We all do it. Regardless of age, race, gender, weight, height or size. Everybody breathes. The question is, do we do it well? Co-founders Nancy Chakrin and Laurie Ellis-Young of BreathLogic, their nonprofit organization, have made it their mission help people everywhere learn “breath literacy” or optimal breathing. Their program teaches that breathing, a physical response we all do automatically, can also be done intentionally, and with numerous health benefits.
In 2008, Chakrin and Ellis-Young attended a retreat in Guatemala and have since made it their mission to promote a lifestyle of optimal health and well-being. Chakrin’s extensive experience in photography, marketing and design has lent itself well to the nonprofit’s endeavors. Ellis-Young’s background includes 40 years of practicing and teaching yoga, breath practice and mind/body wellness strategies. Her studies have taken her all around the world, as she has visited more than 60 countries.
With the high number of stressors in our daily environment (work, family activities, to-do lists and commitments) the pair holds workshops for any group that seeks to incorporate optimal breathing practices to reduce stress. They’ve shared their methods with groups from the medical industry, schools and businesses across the country. “Stress has become a global epidemic, but we can control how we respond to stress. By learning optimal breathing practices, [people] can become more resilient, stress-free, creative, calm, energized, balanced and peaceful,” Chakrin says.
Most of us, without thinking, breathe shallowly, in our upper chest. While it might take some practice, anyone can learn to shift their breathing to their belly, using the diaphragm, the body’s largest muscle, to fill the lungs. Techniques like deep belly breathing can help reduce stress, improve restful sleep and boost our immunity. “What often causes so much stress and irritation for people is waiting,” says Ellis-Young. “Waiting for traffic, a colleague who’s late, or the news from a doctor. Breath awareness is the basis of mindfulness. That’s how you make stress your friend: You turn any waiting time into self-nurturing time.”
Not only does Ellis-Young lead attendees in breathing techniques, but she educates along the way. Momentary pauses allow for an interactive “What did we just do there?” discussion. At a recent workshop, participants learned how an exercise in exhaling during frustration triggers a different reaction in our brains and bodies than exhaling during contentment or satisfaction.
Chakrin and Ellis-Young are taking BreathLogic down new paths. Their latest campaign, the Optimal Breathing Leadership Training Program, takes breathing practices and wellness strategies to young women in St. Paul public schools.
Surviving Holiday Stress
We asked Laurie Ellis-Young and Nancy Chakrin to share their tips.
- Since long shopping lines can be unavoidable, take that time to practice deep breathing. And don’t forget to smile at the next person in line, releasing those endorphins in the brain.
- Make daily appointments for yourself to practice breath work.
- Sitting or standing comfortably, expel the air in your lungs with deep belly exhalation, then quickly breathe in, filling your lungs through the nostrils. Repeat for 25 to 30 breaths for maximum benefits.