When I was a little girl, maybe 7 or 8, Santa Claus brought me a Sony Walkman. It was the late 80’s and every kid wanted to emulate Marty McFly. The portable cassette player was the must have accessory. To accompany it, my grandmother bought me the “Get in Shape Girl” fitness program. I have no idea why. Looking back, I suspect the Book Club might have had something to do with it. Regardless of her rationale, I loved it. It made me so happy to play the cassette and jump around my bedroom like an Olivia Newton John wanna be.
I remember that while I was feeling the burn, the recorded instructor would give me ques. She would urge me to “keep smiling,” and “don’t forget to breathe.” I distinctly recall thinking to myself, even at that young age, how utterly ridiculous this was. As if you could forget to breathe!
Throughout my life, in my attempts to get in shape, I have encounter numerous fitness instructors. Many of whom have extolled the same advice about breathing. Every time, I shrugged it off. Surely it is just something they are trained to say? Similar to how they like counting to eight all the time. But lately, my attitude is changing.
A few months ago, I started working with a counsellor. (I will talk more about that, when I am further along the path.) In my very first session with her, she said something incredible. I was talking about my issues and what I am hoping to get out of going to therapy. She listened intently. When I was finished speaking, she said “do you know that you hold your breath when you are deep in thought?” I had no idea.
Since she said that to me, I have noticed myself doing it more and more. Every time I concentrate on anything. Whether that is work, or a game of solitaire. I hold my breath so tightly that when I eventually do let it go, I feel like I have an elephant sitting on my chest.
My therapist also asked me a question that I am only beginning to understand the answer to. She said “what is going on between your mind and your body, that your brain can override the most basic biological function.” This has raised so many other questions for me. I have begun to try to understand how my mind and body have become so utterly disconnected. What work will need to be done to restore synchronicity?
The main reason I decided to go to therapy in the first place, was because I had been having anxiety attacks with increasing regularity. I have always been an anxious person. However, since things started to go wrong with my work life, it had been getting out of control. Every time I had a quiet moment, thoughts would start racing through my mind. Before long, I would begin to experience the familiar tightness in my chest. The feeling of not being able to draw a complete breath.
I am wondering now if I was inducing this state by forgetting to breathe while I was trying to organise my thoughts. Could I have been doing it to myself? Since I have become aware that I do this and have caught myself in the act lots of time, I have not had a single attack. There must be something to it.
Those of you who have been following the blog will know that I have been practicing meditation for a while now. I use the Headspace app, and honestly, without it I would be an even bigger basket case! No matter what pack I am working on, whether the focus is on stress or sleep, the narrator Andy always comes back to the breath. He reminds us that the breath is what anchors us. Frightening then to think how far we can drift off course, when the breath is not there to guide us.
When we listen to our breath and become tuned in to it, it can tell us a lot about what is going on in the body. Our blood pressure and heart rate are difficult to monitor on an ongoing basis. However, the breath is one indicator we do have of our physiological state. If we can but hear it.
There is great power in the breath. If you want to see this for yourself, the next time you are in pain, or you are struggling in the gym, try to actively breathe through it. Imagine yourself breathing in calm and tranquility and breathing out pain. It really does work. Whenever my IBS flairs up and my colon goes into spasm, I employ this technique . It is the ONLY thing that gives me any relief. There’s a reason why labouring women are coached so much about breathing.
The weird thing about breathing is, your body knows what to do. It knows how to breathe. It is only when the brain gets involved that things get screwed up.
As I continue my journey towards a healthier, happier self, I am beginning to make a realisation. Unless I can master my breath, it is all for nought. Until I get to the stage when inhaling and exhaling come as readily as nature intended, I will never be able to harness my true power.
It’s going to take more than a few therapy sessions to unlearn 37 years of behaviour, but I am determined to try. Even as I write this, I have noticed my breathing stop completely on more than one occasion.
My fitness journey is not unique. There have been and will continue to be peaks a valleys. Times of progress and times of frustration. Breathing, however, is something that apart from conscious awareness, will take little effort and is bound to yield great rewards. Be well and don’t forget to breathe xxx