Dr. John Kennedy is the medical director of preventative cardiology and wellness at Marina del Rey Hospital, and author of the new book, THE 15-MINUTE HEART CURE: The Natural Way to Release Stress And Heal Your Heart In Just Minutes A Day.
For a healthy heart emotionally and physically, learn to BREATHE!
How to use the BREATHE™ technique
BREATHE™ is an acronym that represents a relaxation technique that will help heal your heart. For best results follow the simple stepwise explanation that will continue over the next week as I focus on a new element of BREATHE™ each day. Remember that conscious breathing is what connects the heart and brain and allows us to create a conversation between the two organs.
Each of the letters in the word BREATHE™ has special significance and represents one of the 7 steps that makes up the technique. Follow each step closely and apply them to the exercises that follow.
B in B-R-E-A-T-H-E is for the beginning.
Every book, song, poem, and exercise has a beginning. Begin your exercise daily at the most ideal time and in the most ideal place that fits best with your schedule. A truck driver, for example, may choose the time while sitting quietly on the loading dock just before checking his inventory and planning his daily delivery route; a surgeon might use the scrub sink just prior to surgery and if you work in an office setting try taking a short walk at lunch to a quiet place, away from the frenzied workplace to practice.
Some will choose a quiet place in their home and practice after waking which helps them focus and achieve their daily goals, and some use the BREATHE™ technique just before climbing into bed which helps relieve racing thoughts and helps you achieve more quality sleep. Wherever or whenever you decide to BREATHE™ be sure to practice at the same each time. Try to develop a rhythm and routine to your practice.
When you begin, pick a quiet and cozy place—somewhere you won’t be interrupted for 15 minutes, which is the amount of time needed to gain mastery and optimize results of the BREATHE™ technique. Begin your BREATHE™ exercise with a positive attitude knowing that this 15 minutes is a well-deserved gift to yourself.
R in B-R-E-A-T-H-E is for relaxation.
This might seem counterintuitive but relaxation actually requires concentration and focus. It’s not like just diving into your beanbag chair, flipping on the TV and ripping open a bag of chips. Instead, to elicit the relaxation response (opposite of the stress response) it requires focused and conscious breathing. Try to clear all thoughts when you start and think only of breathing. Concentrate only on your breath. Recall that focused, controlled and conscious breathing is what allows us into the conversation between the heart and brain. A helpful imagery tool is the Path to Relaxation and Flow. Imagine a beautiful hiking path that is very familiar to you. Each step you take allows you to become more and more relaxed. The end of the familiar path of relaxation and flow is always the same—a peaceful and serene place at the foot of the majestic flowing river.
- Sit in a comfortable chair with arm rests and let the gravity of your body sink right in. Your body should be as relaxed as possible so feel the weight of your arms and legs supported by the chair. Feel your feet comfortably in contact with the ground.
- BREATHE™ through your nose if possible. If you are unable to BREATHE™ through your nose, breathing in through your mouth will suffice.
- Inhale deeply and slowly through your nose and feel it into your abdomen. You’ll see and feel your abdomen rise with each inhalation and your chest should move only slightly.
- Exhale through your mouth, keeping your mouth, tongue, and jaw relaxed. Extend your exhalation. If you can, extend to a count of 7 like the number of letters in the word BREATHE™.
- Relax and focus on the sound and feeling of long, slow, deep breaths.
- Listen to the conversation between your heart and brain. As you take a deep breath in, notice your pulse slightly increasing and as you exhale, your heart rate decreasing.
Pay attention to your breathing. To help focus on your breathing, place one hand on the part of your chest or abdomen and watch your hand rise and fall with each breath.
Repeat a series of 7 breaths and you will notice feeling deeply relaxed. You’ll know it’s time to go on to the next step in BREATHE™ when you feel all your muscles relax and your entire weight supported by your chair. The more you practice the easier conscious breathing becomes. After a few practices this technique will become routine and you can spend more of your focused energy on the heart-healing guided imagery—the second component of the BREATHE™ technique.
E in B-R-E-A-T-H-E is for envision.
Visualizing the end or desired goal is common practice in sports, business and academics. The most innovative and successful companies today rely heavily on dreaming, imagining and thinking outside the box. Without imagination we would never progress. Wireless technology, the internet and all scientific breakthroughs are born out of an active imagination. Like in business and sports, an imagination has important applications in maintaining health and wellness. When you practice your BREATHE™ exercise imagine your heart parts as healthy and strong. Studies show that patients with a thorough understanding of their medical condition and who use visualization have better overall health. Envision how all of the healing metaphors in the heart exercises soothe and calm your body and allow your heart to rest and idle. Visualize your heart as strong and powerful with all the parts working synergistically and efficiently. Remember that the special imagery exercises lower your heart rate, lower your blood pressure and strengthen your immune system. Each time you perform these exercises visualize your heart and imagine all four parts—the arteries, muscle, valves and electrical system. Analyze what they look like and how they work together in unison to provide the constant, unimpeded flow of blood to nourish your entire body.
Relaxation training using guided imagery has been shown to reduce cortisol output.
Research has shown that guided imagery may:
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Decrease pain
- Decrease side effects
- Decrease blood pressure
- Decrease blood glucose levels (Diabetes)
- Decrease allergy and respiratory symptoms
- Decrease the severity of headaches
- Decrease hospital costs
- Enhance bone and wound healing
- Enhance sleep
- Enhance self-confidence
- Assist in losses (job, divorces, death)
- Enhance quality of life
A in B-R-E-A-T-H-E is for apply.
When reading through the guided imagery exercises and observing the accompanying art, imagine how the heart-healing images and metaphors can be applied and relate to your healthy heart. Stay focused concentrating on the significance of the images because it is easy to get distracted.
If you lose focus you will probably feel a little anxious or frustrated. Do not worry because it’s easy to get right back on track. Use this as a reminder of the conversation. Apply the principles of this technique and recall that conscious breathing is the way back into the conversation and helps you refocus. The bodily feelings that stress creates are reminders of the conversation and an invitation to stop stress in its tracks.
The apply step in BREATHE™ has two applications. The first is applying the meaning of the metaphors to an efficiently working heart. The second involves applying this technique in times of heavy stress and using it as an effective coping mechanism. By practicing regularly each heart-healing metaphor will be filed away in your memory bank. These memories are retrievable and accessible and very helpful in breaking the cycle of stress.
T in B-R-E-A-T-H-E is for treatment.
The BREATHE™ technique is a pleasurable and therapeutic exercise. You are deserving of this enjoyable and gratifying exercise. These 15 minutes will make you feel revitalized and energized. This exercise is not like a chore, duty or errand to check off on your “to-do” list, it is an extremely pleasant and comforting experience that you will begin to look forward to. Practicing regularly, like exercising in the gym, will foster feelings of elation and happiness and, when really relaxed, feelings of bliss. The BREATHE™ technique is a treatment–like a pleasurable experience at a spa. Your entire body will feel deeply relaxed and invigorated.
H in B- R-E-A-T-H-E is for Heal.
The BREATHE™ technique is healing. By practicing 15 minutes daily you will entrain neural networks that connect your heart and brain. You will consistently elicit the relaxation response which has a number of healing physiologic responses which include increased heart rate variability, decreased blood pressure, enhanced immune response, and lower pulse rate. BREATHE™ combines two proven relaxation techniques and can be used anytime and virtually anywhere. It is accessible to anyone and simple to learn. Relaxation therapy has been shown to decrease arrhythmias, improve focus, improve sleep and improve our blood sugar handling and cholesterol levels. BREATHE™ has a number of healing properties. Recalling the healing properties of this pleasurable exercise will help you remain positive and focused.
E in B-R-E-A-T-H-E is for End.
Every effective exercise has a formal beginning and ending. When you have successfully completed your exercise and carefully and mindfully focused on all of the heart-healing metaphors you will notice feeling deeply relaxed. However, you will also feel energized and revitalized—ready to start your day. This is because you have actively concentrated on the rhythm and rate of your breathing which increases oxygen to your tissues. You have also concentrated on improved flow of oxygenated blood to your tissues and an efficiently working healthy heart.
Before you end make a mental checklist of the healing metaphors you studied in your exercise and begin to notice your surroundings. Imagine how you might use this work throughout your day to help defuse a difficult situation. Think of how the ending of your exercise is really the beginning of your day and how this cycle is like the cycle of breathing and the cycle of your heart.
Remember that the combined guided imagery & breath work exercises in each chapter were carefully crafted and are filled with heart-healing metaphors that relate to the properly functioning heart parts. Similar to the concept of Qi in Chinese medicine, the BREATHE™ exercises emphasize how flow relates to an efficient, healthy and smoothly running cardiovascular system. BREATHE™ helps “unblock” heart parts and promotes flow in the electrical, valvular, muscular and arterial systems.
This simple, cost-effective technique has withstood the test of time and modern research shows many positive health benefits of its use. Guided imagery and breath work have been used successfully for reducing anxiety, improving coping skills, lowering blood pressure, and for decreasing post operative pain. They have also been shown to have potent immune bolstering effects. Studies have shown that patients using similar techniques have increased levels of natural killer cells which are potent immune cells that help ward off infection. Relaxation therapies such as BREATHE™ have also been shown to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol which in large amounts (like those seen with chronic stress) can weaken our body’s ability to fight infection and slow tissue repair.
John M. Kennedy, M.D., is the medical director of preventative cardiology and wellness at Marina del Rey Hospital, and author of the new book, THE 15-MINUTE HEART CURE: The Natural Way to Release Stress And Heal Your Heart In Just Minutes A Day. Dr. Kennedy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please visit http://www.johnmkennedymd.com for more information.