Rev. Michelle's Message September 15, 2022

Part of the fun of these “ministers’ messages” is that I get to share with all of you some of the things I’m exploring and working with in my own life outside of the Sunday service. People are often puzzled as to what a minister does all week, between Sunday sermons. We engage in many different activities, but I know that Vicky and myself both spend a lot of time reading and researching things we are interested in—both to help us in our own spiritual growth as well as for material for future Sunday lessons.

We ministers also spend a fair amount of time engaged in self-care so that we can be spiritually fit and have a rich and robust well from which to draw so that we can continue to give and serve. For me, a big part of that self-care involves daily meditation. I have also fairly recently (over the past few months) added a new element to my own daily practice—breath work.

Originally, I was looking for a way to wind down and bring my body into a recovery state after the intense workouts I do. I came across various breath work meditations on my preferred meditation app—InsightTimer—and began to learn about how we can use the breath, intentionally, to help regulate our over-taxed nervous systems. In particular, I have learned about breathing techniques to stimulate and tone the vagus nerve—a long nerve that runs from our brain down thru our neck and thorax to our abdomen. The vagus nerve is the main element of our parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for bringing us out of the “fight-or-flight” mode we spend so much of our stressful lives in, into a relaxed recovery state called “rest-and-digest.”

When we are agitated or stressed, our bodies produce the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones serve their purpose when we are in danger, but too much of them is not good for our bodies and can wear us out. We can help our bodies learn to calm down, to relax, and to get into a state in which they can rest and recover by simply performing some slow, deep breathing. This stimulates the vagus nerve and “down-regulates” our nervous system.

Another effective technique is to extend our exhale so that it is longer than our inhale. So, for example, we may breathe in to the count of 3 and breathe out to the count of 5 or 6. As our bodies begin to calm down, our heart rate and respiratory rate slow down. We can then extend our inhale to a count of 4 or 5 and our exhale to a count of 8. Making the exhale longer than the inhale signals our bodies to relax, tells the body it is safe, and that it can move out of fight-or-flight and into rest-and-digest.

I so love the effects of breath work that I have incorporated it into my daily practice and am now moving into some more advanced techniques. Breath work is just one more way I can nourish and care for my mind, body, and spirit. I invite you to do your own exploration of breath work using a meditation app or the internet. It’s a great way to prepare for sleep at night or to get into a relaxed state before meditation. I am quite sure you will feel and enjoy the benefits right away!

Many Blessings,

Rev. Michelle