Life Without Limits Podcast, Episode 13: Lowering Stress with Breathing and Guided Imagery

Life Without Limits Podcast, Episode 13: Lowering Stress with Breathing and Guided Imagery

Research shows that stress can be reduced when we practice mindfulness. In fact, tuning in and noticing our bodies has been shown to boost mood, improve the immune system, lower blood pressure, and enhance sleep.

One Drop coach, Melinda, a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES), and mindfulness expert, was a guest on the Life Without Limits podcast to walk us through breathing and guided imagery practices that can increase body awareness, and in turn, lower stress within a matter of minutes.

“There’s a saying out there: ‘We’re not practicing to be good at meditation. We’re practicing to become more aware of our bodies and our lives.’ So, it [mindfulness] doesn’t need to be perfect,” she explains.

Consider taking a few minutes for yourself—and your stress levels—with these mindfulness exercises.


Transcript

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Host: This is Life Without Limits, the One Drop podcast that gives you the tools, inspiration, and support to challenge your limits. We talk with experts across all areas of health to open up more possibilities for you. Lean on us as you step outside your comfort zone to work your way to better overall health and a life without limits.

Kim Constantinesco: Welcome back to the Life Without Limits podcast. I’m your host, Kim Constantinesco and today we have One Drop coach Melinda on the show. Melinda is a registered dietician and certified diabetes care and education specialist. She also leads the One Drop community—our coaches included—in mindfulness and meditation practices. Melinda, thanks for coming on.

Melinda: Hi, Kim. Thank you for having me.

Kim Constantinesco: I know you want to guide us in a couple of formal meditations today, one of them being some breath work and another being guided imagery for body awareness. But before I turn things over to you, can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved in both practicing mindfulness and teaching others about it?

Melinda: Yes, I would love to share that story. It’s kind of interesting how it happened. It happened because I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, IBS, in my 20’s and for me my emotion and mental state as well as nutrition were connected to the episodes of issues that I had with IBS.

So to learn about nutrition, I became a dietician and I started studying mindfulness as well and meditation. Shortly after that time I met an amazing woman and a minister by the name of (Laura Hansen) and I met her at a racial healing conference and she taught me meditation.

She was a practitioner and a teacher for over 20 years and she invited me first to become a compassionate ambassador here in Sacramento in exchange for meditation lessons. So, I ended up working with her leading guided meditations for her nonprofit. The nonprofit provided free live meditation groups over the phone.

Well, this happened, me giving these live meditation groups, during COVID. So, there was a lot of people coming that needed some stress relief. This also happened during 2020, just a tight tension in our culture. So, this was a place for people to come and release the mind and observe some of these thoughts they were having around anxiety.

I also practiced at the same time in substance use disorder residence facilities, what we call – people are going through recovery from alcohol and drugs and so this time was like a bootcamp for me to help people understand how meditation and mindfulness can really help with some of their conditions, either be it emotionally or physically. So, IBS was the beginning of this path for me.

Kim Constantinesco: Well, it sounds like you have so much personal and professional experience in mindfulness and really leading people in practices in different kinds of environments and I’m so thrilled that you’re here to share some of that with us today.

Can you tell us about the benefits of these two practices you’re about to lead us through?

Melinda: Yes. This is one of the most amazing parts of learning about meditation and sharing the news about it. Although it’s an ancient practice, we here in the Western world are starting to look at evidence and science to back up what we already knew from ancient practices.

So, there’s a lot of evidence that suggests there are multiple benefits to meditation such as improvement in sleep, pain reduction, anxiety and stress, there’s a sense of self-awareness that comes with that, a greater send of self-awareness, especially towards making habit changes that no longer serve us, craving reductions. It can even help with quitting smoking for some.

The biggest change I’ve seen is having self-compassion. People begin to understand how their unique minds and bodies work. Once you understand – once I understood what were the signs and symptoms of my condition of IBS, that was often driven by anxiety and stress, I just was able to take my time in understanding how to change habits and change mindset and reactions around different life events that contributed to my disease state.

So, that self-compassion piece is the biggest piece that I like to share.

Kim Constantinesco: That’s great. And one question that comes to my mind before we get started is my thoughts often wander as I’m doing any kind of formal meditation and I suspect that I’m not alone in this. So, what would you suggest for someone who experiences the same kind of thing?

Melinda: That is a very good question and it’s very common. There’s a phrase I heard that says, “We’re not practicing to be good at meditation, we’re practicing to become more aware of our bodies and our lives.” So, it doesn’t need to be perfect.

The breathing technique always helps. So, I’m going to talk about, in a little bit during meditation on just simply watching the breath and always going back to the breath as the mind wanders helps us come back into the present moment, it helps relax the brain a little bit. Observing the mind without judgment to gain understanding of ourselves and our goals also helps get back to the goal of meditating.

That is probably the best advice that I have is to go back to the breath and know that a wandering mind is part of meditating. It’s really difficult to stop the mind all together; especially if you have a brilliant, beautiful mind that has served you well in academia or just being a busy person. So, quieting the mind sometimes isn’t the goal as much as observing it and you can do that by going back to the breath when it wanders.

Kim Constantinesco: I love that, Melinda. Well, I will go ahead and turn this over to you now to lead us through these practices.

Melinda: I’m going to introduce or provide two different meditations: one’s a breathing meditation and one is going to be more of an embodiment meditation, meaning that becoming more aware of the body.

Now, the first meditation with breathing or breathing will allow you to relax and relaxation can bring one into the present moment by simply observing the breath. This exercise can be done at any moment anywhere in a discreet way if you catch yourself falling into an undesired thought pattern.

So, if you’re driving or if you’re actually in the middle of a difficult conversation, you can prompt yourself to do this breathing technique that I’m about to show you.

The second is the body awareness and the intention of this meditation is for those with chronic conditions or chronic disease to become more attuned with the signs and symptoms of their condition. There’s a sensation that comes with the shift in blood sugars or blood pressure, so body awareness can help us stay in tune with our body and hear what our body is often trying to tell us in terms of health and wellness. This can lead to a sense of empowerment in managing a condition.

We also, I would like to feel, are experts in our body. So, if we get a chance to understand these signs and symptoms that our bodies are telling us around different conditions then we can articulate some of these symptoms to our health professionals and allow them as a team to help us come up with the best treatment plan for us so we’re part of this treatment plan knowing what our body needs because we’re more attuned by allowing ourselves to go within and understand what our body’s trying to tell us.

So, my intention with these two meditations is to help us better become more relaxed and also become better in tune with our bodies. So, here we go.

So, first thing, I invite you to find a place where you feel comfortable if you haven’t already, comfortable and supported by furniture, allowing your feet to be planted firmly on the floor. You can close your eyes or you can keep them slightly open. If you keep them open, try to gaze softly on an object in front of you.

Next, I invite you to place your palms resting down by your side. Begin to notice the furniture you are sitting in supporting your body, your back, your bottom, your thighs. Feel the support of the ground beneath your feet.

I invite you to surrender a bit deeper into gravity’s pull by relaxing your muscles as you exhale, dropping the shoulders, relaxing the jaw. Next I invite you to breathe in through your nose to the count of three: one, two, three. Hold your breath for three seconds—two, three—and then exhale as long as you can out your mouth.

Beautiful. Good job.

Let’s do this together again. Breathe in slowly through your nose to the count of three—two, three—hold your breath for three seconds—two, three—and then exhale as long as you can out your mouth. You may notice your stomach expanding and the body relaxing with each breath. Good job.

Let’s do this one more time together, breathing in through your nose to the count of three—two, three—hold your breath for three seconds—two, three—and then exhaling as long as you can out your mouth. Ah. Excellent.

Next I invite you to allow your body to take control of your breathing. Begin to witness your breath, rather trying to control it. Trust that your body knows the perfect cadence of breath to function well. This practice of observing the mind, observing the body is an act of mindfulness, an act of self-care. Witnessing your body’s ability to breathe on its own without the mind-controlling actions with a sense of appreciation is an act of self-love.

Let’s continue this flow for the next few seconds, observing the breath going in through your nose and out your mouth. Good job. I encourage you to release any judgment that comes up in this practice around breathing and just simply bring your attention back to the breath. Releasing judgment and observing the mind is a process and an act of self-compassion, remembering to breathe.

Next I invite you to take one more deep breath in and out, begin to wiggle your fingers and your toes and then open your eyes when you’re ready. And you’ve just completed the relaxation breathing meditation.

Kim Constantinesco: Well, Melinda, that one was so incredibly relaxing and definitely put me into a different mind space, and so thank you for gifting us with that practice and I’m looking forward to the next one.

Melinda: My pleasure, Kim. Thank you for your feedback. Well, with that said, let’s go ahead and go into the next one.

So, the beginning of this meditation is going to sound a lot like the beginning of the last one we just did except for it’s going to be a little longer as I’m going to encourage you to go into noticing your body and I’m going to prompt, of course, through the meditation on how to do that. So here we go.

This meditation is more of a guided imagery to cultivate body awareness. The intention is to allow you, the listener, to become aware of signs or stress related to overall health. So, noticing one’s elevated blood pressure, elevated blood sugars or any tension causing chronic pain, this meditation may be able to help with that.

So, with that said, I invite you again to find your place where you’re comfortable and supported, allowing your feet to be planted firmly on the floor. Again, you can choose to keep your eyes opened or closed and if you keep them open, I encourage you to have a soft gaze on an object in front of you. And if you haven’t already, place your palms resting down by your side.

We’re going to go within and begin to notice the contact of our body with the furniture that’s supporting us. Notice the support of the furniture on your back, your bottom, your thighs and feel the support of the ground beneath you.

I invite you to surrender a bit deeper into gravity by relaxing your muscles as you exhale, possibly dropping the shoulders, relaxing the jaw as needed and next I invite you to take deep breaths through your nose and out your mouth to the count of three and I’ll guide you through this. Here we go.

Breathe in through your nose to the count of three—one, two, three—hold your breath for three seconds—two, three—and then slowly exhale out your mouth—two, three. Good job.

Let’s do this again. Breathing in slowing through your nose to the count of three—two, three—hold your breath for three seconds—two, three—and then exhale slowly as long as you can out your mouth noticing any shifts of tension dropping way from your body. Excellent. Let’s do this one more time together.

Breathing in through your nose to the count of three—two, three—holding your breath for three seconds—two, three—and then exhaling as long as you can out of your mouth. Ah.

Next I invite you to allow your body to take control of your breathing. Begin to witness your breath rather than controlling your breath. Trust that your body knows the perfect cadence of breath to function well. The practice of observing the body is an act of mindfulness and self-care. Witnessing your body’s ability to breathe on its own without the mind controlling the action with a sense of appreciation is you showing yourself love.

Let’s continue to allow this flow through your nose and out your mouth for a few seconds. If you feel your mind wandering, I encourage you to simply come back to observing the breath. If you notice any judgment come up, I encourage you to release the judgment around this practice and bring your attention back to your breath, allowing yourself some self-compassion.

Continuing to breathe, I invite you to bring your attention now to the bottom of your feet. With each breath in and out notice the feel of the contact of your feet to the floor beneath you. Relax your muscles a bit, allow the ground to support the weight of your feet, remembering to breathe.

Next when you are ready, slowly draw your awareness up to your ankles, remembering to breathe. Then your calves. Allow your awareness to continue to your thighs. Notice any sensations in your body. If any of these sensations are uncomfortable, begin to take deep breaths into these areas, again, trying not to place judgment on the sensations. Simply observe the feelings.

Continue to draw your attention, when you’re ready, up to your pelvic area and then the lower back all the way through your torso, remembering to breathe. I invite you to become curious about the sensations you may feel with the rise and flow of each breath. Release any tension you may have or may be holding in your torso as you exhale your breath.

Next I invite you to notice the contact of your back against the furniture that is supporting you, the temperature of your body at that point of contact with the furniture. How does that feel? Next I invite you to shift your attention to your shoulders. In this area we often hold a lot of tension. Feel free to roll back and lower your shoulders sensing any change in how your body feels.

Continue this awareness across your shoulders and throughout your arms. And allow it to continue through your hands and to the tip of your fingers remembering to breathe. Feel the oxygen providing energy to each cell of this area as you breathe in and out.

Let’s continue by bringing awareness to your neck, observing the sensations of this area. Feel free to release tension from your neck by dropping the head just a little. Observe any change that may come with this shift. Next let’s notice the jaw and, if needed, feel free to release tension in this area by dropping the jaw as well.
Continue your observation throughout your face, relaxing the temples, the forehead and then finally the scalp on the top of your head, remembering to breathe in and out.

Next I invite you to bring your tension further out of your body as if you were watching yourself through this meditation outside of your body. You’re looking at yourself as a whole being, observing everything, taking each breath in and out, deep breath in and out. I invite you to notice the natural rhythm and flow with each breath.

Go ahead and take a few extra deep breaths in and out and begin to wiggle your fingers and your toes, allowing you to come back into present moment and when you’re ready, go ahead and open your eyes. And this concludes our second meditation.

Kim Constantinesco: Melinda, if someone wants to start incorporating these practices into their daily lives, can you give us a few tips that might help them with building that habit?

Melinda: Yes, this is probably the most difficult part, creating those habits. So, how I started was using guided meditation. So, that’s the first tip, that might help some people. Guided meditation is just like we practiced: somebody guiding you through the act of meditation. So, I encourage people to find a voice that makes you feel relaxed and safe, a voice that resonates with you.

Eventually you’ll begin to walk yourself through some of the programming or the directions that I presented in the meditation. You’ll start to walk yourself through that when you need it, like if you’re driving or if you wanted a break at work and sit outside and do a body scan like we just did together.

Just like any habit it’s going to take some time, so if you can put just three minutes aside to try to do the breathing exercises that I discussed with you, that might be helpful. Sometimes setting a reminder on your phone or writing a Post-It Note which is what I do often and put it on a mirror to remember to set three minutes aside to meditate can help.

Now, if you want to try meditation without being guided, the traditional sitting down, lotus pose, fingers propped up a certain way, that can be done, too. So, if that’s the route you want to take then it’s almost like you’re doing a self-guided meditation with the breath and you want to wear something comfortable. It’s wise to designate a realistic time of day and a peaceful place to do that practice and just know that that’s the time and the place that you’re going to practice this meditation practice.

What helps also is to track the benefits of the practice in a journal, noticing when you meditate how your day unfolds when you meditate and how your day unfolds when you don’t meditate. And as a dietician I love to do the same practice with food: how does the food make you feel when you eat a certain way and when you don’t? Same thing with meditation. So, you can track the benefits and then you’ll be more apt to make it a routine.

We all do well with accountability, so if you have a friend that also wants to practice meditating or they’re already meditating, I encourage you to connect with them as an accountability partner or just somebody that can support you. And also there are so many communities that are coming up around the practice of meditating. So sometimes if you look up on a Meetup in your area or any kind of Facebook or social media groups around meditation, I encourage you to find that community. Community is a really big piece of learning a habit and having support.

And then lastly, I’m a busy mom and a busy professional and sometimes these habits can be really hard to develop, I get it. So what I did in the past and what I do sometimes now is I just do that deep breathing exercise, the three seconds in holding breath and then exhaling as long as I can, I’ll do it whenever I can.

So, that looks like maybe doing it in the shower in the morning or sneaking in time in my screen breaks that I have working on my screen during the day, I’ll break away and do three-second breaths. Or even I’ll do it sometimes when I’m in the restroom because it’s easy and I’m already seated, so why not continue with breathing?

And just that three seconds out, three seconds out breathe three rotations shape my mentality and allows my body to relax and allow me to be more present and focused. Yes, those are my tips I would offer to anybody looking to start the habit of meditating.

Kim Constantinesco: I think those are some wonderful tips and it’s almost a relief to hear that you don’t even have to carve out 10 minutes at a time, you can incorporate mindfulness into your daily life even in just three breaths, so even in just a few seconds and physiologically it makes a big difference.

Melinda: Absolutely, a huge difference because if we do this often then becoming present in mindfulness then it just allows the anxiety to drop and our usually chronic conditions become a little better to manage if we have those chronic conditions.

And it lets us know that we don’t have to have everything figured out all the time, sometimes just trusting the process and letting go of what we can’t control and taking ownership of what we can by focusing and being present in that moment and being able to identify those factors helps life become, dare I say, fun and adventurous because you’re not trying to control so much that comes sometimes with an overactive mind.

Kim Constantinesco: So well said, Melinda, and thank you so much for leading us in these beautiful practices and I hope we can have you back again real soon.

Melinda: I would love that, Kim, and thank you for the opportunity to share this practice and my saving grace with all the listeners out there. It’s a pleasure.

Kim Constantinesco: Thanks for listening to the Life Without Limits podcast. If you like this episode, share it with someone you can about. We’re in this together.

{Music}

Host: Thank you for listening to Life Without Limits. If you like this episode, tell a friend. We’re here to help you take back your time, power, and life so you can life to your fullest potential.

THE END

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Kim Constantinesco
Oct 27, 2021

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