Bet your bottom dollar you didn’t know this, but stress is one of the biggest risk factors for gum disease progression! It can exacerbate gum disease suddenly and cause your teeth to shake. And sadly, I have concluded that no one is spared from the effects of stress.
From the rich to the poor, from the young to the old, from the educated to the illiterate. Stress affects everyone, but the ones that remain healthy and unaffected by stress are the ones that have learnt to cope with it.
One of the cheapest, fastest ways to calm down is Pranayama, a technique I've learnt in my Yoga Teacher’s Training course. As I find out day by day, Yoga is not just about physical practice in a studio. Yoga includes Pranayama, which is an ancient breathing technique that's supposed to keep our body in a balanced state of health.
"The mind controls the body, but the breath controls the mind" B.K.S. Iyengar
Mindful breathing and stress reduction - The evidence
I've personally experienced the benefits of Pranayama, and I swear I'm a nicer person because of it. I would be a snappish, anxious, depressed old hag if it wasn’t for Pranayama (ask my husband)! But of course, this is merely an anecdotal description on my part, and a man of science would poo-poo the idea of some ancient yogi or a dentist touting Pranayama’s health benefits. *dramatic eye roll* right?
Luckily, yoga and science are now starting to merge. Pranayama comprises many techniques, but the steps have now been simplified and it is now known largely in our world as “mindful breathing”.
In 2005, mindful breathing really took off when Dr Richard Brown and Dr Patricia Gerbarg analysed multiple studies and reported that yogic deep breathing techniques were really effective in decreasing anxiety and stress related disorders.
When you breathe deeply and slowly, the brain relaxes and this mechanism activates the parasympathetic system. The parasympathetic system is a mechanism in the body that promotes healing and induces calmness.
There's also a recent article in Time magazine that chronicles some experiments done on mice by Professor Krasnow from Standford University. Again, the results show that if we can slow breathing down, the brain does not become hyperactive. In other words, “breathing, can change the mind, or the state of the mind”, supporting what the ancient Indian Gurus have known for the longest time! :)
Mindful breathing is becoming mainstream in Singapore as well. More than 10 schools in Singapore have introduced this practice and say children are more focused, calm and alert.
Another “side effect” of Pranayama is that you just might start looking better, since the stress hormone cortisol appears to accelerate aging. It would thus make sense to live life in a calm happy manner so we don’t accelerate the aging process too! These aging studies are a personal big winner in my books. Who doesn’t want to look better right without Botox and fillers right?! ;)
How to practice mindful breathing
- Sit in a comfortable cross legged position like in the picture above with a straight back.
- Only breathe through your nose and deepen your breath so your inhales and exhales are longer and more drawn out.
- Allow your breath to go in and out from your belly.
- Your mind should be focused on your nostrils so you can feel the cold air coming into your body and the warm air coming out.
- You can start with a rough rhythm of 5 counts/seconds for each inhale and 5 counts/seconds for each exhale.
- Just try this for 5 min for a start before bedtime. Extend it to 10 min if you can. I swear it helps you sleep better!
The best part about just breathing is that it's FREE! (Singaporeans, we like FREE right?)
You don’t need to buy that next pair of ALO yoga leggings to destress or eat that sugar donut just because you had that bad day at work. (Yup, I've been REALLY Good). You don’t need to pay your therapist $XXX dollars per hour to sob your guts out 'cos now you just might be able to stay at home, sit on your butt and just work out those lungs and nostrils! It’s super easy.
If anything, just give mindful breathing a shot. Your teeth and skin will thank you for it. :)
PS. Credits to @sheryllyx for some of the referenced links! :)
Dr Marlene Teo is a Periodontist (gum specialist) at TP Dental. She holds a joint appointment as Adjunct Senior Lecturer at the National University of Singapore. Dr Teo passionately believes in leading a holistic and healthy lifestyle to boost immunity and combat periodontal disease.