minutes; give your body time to recognize that you are safe and not in “fight or flight mode.”
  • If you get good news or feel happy….express it! Smile, sigh like our dogs do, enjoy the moment. This changes our cells and our environment, and we begin to attract MORE GOOD.
  • Practice taking (at least 3 at a time) nice, deep breaths with your loved ones and friends. Children love doing this and recognize that it makes them feel good.

Take a deep breath and pass it on!

References


Lisa Adams is nurse, Health and Wellness Coach and Certified Flowtrition Practitioner.  She has combined over 25 years of experience as a registered nurse with training in Flowtrition and health education to provide her clients with the most comprehensive and holistic approach to preventive healthcare and wellness. Lisa believes that wellness starts from within and that if we trust in our body’s ability to heal as it is designed, amazing things happen. She also believes that optimal health is achieved in a multi-system approach that includes not only physical wellbeing, but also mental and emotional wellbeing. Lisa’s passion and objective in coaching is to increase awareness in individuals about the way their body functions and especially how it responds to stress.

The body cannot begin to heal
while in a constant state of tension.”
~ Lisa Adams ~

Spirit of Namaste
Health and Wellness Center

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