Picture yourself in one or more of these scenarios: You find yourself unable to cope with stress; your anxiety level is climbing unabated; you cannot seem to get a good night’s sleep; or you are depressed. You make an appointment with your doctor who then asks a few questions while conducting a physical examination. She writes you a prescription for medication that has been on the market for years or is the latest product of a pharmaceutical company’s R&D to be approved by the FDA.
Sound familiar? The thought of taking a pill that alleviates your symptoms but whose known side effects can sometimes be worse than the condition itself may leave you thinking that your options are limited. Think again.
Husband-and-wife doctors Richard P. Brown and Patricia L. Gerbarg, of Columbia University and New York Medical College, respectively, have written a book to help treat common stress and mood conditions without medication, as well as boost performance in different activities and improve personal relationships. In The Healing Power of the Breath: Simple Techniques to Reduce Stress and Anxiety, Enhance Concentration, and Balance Your Emotions, you’ll read about breathing techniques meant to help you in myriad ways. And, it seems, they work.
The authors present their instructional steps in detail, along with a helpful CD accompanying the book that features 10 breathing exercises. Their core practices of “Coherent Breathing” (“recharging part of the nervous system while quieting the defensive, energy-burning parts”), “Resistance Breathing” (creating resistance to the air flow to enhance Coherent Breathing) and “Breath Moving” (moving the breath and awareness to different parts of the body) make up what they refer to as “Total Breath.” They also encourage incorporating slow physical movements into one’s practice.
These techniques may sound familiar to some readers as their foundation is drawn from “yoga, Buddhist meditation, the Chinese practice of qigong, Orthodox Christian monks, and other sources.” However, the authors explain which techniques work well with different conditions, as well as the types of obstacles you might encounter along the way and how to overcome them.
Research conducted by others and results of the authors’ own experiences with patients indicate that these types of mind-body techniques are also useful in assisting people recovering from life-changing events. Presented are survivor stories from the attacks on the World Trade Center, the tsunami in Southeast Asia, the earthquake in Haiti, the war and genocide in Rwanda, the war and slavery in Sudan, and the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Your memory will be jogged and your compassion renewed as you read how survivors were able to find solace and calm simply by breathing and moving in specific ways. The authors also claim that their techniques can “improve disaster-preparedness and community resiliency.”
If you are one of those lucky individuals who does not feel stress from day-to-day living and has not experienced a large traumatic event, the authors believe their techniques can still improve your daily activities. “Breath practices can relieve the anxiety and tension that interfere with performance in any arena,” they write. “They promote better integration of the mind, body, and emotions, enabling artistic expression to flow and optimizing physical movements to conserve energy and reduce wear and tear on joints, muscles, and tendons.”
Of course, individuals may feel different levels of effectiveness depending on their type of stress, trauma, or activity. But unlike medication, breathing techniques do not require a trip to the pharmacy for a drug with questionable side effects. You don’t have to be concerned that your insurance plan will not cover them, as they wil not empty your wallet save for the cost of the book that teaches them. The Healing Power of the Breath just might be the best prescription never written for you by your physician.
The Healing Power of the Breath: Simple Techniques to Reduce Stress and Anxiety, Enhance Concentration, and Balance Your Emotions
Shambhala, June, 2012
Paperback, 240 pages