Breathe easy exercises for relaxation

The other morning I woke myself up laughing because of the ridiculous dream I was having. I was asked to write a list of what I do to relieve stress. At the top of the list I wrote “hose down the house.” Hosing down the house during the summer might be a good way to cool off, but it wouldn’t be at the top of my list of stress relievers.  It was a funny dream and an even funnier way to wake up.

But who am I to say what is the best stress reliever. If you have something that works to reground and recenter yourself, by all means do it. . . unless it harms your body or psychology, i.e. drinking, doing recreational drugs, pigging out on unhealthy foods, etc.

Here are some breathing exercises that work for me, and have worked for millions of other people.

Breathing is something most of us take for granted.  In fact, the average person breathes 1,261,440,000 (one and a quarter billion) times in a lifetime without thinking about it.  Breathing is so vital to your overall health and well being that Dr. Andrew Weil, best-selling author, educator and practicing M.D. says: “If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly.”

Slow, deep breathing is probably the single best anti-stress medicine we have, ” says James Gordon, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Georgetown University School of Medicine and director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington.”  When you bring air down into the lower portion of the lungs, where oxygen exchange is most efficient, everything changes.  Heart rate slows, blood pressure decreases, muscles relax, anxiety eases and the mind calms.  Breathing this way also gives people a sense of control over their body and their emotions that is extremely therapeutic,” says Gordon.1

Most of us do not breathe correctly.  Typically our “normal” breathing is shallow. “The result is a vicious cycle, where stress prompts shallow breathing, which in turn creates more stress,” says Gordon.2

Abdominal breathing and pranyama (yoga breathing exercises) are natural, easy ways to increase your energy and feel more relaxed because they accelerate the intake of oxygen.

Abdominal Breathing

Abdominal breathing is done from the depths of the belly, rather than breathing from your chest and nose.  It is a simple method of relaxation that can be done anywhere, at any time.

  1. Sit or lie down with your hands on your stomach.
  2. Inhale slowly through your nose, filling your stomach and then your chest.  Your abdomen should rise as if you’re inflating a balloon.  Allow it to swell and return to normal.  Your chest should move only slightly.
  3. Try to get a rhythm going, counting to 4 on the in-breath and to 8 on the out-breath.
  4. Exhale as slowly as possible through slightly parted lips.
  5. Practice this for about 10 minutes.

Alternate nostril breathing (pranyama)

You’ll notice that one of the nostrils is more open than the other.  Don’t mind this, it’s normal.

  1. Close the right nostril with your thumb.
  2. Breathe in through your left nostril.
  3. Close the left nostril with your third and fourth fingers.
  4. Breathe out through your right nostril.
  5. Close the right nostril with your thumb.
  6. Breathe in through your left nostril.
  7. Repeat the entire sequence and continue for 3-5 minutes.

The effects from these breathing exercises are cumulative, so try to practice them a few minutes each day.  You’ll experience a more settled feeling immediately, and after a week or two you may realize that the mind chatter has quieted down, and that physical tension has diminished too!

  1. Krucoff, Carol. “Doctors Empowering Patients by Promoting Belly Breathing,” Washington Post, June 2000.
  2. Ibid

If you’d like to read more articles like this one, please subscribe to my blog,

Drink green tea for health and relaxation

Green tea has been in the news again lately. A new study has found that green tea extract prevents the formation of amyloid plaque—believed to be one of the primary causes of Alzheimer’s disease—and breaks down existing clumps of the proteins in amyloid. Numerous studies have also found evidence that green tea extract can help fight everything from glaucoma to prostate cancer and leukemia.

But did you know that green tea contains an amino acid called L-theanine, which is fabulous for promoting relaxation? It seems contradictory since 8 ounces of green tea contains about 76 mg. of caffeine (a cup of coffee contains 104-192 mg of caffeine), but research with human volunteers has shown that L-theanine:

• Creates a sense of relaxation approximately 30-40 minutes after oral ingestion1

• Stimulates production of alpha brain waves, causing a state of deep relaxation and mental alertness, much like the state achieved during meditation2

• Plays a role in the formation of the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma amino butrylic acid (GABA)—which blocks release of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin3

Increases Mental Acuity

Theanine was given to male rats for four months in order to investigate its effect on memory and learning ability. Rats, by nature, tend to move toward darkness, rather than light. In this experiment, the rats that were given theanine learned to remain in a light room rather than a dark room—in order to avoid an electrical shock—longer than the group that didn’t receive theanine.1

L-Theanine has been shown to be effective for:

• Inducing relaxation throughout the body, without drowsiness1,2

• Combating stress1

• Controlling hypertension4,5

• Improving learning performance1

• Heightening mental acuity1

• Promoting concentration1

• Reducing caffeine effects6

• Supporting the immune system7

L-Theanine provides a number of powerful health benefits by:

• Acting as a neurotransmitter in the brain1

• Lowering blood pressure4,5

• Inducing the emission of alpha-brain waves, an indication of relaxation1,2

• Lessening the stimulant effect of caffeine in green tea on the human nervous system1

• Reducing serotonin levels8

Relaxation without sedation

L-theanine is an ideal nutritional aid for stress because—unlike anti-stress herbs like valerian and kava kava, which make you drowsy—it produces alpha-wave activity that leads to deep relaxation and mental alertness.1,2 This is especially important because in order to mitigate stressful situations, it’s important to remain calm and alert.

So if you are a caregiver treat yourself to several cups of green tea every day. If you don’t like the taste, you can find green teas that are flavored with fruit and herbal extracts, such as on this site,

And if you don’t want to run back and forth to the bathroom all day, you can try a theanine dietary supplement. No contraindications have been established and information regarding the safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.

If you’d like to read more articles like this one, please subscribe to my blog and to the Denver Alzheimer’s, where I write newsworthy and informative articles about Alzheimer’s disease:


  1. Juneja, L., Chu, D.-C, Okubo, T., et al. L-Theanine—a unique amino acid of green tea and its relaxation effect in humans. Trends Food Sci Tech 10:199-204, 1999.
  2. Ito, K., nagat, Y., Aoi, N. Juneja, L.R., Kim, K., Yamamoto, T., Siugimoto, S., Effects of L-theanine on the release of alpha-brain waves in human volutneers. Nippon Nogeikagaku kaishi 72:153, 1998.
  3. Kimura, R., Murata, T. The influence of alkylamides of glutamic acid and related compounds on the central nervous system: I. Central depressant effect of theanine. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo) 19:1257-1261, 1971.
  4. Yokogoshi, H., Kato, Y., Sagesaka, Y., Matsuura, T., Kakuda, T. and Takeuchi, N. Reduction Effect of Theanine on Blood Pressure and Brain 5-Hydroxyindoles in Spontaneously Hypertensive Rats’. Biosci. Biotecnol. Biochem. 59, 615-618, 1995.
  5. Yokogoshi, H. and Kobayashi, M. Hypotensive Effect of y-Glutamylmethylamide in Spontaneously Hypertensive Rats. Life Sci. 62, 1065-1068, 1998.
  6. Yamamoto, T. (ed) Chemistry and Applications of Green Tea. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 1997.
  7. Information sheet Edina, MN: Taiyo International,Inc., undated
  8. Yokogashi, H., Mochizuki, M. and Saitoh, K. Theanine-Induced Reduction of Brain Serotonin Concentration in Rats. Biosci. Biotechnol. Biochem. 62, 816-817, 1998.

Antioxidants: Are they protective against dementia and stroke?

The journal Neurology recently published a study indicating that antioxidants do not reduce stroke or dementia risk. This study contradicted what other studies have shown and I want to present the opposing viewpoint.

“These results are interesting because other studies have suggested that antioxidants may help protect against stroke and dementia,” said study author Elizabeth E. Devore, ScD, of Harvard Medical School in Boston and Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands. “It’s possible that individual antioxidants, or the main foods that contribute those antioxidants—rather than the total antioxidant level in the diet—contribute to the lower risk of dementia and stroke found in earlier studies.”

Devore add that “This differed from an Italian study that found the higher total antioxidant levels were associated with a lower risk of stroke, where the variation from coffee and tea was lower, and the contribution from alcoholic beverages, fruits and vegetables was higher.”

The study followed more than 5,000 participants aged 55 years and older who provided information about their diets. Devore pointed out that most (90%) of the difference in the antioxidant levels in people’s diets was due to how much tea or coffee they consumed.

Researchers from the University of Scranton found that coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in the US diet. Study leader, Joe Vinson, Ph.D., said “Americans get more of their antioxidants from coffee than any other dietary source. Nothing else comes close.”

Sure, coffee offers some antioxidant protection. But you can get more bang for your buck with 5 to 7 servings of fruits and vegetables every day.

How many fruits and vegetables do you eat each day?

If you’re like most Americans, you’re probably not getting the recommended five to seven servings. Now more than ever we know why getting your greens, blues, reds, oranges and yellows is absolutely essential to good health and longevity.

Just like people, fruits and vegetables come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. And it’s the colors that identify many of the bioactive substances called phytonutrients that give us antioxidant protection and other special health benefits.

What are phytonutrients?

Phyto comes from the Greek word that means plant. Phytonutrients are the natural chemicals found in all plant foods—including grains, nuts and seeds—that help fine-tune all bodily functions and support our health. Phytonutrients contain potent antioxidants and other compounds that help slow down the aging process and prevent chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers. On a day-to-day basis, phytonutrients help boost our immunity and support our overall well being, so we feel energized, uplifted and have a sparkle in our eyes.

How do phytonutrients reduce risk of disease?

  • Provide antioxidant protection
  • Support healthy immune response
  • Convert to vitamin A (from alpha- and beta-carotene)
  • Support healthy estrogen metabolism

Proven results

The scientific community has produced a large body of research showing the potential of these super nutrients. Compared with people who eat few fruits and vegetables, populations that consume a large variety and generous amounts of plant foods enjoy longevity and reduced risk of disease.

Take for example the people of Okinawa, who live on an island between Japan and Taiwan. They have a long life expectancy, numerous centenarians, and a low-risk of age-associated diseases. Their diet is low in calories, fat, sugar, salt, and meat and dairy products. Instead, Okinawans eat fish, tofu, whole grains, and lots of fruit, dark green leafy vegetables, onions, green peppers, sea vegetables and sweet potatoes—which are all dense in phytonutrients and antioxidants. These islanders are known for a low-stress, carefree and relaxed attitude. Their rates of stroke, dementia, cancer and heart disease are also the lowest in the world. For every 100,000 people in Okinawa, 30 have passed their 100th birthday, one of the highest rates in the world.

Free radicals and antioxidants

You’ve heard the terms a million times, but what exactly are they?

Free radicals are dangerous, highly reactive, unstable molecules that produce oxidative stress or cellular damage throughout the body, and play a primary role in the aging process. It’s impossible to be alive and not have some free radical damage—because free radicals are produced by normal processes in the body (like the release of adrenaline), and from environmental sources such as ultraviolet radiation, tobacco smoke, food additives and other pollutants.

You’ve seen what happens to an apple that sits on the counter for too long. It turns brown, just like the rusty nail that has been exposed to sun and rain. These are examples of oxidation. Once free radicals are released they multiply geometrically in chain reactions causing oxidative damage, unless they are stopped by antioxidants.

Antioxidants are molecules that donate an electron to the free radical. The free radical stabilizes and stops wreaking havoc in the body. Vitamins C and E are well-known antioxidant vitamins, and phytonutrients exert antioxidant protection, as well.

It’s important to get a variety of phytonutrients

Every plant contains several types of phytonutrients. These phytonutrients work synergistically with each other and with the phytonutrients in other plants to produce the beneficial effects in your body. This is why it’s important to eat a varied diet containing fruits and vegetables of all colors of the rainbow. For example, scientists are discovering that if the only vegetable you ate for dinner was carrots, the amount of antioxidant protection you’d get, and your body’s ability to convert alpha-carotene to vitamin A would be far less than if you ate carrots and kale and broccoli at the same meal.

The Okinawans enjoy their tea. But they also include plenty of vegetables and fish in their diet, which is something that is making headlines right now in regard to the benefits of the Mediterranean diet.







  1. Elizabeth E. Devore, ScD., et al. “Total antioxidant capacity of the diet and major neurologic outcomes in older adults” Neurology Feb 20th, 2013. 10.1212/WNL.0b013e3182840c8


  1. Middleton LE, Yaffe K. Targets for the prevention of dementia. J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;20(3):915-24. doi: 10.3233/JAD-2010-091657.


  1. Willcox DC, Willcox BJ, Todoriki H, Suzuki M. The Okinawan diet: health implications of a low-calorie, nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich dietary pattern low in glycemic load. J Am Coll Nutr. 2009 Aug;28 Suppl:500S-516S.


An Avocado A Day Does A Body Good

I’ve never liked them, but after reading the newly released study done by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a program of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), I am inclined to force myself to develop a taste for avocados—-or at least try.

The study followed more than 17,000 American adults for 7 years and found that the people who ate any amount of avocados over a 24-hour period had better overall diets and health indicators than those who did not eat avocados.

On average, the avocado consumers in the survey ate about one half of a medium-size avocado, with men eating slightly more than women.

What’s so special about avocados?

They contain 6 vitamins (A, C, D, E, K and the B complex), monounsaturated fats, potassium, magnesium, and lutein, an antioxidant carotenoid that is important for supporting eye and skin health.

In the study, the avocado consumers showed significant numerous health indicators:

  • Higher intakes of important nutrients including 36% more dietary fiber, 23% more vitamin E, 13% more magnesium, 16% more potassium and 48% more vitamin K than non-consumers.
  • Significantly higher intakes of “good” fats (18% more monounsaturated and 12% more polyunsaturated) and total fats (11% more) than non-consumers, although average caloric intake of both groups was the same.
  • Significantly lower BMI values than non-consumers.
  • Significantly smaller waist circumference measures than non-consumers (an average of 4 cm smaller).
  • They weighed significantly less than non-consumers (an average of 7.5 pounds less).
  • Significantly higher HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels.
  • The study found that avocado consumers had a 50% lower odds ratio for metabolic syndrome compared to non-consumers. Metabolic syndrome is a name given to a group of risk factors which, when they occur together, increase the risk for coronary artery disease, stroke and type-2 diabetes.


Everyone knows about guacamole and adding avocado to your salad or sandwich. But there are loads of other ways to enjoy avocados. Here are a few recipes to try:

Tropical Salsa

  • 3/4 cup(s) diced fresh or juice-packed pineapple
  • 1/4 cup(s) finely chopped red onion
  • 1/4 cup(s) finely chopped red bell pepper
  • cup(s) lightly packed cilantro, chopped
  • 3 tablespoon(s) lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon(s) honey, or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon(s) hot pepper sauce, or to taste
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 ripe avocado


  1. Put ingredients except avocado in a serving bowl. Just before serving, dice avocado, add and gently mix.
  2. Serve with lean fish, meat or poultry.

Orange and Avocado Salad

  • 3 tablespoon(s) freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 5 1/2 tablespoon(s) olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon(s) fresh lemon juice
  • 5 1/2 teaspoon(s) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon(s) Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon(s) salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon(s) pepper
  • 1 navel orange
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1 bag(s) (10 oz) salad blend
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced


  1. Dressing: Whisk orange juice, oil, lemon juice, sugar, mustard, salt and pepper in a medium-serving bowl to blend.
  2. Cut peel and white membrane off orange. Cut in half lengthwise; slice crosswise.
  3. Cut avocado in half lengthwise around seed; rotate halves to separate. Scoop out seed with a spoon. Place halves cut side down; pull off skin.
  4. Slice avocado and add to bowl with dressing along with orange, the salad blend and scallions; toss gently to mix and coat.

– See more at:

Yummy Tomato Soup 

  • (11-in. diameter) flour tortillas
  • ½ cup 
diced red bell pepper
  • ½ cup 
diced green bell pepper
  • ⅓ cup 
chopped onion
  • 3 Tbsp. 
  • 8 
  • ¼ tsp. 
  • ½ cup 
shredded low-fat pepper jack cheese
  • 1 
ripe, Fresh California Avocado seeded, peeled and diced
  • Sour cream for garnish

Tomatillo or tomato salsa for garnish


  1. Wrap tortillas in foil; warm in a 400 degree F oven.
  2. While the tortillas heat, sauté bell pepper and onion in butter until soft, about 5 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile beat together eggs and salt.
  4. When vegetables are done, pour egg into pan; gently stir in avocado.
  5. Cook, over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until soft curds form, about 3 minutes.
  6. Put 1/4 of the egg mixture down the center of one warmed tortilla; sprinkle with 2 tablespoons cheese.
  7. Fold in top and bottom of each tortilla.
  8. Roll up from side.
  9. Repeat with each tortilla.
  10. Garnish each burrito with a dollop of sour cream and a spoonful of salsa.

*Large avocados are recommended for this recipe. A large avocado averages about 8 ounces. If using smaller or larger size avocados adjust the quantity accordingly.

For more recipes visit:

I bought a couple of avocados today, and I even smashed one and put it on top of my veggie burger. Not bad. I think I’m converted.