It sounds way too simple, doesn’t it. We do this every day, every minute, and yet do we?
Often under stress we’ll hold our breath. Under excitement we are, to use the title of Terry McMillan’s great novel, Waiting to Exhale.
It happens to all of us. I remember my first loop-the-loop roller coaster ride. I was wanting to punch up the excitement in a dull period of my life and picked the baddest-bad boy roller coaster ride in the park. Wow! I didn’t realize I wasn’t breathing—at all—until the coaster slowed for the station. Talk about a rush!
Two year olds will hold their breath until they turn blue, causing parents all sorts of untoward stress themselves. But moms will be happy to know that you can’t voluntarily hold your breath until you die. Eventually you lose consciousness and then your body breathes for you.
The ability to hold your breath can be substantially increased through practice. Under water, you can extend your breath for significantly longer periods of time. Pearl divers in Japan have done this for thousands of years. The current record held in an extreme sport called competitive apnea is held by Peter Pederson of Denmark at an amazing 8 minutes 47 seconds!
On a less extreme level, control of breath can be disciplined through training, as generations of singers, swimmers, and speech coaches can attest. In fact, the premise on which most schools of Yoga are founded is the breath. Why is this, do you suppose?
I believe it is because breathing is core to who we are. When someone dies, we speak of their ‘last breath.’ One of the Christian trinity is the Holy Ghost, or Spirit. And the Latin for spirit is spiritus, or ‘breath.’ We need to breathe to live. And when we don’t, panic and anxiety can mount, one building upon the other.
Here are three easy exercises that take just minutes, but can help ground you when you are under stress and feeling tense:
- Breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 2, breathe out for 6. Repeat 5 times.
Why does this work? Our breathing is often too shallow, and carbon dioxide or ‘old air’ can settle in the bottom of the lungs. Breathing this out can clear passages and allow more oxygen to reach the bloodstream. You will think more clearly.
- Press one nostril closed with your fingers. Breathe in through the other nostril, then out through the mouth. Repeat 5 times. Change nostrils and repeat.Why does this work? You are taking your mind off your problems and focusing on a new activity. Even a few moments doing this exercise will short-circuit spirals of anxiety or worry.
- Breathe through the chakras. Rodney Yee has a wonderful video called A.M. and P.M. Yoga that uses this practice. It only takes a few moments, but as he leads you through the exercise of breathing through lower belly, upper belly, heart, throat, up to the forehead, you experience a wonderful sense of calm and well being.
Why does it work? Not sure. It doesn’t hurt that his video is set on the calming shores of a Hawaiian beach!
I have a loving friend that counsels me to remember to breathe, whenever I’m stressed.
I’d like to do the same for you with these lyrics from a classic Faith Hill melody:
Caught up in the touch
The slow and steady rush
Baby isn’t that the way love’s supposed to be.
I can feel you breathe.