Around four years ago I started practising yoga and was blessed to have a teacher who really concentrated and stuck with the breath. Whatever position we found our bodies in during practice she kept bringing us back to our breathing. Outside of the classroom I began to notice my breath more often and found that I would hold my breath if I was anxious, or sometimes I would not breathe out fully, almost like not wanting to let go. When we find ourselves in trauma, perhaps due to an accident of some kind, we are told by the medics to breathe. Breathing helps us to connect with ourselves again and aids us in bringing us back to the moment.
I came across an elderly woman recently who needed to use a public toilet, she was really struggling to walk unaided. I took her arm and slowly we began to make our way to the bathroom. She was anxious and distressed, and with each small and slow step that she took, her body began to shake. The shaking was clearly upsetting her and she said “It’s this shaking, why does my body do this”? I could see that she found it hard to accept that her body was not doing what she wanted it to and this was creating more anxiety and so on. I asked her if we could stop for a moment and I asked her to concentrate on her breathing and to forget the shaking for a moment. Together we got our breath’s in sync, in a simple in for 3 and out for 3 fashion, and we spent a minute or so practising this. In her own time she began to walk again with me and we kept our breathing practice going while we made our way to the bathroom. This exercise had a dulling effect on her shaking. The shaking became secondary and her breathing became primary and although the shakes were still present she seemed much more in control of her situation.
You can find your best friend, healer and spiritual teacher in your breathing. It is widely recognised, in most spiritual practices, that breathing is essential as it is closely associated with our emotions and well being. Strong emotions have a profound affect on our breathing, if we get angry our breath tends to be held or if we are scared the same may happen. When we are feeling love strongly our breathing is also affected and we tend to hold our breath in certain areas like the belly or the diaphragm. The breath seems to be stuck there.
Throughout the day I try to reconnect with my breathing and try to make it my constant friend and companion. It shows me when something in me needs attention. My belly may be tight, and I try to breathe through the tightness, or I may find my shoulders stiff and upright and I breathe and relax that part of the body. Using my mind to notice what is going on inside me seems much more complicated and so I rely on my breath as an indication of just where I am at. Breathing mindfully and being aware of our breathing tends to lesson the full impact to whatever we are holding. We are not as caught up in whatever is happening inside of us, or externally, and this can be settling as this helps us to stay in the present moment. The breath becomes our anchor and helps us when we feel that we are spinning out of control and remains our lifeline when the mind wants to run and project.
Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
8 responses to “My Best Friend the Breath”
Wil, not only is this very well written, it is extremely valuable as a reminder, that indeed breathing is our companion, and it behooves us to attend to it for our own benefit. Personally, I know when I’m anxious, my breathing suffers, and so do I. You’ve done a wonderful service to us all by reminding us that our bodies can be our best friend if only we are attentive. Thank you so much for sharing this! Bravo!
Thanks so much for commenting, I am really glad it helped. I have to remind myself daily of my breathing so I thought I would just write it down and try to make sense of it. : )
I have lost count of the number of times I have been told to remember to breathe (a curse of being a horse rider) concentration on other things frequently causes us to hold our breath thus making it harder to achieve the muscle relaxation required (vicious circle) it is ludicrous yet utterly true that we all need to remember to breathe.
The most amazing experience I found from a breathing perspective was scuba diving, a sport in which remembering breathing is primary, the relaxed sensation it induces is divine!
Thanks for a beautifully written reminder 🙂
Thanks Abi you’re welcome. Scuba diving is a perfect example how precious the breath is. Down below the water this is your primary connection to the land and yourself. Sitting at the computer (screen time) is really worth considering with regards to the breath and posture. We breathe very shallow in front of our screens and also hold our breath when we receive messages. Its worth getting used to bringing the mind back gently to the breath as much as we can.
Will, Thanks for sending me to this post. (awe, very nice of you to help the elderly lady) I like the post because it focuses on breathing as an ally. I tend to think of it as a foe -fighting against me, trying to mess w/ my head.
Like I mentioned on Twitter, since I was a child, I’ve had trouble breathing. It’s entirely anxiety related -not like asthma or anything. My mom even took me to the pediatrician, when I was a kid, it was that much of an issue.
I just feel like I’m not able to bring in enough air. It’s as if my lungs, of their own accord, are stuck in a shallow breathing mode -even while I’m desperately trying to suck in more air. (just thinking about it is making me a bit antsy)
But, I like the idea of changing the way I think about breathing. Instead of fighting against, I wonder if thinking of breathing as an ally might help. My breath is trying to tell me something -not torture me!
Breathing is very cleansing. I really should set aside time each day for breathing/meditating.
Thanks again 🙂
Thanks so much for commenting.
I think you are spot on there about having your breath as an ally, and I would imagine that your breath is trying to tell you something.
I get the feeling (as this is a psychotherapy site) that your breathing was at some point possibly seen as “that much of an issue” as you say, by others perhaps. The fact that you were taken to the doctor as child over this by your Mother. Also that you can’t seem to get enough of something… in your case ‘air’ our life source makes me wonder if your problem is rooted somewhere else emotionally. Thats just me and my thoughts and instincts about your situation, I may be totally on the wrong track.
Setting aside time each day sounds like a great idea so you can learn to trust your breath once again, a little more each time.
Good luck and best wishes.
Thanks for the insightful reply. Not getting enough of something and this issue manifesting itself in an -inability- to breathe in enough air makes sense. Definitely something to think some more on. Take care, rl