Really–Just Breathe

BreatheThis isn’t a new topic for me, and certainly the issue of breath and breathing has been referenced in many of my balance roundups.  However, I had an experience last week that reminded me of how powerful a tool our breath can be. The basics of proper breathing are simple–ideally, we are using most of our lungs full capacity.  When we are filling up our lungs with each breath, we are increasing the amount of oxygen that enters our bloodstream, so our brains, hearts (and everything else) are getting the most fuel that they can.  We are also increasing the amount of carbon dioxide and other waste products that are leaving our bodies.  Healthy stuff in and bad stuff out.

Most people aren’t actually using their full lung capacity.  In fact, when you are stressed, you tend to breathe even more shallowly.  That creates a cycle of your body feeling undernourished and sending more stress and panic signals.  Taking several deep, full breaths can interrupt the cycle.

I recommend breathing as a primary point of intervention and self-care to most of my clients.  It is a self-care tool that can be used in public, in private, when we are busy, when we are bored–no matter what.  Proper breathing is a huge tool for coping with anxiety.  It is something that can be fully under our control (unless you are dealing with respiratory issues), so it is a great resource when you feel out of control.

I was reminded of this powerful tool last weekend, when I was facing some challenging driving (yes, I’m talking about you, I-35 through Texas).  It was relentless traffic, with the maddening “speed-up, slow down” pace that you get in busy cities.  For more than six hours.  I could feel my shoulders tightening and my head pounding.  And there wasn’t a darn thing I could do.  We didn’t have any great alternate routes, and the other drivers were just as trapped by the traffic pattern as I was.

So I breathed.

I breathed in until I could feel my diaphragm pushing out my stomach.  I breathed out until my belly, ribs and chest fell. And then I did it again.

Traffic remained relentless.  But my shoulders loosened, and my heart rate fell.  There was nothing I could do to control the traffic. But I could change my experience in the traffic.

What unchangeable thing are you facing this week?  I invite you to try breathing.  It won’t change the facts of the situation–but I believe it can make you feel better.

Do you have a breathing success story? I’d love to hear it!


Image Credit: Photo by shawnzrossi via Flickr under Creative Commons License

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