Breathing in and out is the first thing, the last thing, and in between the most necessary thing we do in life. It's also one of easiest things we know.
It can also be one of the most difficult.
Several Green Valley residents, most with ties to cancer, turned out recently to hear how to squeeze the best out of it in a seminar titled "Breath and Life," part of the Summer Healing series by Dr. Ana Maria Lopez, an Arizona Cancer Center clinician and associate dean of the University of Arizona's College of Medicine. She spoke Tuesday at the Green Valley West Social Center.
Not long into her visit, Lopez had attendees huffing, puffing and focusing on the ins and outs of beneficial breathing. Somewhat akin to long-practiced techniques touted by yoga and meditation enthusiasts, Lopez's breathing tips are intended to connect, and often reconnect, breathers with their bodies. It sounds simple enough, but people tend to take how they breathe for granted, she said.
Quizzed after only a minute of observing their own breathing patterns, the participants reported feeling calmer, clearer and more alert. After a round of deep breathing, they discovered subtle changes in body posture, easing of neck and shoulder tightness, a decrease in racing thoughts, slowing of the heartbeat and rejuvenation.
Gabriele Anderson, a recent Green Valley transplant from Chicago attending the program to help familiarize herself with local resources and support ailing relatives, said she even felt all of her sinuses.
Another exercise, done like the preceding ones, sitting still and with eyes closed, had participants directing breath into specific areas of the body - the right thigh, the left wrist. Concentrate on using your lungs and feeling your breath replenishing your blood, and your body responding, they were told.
"Observe, take time to examine what the breath does for you," Lopez said. "Under stress, our minds tend to shut down. We reach a processing limit. Think about how (a) focus on breathing can help you all the time, not just when you don't feel good."
While she made no claims that breathing techniques alone could cure serious ailments such as cancer, Lopez said that developing the ability to quiet your mind and connect with particular body parts can help patients in therapy, post-op, pain relief and reduce overall stress. It can be done anywhere, at a desk, the dinner table, riding on a bus or plane.
The idea is to heighten your awareness of you, being present and fending off the detriments of the multi-tasking mind, which is frequently centered elsewhere and worrying. With hands on your lap and eyes closed, mind focusing, think about filling your upper chest for three counts, holding for three counts, then exhaling for three counts, Lopez suggested. Then do the same for your middle and lower chest.
Lungs feel full? Try to breathe in a little more, she encouraged. Experiment with the number of counts, how long you hold your breath. At the lightheaded point, resume normal breathing, but whenever possible, exercise your diaphragm, a muscle that gets precious little work on its own. Think about how that fullness, and emptiness, feels, she said.
In addition to using breathing exercises to ease ill-health effects, Lopez said that knowing how smoking, diet, sedentary lifestyle, obesity and diabetes can lead to poor health, it's wise to avoid these and make positive-health choices.
After fielding more questions about cancer, related studies, treatment and support, she said her healing seminars throughout the Tucson area have drawn strong interest, and that she would like to do more such community-oriented programs including Green Valley.
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