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Volume 27 Issue 4
November/December 2021

Raw Honey: Nature’s Sweet Superfood

Celebrating Organic Food and Farming in Saskatchewan

You are a Breath Away From Calm

As Within, So Without
As Above, So Below...

Processing the Past Through the Present

Purple Goddess Online Pilgrimage™ – A 12-Month Spiritual Journey



You are a Breath Away From Calm
by Sussanna Czeranko, ND
Sussanna Czeranko

Almost 7 out of 10 Canadians reported being negatively impacted by COVID-19.
Almost 2 out of 5 Canadians reported some level of distress in the past month.
With social distancing and repeated lockdown measures, feelings of isolation and loneliness can increase levels of anxiety and depression. (Public Health Canada website)

Since the onset of the recent pandemic, there has been a significant toll on people’s mental health. Health Canada identifies the importance of learning how to cope with stress in a healthy way to avoid the progression of anxiety and depression. How can we bring a state of calm into our stressed-out lives during these perilous times?

A little bit of stress is useful to help us be alert, as we get our work done and navigate through the complexities of our day. However, stress is not meant to be the norm or be so habitual that we forget how to relax and enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Yet, we are finding that more often than not, our friends and family are chronically stressed, burnt out, and becoming vulnerable to sickness and mental health issues.

Our bodies have an innate intelligence to heal under duress and untenable circumstances. We may not be able to change the world around us, but we have the ability to help our bodies choose health above the fears and anxiety that surround us. The human response to stress, or trauma, is guided by our nervous system that has a long history since our days living in the wild, running away from predators lest we become their tasty dinner.

The secret to understanding stress and anxiety is to understand the relationship between our breathing and our response to stress. Stress eventually causes the part of our nervous system that is focused on survival to deal with emergencies and be fully engaged. Stress initiates “fight and flight” responses which change how we breathe, our heart rate, and mental functions. At rest, the breath is normally quiet and unnoticeable. However, during stress, the breath speeds up imperceptibly and can lead to prolonged dysfunctional breathing patterns that initiate a chain of reactions that ultimately lead to experiencing the world through the lens of chronic anxiety and fear.

Dysfunctional breathing arising from stress has several presentations. The breath is laboured, deep, and loud; or it can be fast and imperceptible; or it can be heard simply as sighs. Blood gases such as oxygen and chiefly carbon dioxide determine our breathing rate and depth of breathing. They also regulate the nervous system and energy production, as well as aid our immune system. Low carbon dioxide [or hypocapnia] levels in our blood are one of the overlooked causes of anxiety and panic attacks.

One misconception is that the carbon dioxide that we exhale is simply a waste gas. Nothing could be further from the truth. When carbon dioxide is lost by excessive breathing, the body’s ability to utilize oxygen is impaired; consequently, the tissues that rely upon the delivery of oxygen experience a shortage, or hypoxia. In the brain, a shortage of oxygen is experienced as a panic attack or anxiety. Just as we need oxygen to produce energy, carbon dioxide is absolutely essential for the delivery of oxygen.

Chronic stress and the fight or flight syndrome cause changes in breathing patterns that culminate in a state of fear, anxiety, and poor health. The wisdom of our body is the key to help harness the stress in our lives. Our breath is one of the fastest ways of reversing and alleviating the anxiety that stress causes.

Quieting the breath helps to turn on the other branch of the nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system, which brings calm and makes possible the state of rest and digestion. When we breathe quietly and slow our breath, the parasympathetic nervous system engages calm. Another physiological aspect of breathing is an important muscle called the diaphragm. Breathing diaphragmatically is how we are meant to breathe and it helps it to activate the parasympathetic nervous system.

We cannot, though, overlook the nose’s role in healthy breathing. Nasal breathing warms, humidifies, and filters the air that we breathe into our lungs; breathing with our nose ensures that we are breathing with the diaphragm.

To help regain calm during times of stress, there are several things that you can do:

  1. nasal breathing,
  2. make your breathing quiet and gentle,
  3. breathe with your diaphragm, and
  4. be kind to yourself.

The work of Dr. Konstantin Buteyko [1923-2003] offers invaluable tools for stress-related diseases and especially for the surge in anxiety and mental despair that has become too familiar. The Buteyko breathing method has several breathing exercises enabling people to use the breath to rapidly bring calm and lower anxiety.

Take a breath and imagine that you are a baby again. Babies have an innate intelligence when it comes to breathing. The next time you find yourself out of breath, panicked, or anxious of the future during these times, your symptoms are not imaginary but very real. Simply take a gentle breath with your hand on your belly and feel the diaphragm move out as you inhale. The breath is one of our most powerful tools to regain calm and our sense of well-being.

Dr. Sussanna Czeranko is a licensed naturopathic doctor in Saskatchewan, having formerly practiced in Ontario and in Oregon, USA. She is a graduate of the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and a founding board member of the Buteyko Breathing Educators Association. She has incorporated Buteyko Breathing into her clinical practice since 2005. She studied the Buteyko method in Canada, the U.S., and in the U.K. She has published numerous articles about the effectiveness of Buteyko and has taught and treated several hundred patients using the Buteyko method. She is also an active trainer of naturopathic physicians in the Buteyko method in Canada and the U.S. Her clinical practice, Manitou Waters, is in Manitou Beach, SK. For more details and upcoming events, see www.manitouwaters.com or the display ad on page 11 of the 27.4 November/December issue of the WHOLifE Journal.


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