Since breathing is something we can control and regulate, it is a useful tool for achieving a relaxed and clear state of mind. Here are some simple breathing exercises:
Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
Hold your breath for a count of seven.
Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. When you take a deep breath in, the hand on the abdomen should rise higher than the one on the chest. This insures that the diaphragm is pulling air into the bases of the lungs.
After exhaling through the mouth, take a slow deep breath in through your nose imagining that you are sucking in all the air in the room and hold it for a count of 7 (or as long as you are able, not exceeding 7)
Slowly exhale through your mouth for a count of 8. As all the air is released with relaxation, gently contract your abdominal muscles to completely evacuate the remaining air from the lungs. It is important to remember that we deepen respirations not by inhaling more air but through completely exhaling it.
Repeat the cycle four more times for a total of 5 deep breaths and try to breathe at a rate of one breath every 10 seconds (or 6 breaths per minute). At this rate our heart rate variability increases which has a positive effect on cardiac health.
Once you feel comfortable with the above technique, you may want to incorporate words that can enhance the exercise. Examples would be to say to yourself the word, relaxation (with inhalation) and stress or anger (with exhalation). The idea being to bring in the feeling/emotion you want with inhalation and release those you don’t want with exhalation.
In general, exhalation should be twice as long as inhalation. The use of the hands on the chest and abdomen are only needed to help you train your breathing. Once you feel comfortable with your ability to breathe into the abdomen, they are no longer needed.
I used to think that mentally strong people had superhuman qualities. I thought that they were bestowed with some sort of cybernetic strength that they – and only they – had.
I thought I would never be like that. In fact, I thought most people would never be like that.
But then I tried something. I took on a challenge that to me seemed impossible. And while we all have things that seem impossible – completing a book, starting a business, passing state exams – mine happened to be running a hundred mile race.
It was the hardest thing I have ever done. But when I finished, I also realized something. The ONLY thing that had held me back was my perception. See, I thought the race would be harder than it really was. I thought it would be so hard that I couldn’t do it. And that is EXACTLY what had held me back.
What I realized was that mental toughness isn’t about being superhuman. It’s about cultivating a few strengths consistently.
Here they are:
Gratitude: You may not associate gratitude with mental toughness, but you probably do associate mental toughness with overcoming adversity. That’s where gratitude come in. Gratitude gives us the reserve we need when times get tough. I think of it like an extra energy source that I can reach into when I have nothing left. Because there are ALWAYS things to be grateful for. And sometimes when facing adversity, it is those things we need to find to get through. And mentally strong people know just how to direct this quality to counteract the chain of negative thoughts that we all face when things don’t go our way. It’s then that we need to remember when things did go well, the successes we have had, and the people along the way who have helped us.
Openness: Mentally tough people do not see the world as a set of predictable steps that lead to the promised-land. Life is just not like that, and mentally strong people know that the only thing we know for sure is that things will change. And sometimes, in ways that we don’t like. But the other thing that happens when life puts a roadblock in our path is that we find a new path. And sometimes a better one. What mentally strong people know is every adversity also bring opportunity. But in order to see it, we have to first be willing to change.
A Sense of Personal Strength: The belief that you are strong doesn’t happen because things went your way. Perception of strength is carved out through the setbacks, roadblocks, and difficulties you’ve faced. It happens because you earned it. And while mentally strong people won’t tell you that they enjoy battling adversity, they will say that life without adversity is like life not actualized. Because it’s in adversity that our strengths our realized. And it’s in then that we come to know how strong we really are.
Meaningful Relationships: The truth is no one can go it alone – not even mentally strong people. But mentally strong people also don’t need an entire army cheering for them. What they do need – and what all need – are a few close relationships where we can let ourselves be seen. We can let our guard down, say what we need to say, and be heard. Every person – even the strongest – has a need to be accepted. And not just for their strengths. Because what mentally strong people also know is thatstrength is nothing without the vulnerability to be seen as we are – faults and all. It is only then that we can make peace with our faults. And it is only then that we can also make peace with our losses and find the strength to move forward.
Faith: You don’t have to be a spiritual person. You don’t even have to believe in God. But what mentally strong people know is that in order to get through adversity you do have to have faith. You have to believe that somehow it is possible. It is possible for you to face adversity and make it through. It is possible for you to grow stronger from it. And it is possible for you to be mentally tough. It all starts with faith – in yourself, and in something larger than you. Because the minute you connect your experience to something larger, it isn’t about you anymore. And the adversity you face isn’t personal. Adversity becomes something that we all face – for the purpose of getting stronge
In mindfulness, you learn to see thoughts as just thoughts rather than as facts or situations you must react to. Thoughts commonly come and go in the mind, and if you treat all thoughts as true and assign them all the same level of importance, you’re more prone to feel down in the midst of negative or self-judgmental thoughts and highly elated in the midst of positive thoughts. This rollercoaster ride of emotions and energy often seems to trace the same path as bipolar disorder’s ups and downs.
By practicing mindfulness, you notice that both types of thoughts are just thoughts, and you don’t need to react to them or even give them your full attention. After all, thoughts arise merely out of your perception of reality or are borne out of your own thought process. You’re not required to give them the full status of being true. Mindfulness involves watching thoughts and stepping back from them – like watching clouds passing through the sky. This enables you to become a disinterested observer, and thoughts lose some of their control over your emotions.
Switching modes of mind
Mindfulness also emphasizes learning to switch modes of mind. Normally you operate in “doing mode,” which is all about setting goals and trying to achieve them. Many people get stuck in this mode and never realize they have the option of shifting to “being mode,” which is all about allowing and accepting things just as they are, rather than working hard to change them.
Being mode is particularly helpful in the realm of emotions. If you’re feeling sad and don’t accept it, you can end up fighting to change the experience. This can lead to a deeper feeling of sadness and trigger a negative thought cycle. By being with the experience and mindfully accepting the emotion, you allow the feeling to dissipate in its own time.
Mindfulness looks like a potentially effective way of managing bipolar disorder, especially the depressive pole, which may be the most difficult to treat with medication alone. Mindfulness exercises and meditations are useful for people with bipolar disorder (manic depression) because mindfulness:
- Decreases the relapse rate for depression.
- Reduces stress and anxiety, which contribute significantly to the onset of both mania and depression and may worsen the course of the illness.
- Improves a person’s ability to manage thoughts and feelings and increases awareness of the way the person tends to internalize external stimuli.
Mindfulness exercises include guided body scan meditation, mindful walking, mindfulness of breath, and mindfulness of thoughts and feelings.
Increasing potassium in our diets as well as cutting down on salt will reduce blood pressure levels and the risk of stroke, research in the British Medical Journal suggests.
One study review found that eating an extra two to three servings of fruit or vegetables per day – which are high in potassium – was beneficial.
A lower salt intake would increase the benefits further, researchers said.
A stroke charity said a healthy diet was key to keeping stroke risk down.
While the increase of potassium in diets was found to have a positive effect on blood pressure, it was also discovered to have no adverse effects on kidney function or hormone levels, the research concluded.
As a result, the World Health Organization has issued its first guidelines on potassium intake, recommending that adults should consume more than 4g of potassium (or 90 to 100mmol) per day.
The BMJ study on the effects of potassium intake, produced by scientists from the UN World Food Program, Imperial College London and Warwick Medical School, among others, looked at 22 controlled trials and another 11 studies involving more than 128,000 healthy participants.
Where to find potassium
Potassium is an important mineral that controls the balance of fluids in the body and helps lower blood pressure.
It is found in most types of food, but particularly in fruit, such as bananas, vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds, milk, fish, chicken and bread.
It is recommended that adults consume around 4g of potassium a day (or at least 90-100mmol).
That is equivalent to five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
Our early ancestors would have had a diet very high in potassium – but food processing has markedly reduced the potassium content of food.
It is thought that the average potassium consumption in many countries is below 70-80mmol/day.
The results showed that increasing potassium in the diet to 3-4g a day reduced blood pressure in adults.
This increased level of potassium intake was also linked to a 24% lower risk of stroke in those adults.
Researchers said potassium could have benefits for children’s blood pressure too, but more data was needed.