Sounds kind of a dumb thing to say isn’t it? “Remember to breathe.” Who forgets a basic involuntary bodily function like breathing? It turns out, I do.
Lately I’ve noticed that I hold my breath every now and then and really only noticed it because my chest started to feel tight and my head got all funny and woozy. I caught myself holding my breath frequently whenever I was under certain circumstances: switching lanes on the road while driving, when I’m about to read a text message from someone who has significant impact and power over me, and when I think about the unknown near future. I’ve found that when I am in high-stress situations like when I’m in a room or in close proximity to two people who have an obvious animosity towards each other and I feel like I have to be some sort of pacifistic bridge between them, I tend to hold my breath until I’m no longer around them. When someone I don’t particularly like or feel comfortable being around (or someone I distrust) enters a room and sits next to me or near me, I find my chest tightening and I hold my breath.
Obviously I can never really forget to breathe because my brain automatically sends signals for my lungs to take in air. But there is such a thing as proper breathing. Proper breathing helps efficiently distribute nutrients throughout our body and helps the body deal with stress. Carol Krucoff wrote an article on The Seattle Times about how proper breathing helps us deal with tension and stress:
Slow, deep breathing is a powerful anti-stress technique. When you bring air down into the lower portion of the lungs, where the oxygen exchange is most efficient, heart rate slows, blood pressure decreases, muscles relax, anxiety eases and the mind calms.
I was surprised at how much I take such a mundane yet important task for granted. I tend to take shallow breaths that don’t really fill my lungs to its capacity and so I don’t load up my blood with oxygen that my brain so badly needs in order to function well. And I wonder why I feel so brain-dead on some days. Now I won’t be so quick to cure my migraine with an ibuprofen. Yogis believe that oxygen purifies the blood and is more responsible for meeting and supplying our body’s energy requirements more than the food we eat is.
According to holisticonline.com scientists have discovered that the chemical basis for energy production in the body, which is ATP (adenosine triphosphate), is highly dependent on oxygen. O2 is vital to the ATP’s production. This is why proper breathing is central to the Yoga practice. (I personally don’t do yoga, but am inclined to give it a go if only to learn and master proper breathing.)
In case you’re curious about how breathing works to help the body be at its optimal condition, Livestrong breaks it down simply for us:
Fresh oxygen is exchanged in the lungs for poisonous carbon dioxide. This function is vital to sustain life. Breathing oxygenates every cell in the body, from the vital organs to the brain. Sometimes during pain, anxiety, or during deep thought, people can begin to breathe in a more shallow manner. This allows less oxygen to be exchanged for carbon dioxide, making less oxygen available to vital tissues and organs of the body. According to healthdiscovery.com, without enough oxygen, the body becomes susceptible to health problems.
I’m facing a lot of challenges in the coming months and it’s causing me a lot of anxiety and sleepless nights. I can understand how being unconscious of the way I breathe can affect the kind of sleep I get (if at all) and the way I respond to situations. Lately I’ve been trying to take deep deliberate breaths right as I wake up, and I think of positive things I’m grateful for so that my mindset is bright and cheery. Maybe it’s the reason Lindsay Lohan got “breathe” tattooed on her wrist but got the tattoo a little too late because she’s clearly made a lot of bad choices that she didn’t take her time breathing deeply and pondering about. Haha.
If you want to start being more conscious and deliberate about the breaths you take, check out the Springdale Clinic‘s 3 breathing exercises to combat anxiety (and sneezing).
Here’s to more deliberate, fresh breaths of air!