Feeling Like You Can’t Breathe
Have you ever had your air cut off?
Having the wind knocked out of us. Maybe an asthma attack. Being strangled. Drowning. Covid. Even for a moment, it’s a deeply terrifying, out-of-control feeling.
To belabor the obvious, breath is life. Breathing is our most immediate basic, primal need. If it’s cut off, we die in a matter of minutes. It can also function completely automatically, while still being subject to our conscious control (to a degree), unlike most of our autonomous functions.
By learning to exercise that little bit of control, we can start to better influence all kinds of things -- both internal and those around us. Everything else stems from this seed of self-determination and focus.
What Happens When You Breathe Deeply
Have you had times when you had to be aware of your breathing? Any athletic endeavor, yoga, meditation, singing, public speaking? Breath control is crucial for all kinds of things..
In the course of daily life, deep breathing can help with both physical and mental health issues. It is calming, and allows full intake of oxygen and release of co2. It can help combat stress, high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression, among others.
As mentioned in the article above, we often lapse into shallow breathing, or in moments of stress our bodies don’t correct appropriately for the situation, and we may find ourselves hyperventilating or holding our breath in apprehension, fear or nervousness, without even realizing it.
Are you holding your breath?
I had a friend who, in the middle of an argument or when I was getting myself worked up over something, would suddenly say, “Breathe!”
It was infuriating, because it was such an abrupt interruption, but it would also stop me in my tracks for a second, because as soon as he said it, I would realize that I had been holding my breath.
Like it or not, by the time I had that whole train of thought and took a couple of breaths, it would take the wind right out of my sails. And that was a good thing! There’s enough conflict in the world without me trying to add to it without reasonable thought.
When I am getting myself upset, I can remind myself to stop and breathe for a second or two. I imagine feeling the oxygen flowing through all my cells, feeding my lungs and heart and muscles and my brain. Sanity returns. My pulse slows. Blood starts flowing smoothly, as I keep breathing in and out.
Thinking More About Our Breathing
Do you ever feel like we’re all just nervous wrecks these days? Well, rightly so it seems to me!
There’s an awful lot going on in the world, and the pace is fast and furious. Even during the pandemic, all our insta-communications can feel pretty demanding and stressful, especially if we’re not super-comfortable with technology. And news, media, ads -- all of it is everywhere.
It feels a little simple-minded to talk about breathing, staying centered, and calming ourselves, when everything in life is urgent, scattered and breathless, but I’ve honestly found deep, focused breathing better than a drink or a drug for being able to face the world head on, and it is remarkably versatile.
Breathe in the sweet air of limitless possibility, and make life as rich as you know it can be. ~ Ralph Marston
We seem to be disconnected from life, in general these days. At its most basic level, breathing deeply, openly, fully, connects to a sense of general awareness. Awareness of our own senses and bodies and thoughts and actions. And from there, perhaps, expanded awareness in our wider connections with the world.
A Simple Breathing Exercise
As a recovery coach, I am not an expert on yoga or breathing techniques or meditation or spirituality, or anything like that, but a few simple exercises are go-to’s for me, and I’d like to teach one to you. Feel free to to use it liberally all day long!
This is simple deep breathing; nothing fancy. I call it “yoga breathing,” and it’s sometimes called “diaphragmatic breathing.” It is breathing in slowly from way deep in your belly and letting it expand with your lungs, before exhaling completely.
When possible, I like to step outside and sit or lean somewhere where I can close my eyes for a moment.
So, first, breathing in to a count of 4:
Breathe in, 2, 3, 4
and then out to a count of 4,
Breathe out, 2, 3, 4
Now, as you breathe, you want to take it nice and slow and deep. Start all the way at your belly, and let your breath inflate your lungs, feel them swelling and your chest and belly expanding fuller and fuller, like blowing up a balloon.
And then breathe out, slow, and steady, all the way out, until you can feel your lungs empty, and your tummy deflating, deflating, until it is almost touching your spine, and your whole body is empty of air.
Okay, here we go.
In, 2, 3, 4
And out, 2, 3, 4
In, 2, 3, 4
And out, 2, 3, 4
Allow yourself to fall into a slow, easy rhythm. Try to just focus on the count and your breathing; nothing else. If random thoughts come up, that’s fine, just turn your attention back to your breaths, in and then out, when you notice..
If you were closing your eyes, open them and give yourself a second to get your bearings.
How do you feel? A little bit refreshed?
One conscious breath in and out is a meditation. ~ Eckhart Tolle
There are lots of very simple variations on this, and you could certainly expand into a full meditation or relaxation practice. If you’re interested, definitely browse around and try some out and see which ones work best for you.
I find that pausing to take even 2 or 3 deep breaths as I go about my day is enough to make a difference. It is highly refreshing and invigorating, and seems to force enough of a pause, so I can gather my thoughts a bit. And it’s saved me in all kinds of emergency and otherwise stressful situations.
Deep breathing is no more a miracle cure than anything else but it’s a solid first-line defense within anybody’s grasp that can help us slow down enough to be able to cope with and respond to the challenges and obstacles life throws at us.