Binge Watching or Breath Watching

Rosie Bank

Copyright © 2019 Rosie Bank

My husband and I enjoy a good political drama on Netflix. We love​ “Madam Secretary” with Tia Leone. ​​I take pleasure in the intriguing story acted out on the screen. However, I do not confuse this form of recreation as part of my spiritual, mindfulness, or personal wellness practice. This distinction is what this article is about.

Binge watching is highly stimulating to certain parts of our brain, while other parts are offline. We can rest the parts that we need for problem solving, namely the neocortex. But the visual cortex, a large segment of the brain, is firing away.

You can think of watching television as distracting more than it is relaxing. ​Watching television is often stimulating as opposed to calming. It may ​result in mind numbing as opposed to cultivating mindfulness. 

The Main Difference

It’s not the point here to disparage television watching. Rather, by putting this activity next to other wellness practices, the differences are useful. If you are the kind of person who asks yourself how you can be kind to your body and mind, watching television would be low down on the list.

With an abundance of wholesome wellness-based practices to choose from, television might become the thing to do after you have filled your tank with nutrition, rest, meditation, mindful breathing, exercise, and meaningful social connections.

You may feel relaxed after watching a television show. It might feel good to turn off the higher functioning levels of your brain that you have used to analyze data and make executive level decisions during the day.

However, the intention behind activities such as yoga, meditation, and breath awareness is where you will make the most positive impact on the health of your body and mind. There is nothing about watching television that encourages either mindfulness or ​improved body function.

Staring at the screen is a great way to check out. The practices which I mention​ here support you ​to tune in. ​But by tuning in, I'm not referring to your local cable channel. Rather, I'm describing the part of your consciousness that is connected to self-nourishment, self-love, and self-awareness. 

You may ​feel an urge to turn off your mind by using stimulating screens to entertain and distract you. With meditation and breathwork, however, you are more inclined to heal your mind. ​Like I wrote, TV ​may be distracting, but watching your breath helps you focus.

Here are some practical examples.

Sensing your breath helps to sooth your nervous system. Whether you are in traffic, preparing to go on stage, or taking care of a recalcitrant child, slowing down your breathing and becoming more aware of the sensations associated with your breath help you feel calmer.

This is also called mindful breathing​. ​​Becoming more conscious of ​your breathing ​process stimulates some significant healing and relaxing processes in your body. 

Interestingly, as much as you think that watching TV and being on your smart phone are relaxing, there is nothing about these activities that prepares you to function better in other areas of your life. In fact, according to the Huffington Post, your body may be suffering from all of that screen time. The potential damages range from next pain, headaches, inflammation of your fingers and thumbs, eye strain, and others.

In the Special ​Edition of Time Magazine titled "The New Mindfulness", it is recommended that overuse of your phone can be curtailed with designated tech-free hours during your day. This purposeful disengagement is associated with increased well-being and happiness. 

The part of your autonomic nervous system that is associated with stress (fight, flight, or flee) is the sympathetic branch. When activated, this system promotes the release of stress hormones, sends blood to your extremities, increases your heart rate, dilates your pupils, and puts you in a state of vigilant alertness… among other physiological processes.

This is what happens when you ​feel “stressed out.” Staring at your phone may distract you from some challenge you are experiencing in your day. But doing so activates this part of your nervous system and may get you get in a more stressed state

Activities such as gentle stretching, sensing your breathing, and refreshing exercise help quell this jacked up state. This can lead you to feeling calmer, more centered, more connected to your body. The relaxation is physiological. In this state, the parasympathetic branch of your nervous system is turned on.

I remember this distinction because sympathetic starts with the same letter you find in stress. And parasympathetic starts with the same letter you find in peace. In this peaceful state you can relax, rest, and recharge.

To reiterate one key distinction, television is distracting. But unlike these deliberate wellness practices, staring at the screen does not heal your taxed nervous system, improve your digestion, reduce inflammation, and promote feel-good mood-and-pleasure-enhancing neurotransmitters that your brain releases in a state of deep relaxation.

Improving Your State

​Recently my husband and I had the very good fortune of watching the changing of the guards outside of the Prague Castle. We waited in the crowds on the steps for the event to begin. It was a lovely warm day and the sun shone brightly. Unfortunately, however, I had been dodging cigarette smoke more than I am accustomed to doing at home.

After approximately thirty minutes on the steps, the heat of the bright sun, the intense crowds, the annoying cigarette smoke, and a hunger that came on like gang busters catapulted me into a state of agitation and discomfort. I had to get out of there immediately. My body gave me feedback and the alarms were ringing like crazy.

After I stepped away from the crowd, the smoke, and the sun, I noticed how I was able to breath myself back to a better state. I had already been thinking about this article, so I used this opportunity to identify some of the mechanisms that I have put into place through my meditation and breathing practice.

They worked. I watched my breath, relaxed my physical body, and felt the ground under my feet. These are tools that we practice in meditation, breathwork, and yoga stretching. I also had ​fresh vegetables for lunch​. This was another ​thing to do to help me feel more grounded and nourished.

I have learned – and I am suggesting that you can learn this as well – that an overly stressed state is not something to merely put up with. One of the most beautiful aspects of living in your body in this way is your ability to change your perspective o​f your environment.

​How about binge watching as a comparison? ​It's enjoyable to curl up next to your smart phone for some social media entertainment​. It's fun to watch Tia Leone nail her role as Secretary of State.

However, these activities do not increase your aliveness of and your awareness in your body. Said another way, nothing happens during television watching that empowers you to navigate challenging situations in your life when you need to reduce stress and increase a sense of peace and calm.

The Embodiment Piece

I used the word intention above to differentiate what happens on a variety of levels when we are distracted by media, versus connecting with our bodies through the wellness practices I’ve been discussing. The increased sense of living in our bodies is one of the key differences. ​You can be aware of and learn​ to appreciate this difference.You can effectively employ breath watching versus binge watching to improve your posture, your body’s alignment, and your own sense of ​aliveness.

Here is a vivid example. In my morning meditation, I pay attention to the balance of my pelvis, the comfort of my head and neck, the energy flowing through my body, and the relaxation of ​any body part that comes ​to my ​awareness. It is the paying attention piece that makes this practice a chance for me to ​turn the lights on in my body.

When you compare this to watching TV or being glued to your tablet or smart phone, there is nothing in the two later activities that compel you to breathe with an open diaphragm, ​to center your weight, or to release tension and strain.

Rosie Bank Family in Dream Home by Health Matters Coaching

This morning I realized for the umpteenth time that meditating and yoga help me get squared away for the rest of my day. I call this “getting it in my body.” My breath feels alive, my heart feels expanded, and my mind feels calm and relaxed. For me, in my life, this benefit shows up in a variety of situations. Namely, while I'm working with clients, connecting with certain family members, making mindful food choices, and remembering to shower love on my husband and on to Dolly and Gus, our beautiful dogs.

Connecting the dots, you can select the activities that help you feel more connected with yourself. When you practice stretching, breathing, and relaxing on a regular basis you just might find yourself noticing your breath, ​feeling the earth under your feet, and letting your shoulders and neck relax while enjoying the entertainment on television. I love the irony of your spiritual and mindfulness practices having a positive impact on your life and your body in this way. ​

Rosie Bank is a Board Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, the founder of Health Matters Coaching, and the author of the book Health Matters

Rosie also holds these qualifications:

  • Graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition
  • Certification in Plant Based Nutrition by The Center for Nutrition Studies (e-Cornell). 
  • Nutrition and Wellness Consultant certification through the American Fitness Professionals Association.
  • Nutrition Advisor through Sanoviv Medical Institute.
  • Advanced Rolfer and Rolf Movement Educator
  • ​Graduate Iyengar Yoga Institute

Rosie ​founded The Vitality Club in Brentwood, CA in 2018.

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