Stress Is A Hot Topic These Days
Stress is a hot topic these days. Stress from isolation due to the pandemic, from potentially getting the virus, from loved ones and friends who are struggling, as well as from unprecedented political and social upheaval. But in this month’s newsletter, we have one of the most powerful — and least discussed — antidotes to stress: breathing.
We’ve covered how to manage stress in past newsletters, but this time around, I’d like to take a deeper dive into breath work, as the latest science is showing us that proper breathing can really improve your health.
Of course, this is not really news to me, as our patient of the last 20 years, Dr. Belisa Vranich, has been telling me about the importance of proper breathing for a long time. Dr. Vranich, a psychologist by training, started learning about and researching breathing 20 years ago, when she faced a stressful episode, which brought her to me with a toothache from grinding her teeth. The deeper she dug into her research, the more she realized that her jaw issue was entirely related to the stress she had been experiencing in her life. We made her a bite plate and restored her ground-down teeth, but Dr. Vranich knew she needed to commit to a sustainable plan to mitigate her stress. That’s when she discovered yoga and breathing for better health.
The author of Breathe and Breathing for Warriors, Dr. Vranich recently sat down with me for an interview. To help you manage the mounting stress of the times, I thought I’d share some key takeaways from our conversation.
J B L: What’s the best thing can people do to manage the stress that life throws at them?
Dr. Vranich: Learning to breathe better. Breath controls our emotions, which impacts our immune system. Quite simply, our heart rate increases when we are under stress, and we take short, fast breaths. The opposite is true when we’re relaxed. Robert Fried, the author of hundreds of studies about this topic, has documented that breathing goes hand in hand with anxiety and mental health.
J B L: In our dental practice today, we see our patients coming in with broken teeth, TMJ and jaw muscle issues related to stress. How can we help them?
Dr. Vranich: Have them take the Breathing IQ quiz on my site. It can tell you a lot about exactly how stressed they are.
J B L: What is the difference between shallow and deep breathing?
Dr. Vranich: Take a deep breath. On the inhale, the middle of your body and rib cage should expand horizontally and your shoulders shouldn’t move. Most people breathe vertically, and this is a shallow breath. In fact, nine out of 10 people are breathing vertically with their shoulders. These vertical breaths are fast, short and inefficient.
J B L: Your TED talk was awesome. Tell us your thoughts about some other breath pioneers: James Nestor, who wrote Breath, and Wim Hof.
Dr. Vranich: James Nestor reviewed everything he could as a journalist, and Wim Hof is passionate about breathing, and has really brought breath work to the general population.
J B L: How do you get patients to achieve a higher level of breath and respiration?
Dr Vranich: This has to do with our anatomy, something most of us don’t understand that well. Better breathing, and overall health, begins with the diaphragm (not your lungs, which don’t do anything by themselves). It is a muscle the size of a frisbee that slices through our whole body. Your diaphragm affects everything above and below it, including your heart and lungs, your “second brain” in your gut, which produces serotonin, your back and pelvic floor.
J B L: How do you make proper breathing a habit?
Dr Vranich: All the exercises I recommend in Breathing for Warriors are on my site! If you take my quiz and don’t have a good breathing IQ, you need to work on stretching and widening your intercostal muscles (between the ribs) on your exhale. The exhale is a squeeze, getting air out of the body and narrowing your core muscles. This new way of breathing will improve your running, cycling and swimming. It can also help you become a more effective cougher!
J B L: Do you have a daily breath work habit?
Dr. Vranich: I have a method, but it doesn’t have to be done every day. It’s more like a correction than a habit. Your body will literally auto correct every time you take a good biomechanical breath.
J B L: How does breathing right help athletes?
Dr. Vranich: When our breathing muscles get stronger, there is efficiency in the system and more oxygen for the rest of the body.
J B L: How can a parent help their child learn to breathe properly?
Dr. Vranich: Little kids are actually better breathers than most adults. As adults, we brace our stomach and think it makes us strong though it actually makes us more anxious. I tell my clients to teach their children deep belly, diaphragmatic breathing, so that they can keep it up as adults.
J B L: In his book, James Nestor makes a strong case for nasal breathing and the science behind it. Which one do you do first, work on your anatomy or do nasal breathing?
Dr. Vranich: The first thing you have to do is master diaphragmatic breathing, and then work on nasal breathing because you have to fix the mechanics first.
We’d like to thank Dr. Vranich for all of her amazing information about the importance of proper breathing, which also supports healthy sleep! Speaking of ways to be healthier, if it’s time for you to schedule a hygiene visit, you’re in luck, we now have earlier morning and later evening hours twice a week.
Get your teeth camera ready with our GLO teeth whitening treatment at your next oral wellness visit.