Those words of wisdom came from best-selling author, athlete, and motivational speaker, Dan Millman. The author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior shared a story from stage about an encounter he had with a man who approached him after an inspiring presentation. The man told him, “You probably charge a lot of money for personal consultations, and I only have a dollar to give you.” He asked Dan if he had any words of wisdom to share. He handed over the dollar and Dan said to him six simple words: “Here and now. Breathe and relax.”
What if it really was as simple as remembering that mantra? Breathing is essential to life and yet it is something we don’t often consider as we go about our day. If you have respiratory issues, you know firsthand how precious each breath can feel. The expansion and contraction of our lungs energizes us and allows us to engage in activities such as walking, running, carrying, pushing, and speaking.
The origin of the word breath is –from Old English– ‘to draw air into and expel it from the lungs; to inhale and exhale.’ Words related to breathing are scattered all throughout our languages. We are ‘left breathless’ by exciting experiences. We have ‘inspiring’ moments. When we die, we ‘expire.’ When we move too quickly, we ‘catch our breath.’ When we are breathing too rapidly, we ‘hyperventilate.’ When someone gets too close, we talk about them ‘breathing down our necks.’ When something is beautiful, we call it ‘breathtaking.’
In the midst of stressful and anxiety provoking experiences, the tendency is to hold our breath. To clarify, it doesn’t mean that we stop breathing altogether; it just indicates that we are not expanding and contracting fully. Take a moment, to have a full inhale and exhale and be aware of how it feels. It should feel good. Consider situations in which you unconsciously hold your breath. One would be in the midst of a sudden shocking event, such as getting sideswiped on the road, another witnessing a traumatic event. What allows us to regain our composure is connected to the mechanism of breathing. Although it seems like it happens in an instant, breathing is a multi-step process.
When doing chest breathing, we are more likely to feel anxious. When doing diaphragmatic and belly breathing, we are more likely to relax both physically and emotionally.
There are various forms of breathwork that can reduce anxiety:
- Box breathing- inhale to the count of four, hold for four, release for four and then breathe in to the count of four again.
- Pranayama breathing– it comes from Sanskrit with the word ‘prana’ meaning life force energy and ‘yama’ meaning control.
- Alternate nostril breathing- close off one nostril with your thumb and inhale through the other nostril. Pinch off both with thumb and ring finger and hold. Then release the side that was covered with your thumb, alternating nostrils with each inhale and exhale.
- Belly breathing. “According to The American Institute of Stress, 20 to 30 minutes of “belly breathing,” also known as abdominal breathing or diaphragmatic breathing, each day can reduce stress and anxiety.”
- Lion’s breath- take a deep inhale and open your mouth wide with your tongue out and roar as you exhale. This is an invigorating breath. It also will make you laugh, since you will look silly.
- Pursed lip breathing- imagine that you are either puckering up for a sweet kiss, or slowly blowing out birthday candles. This is especially helpful for those with respiratory conditions.
- For about 5-10 minutes, while counting the seconds of your inhales and exhales, lengthen your exhales so that they are lengthier than your inhales, such as by a count of 4-5 seconds. Do not strain yourself in the process or the exhales are too long.
A professional singer offered the idea of an unusual form of breathing when someone asked her about coping with stage fright in anticipation of a monumental stage performance. She had an unusual suggestion, ”Breathe through your feet.” She continued, “You are creating a channel for communication; rooted and grounded.” Most of the time, this person noticed that she doesn’t breathe deeply enough. She wondered what it would mean to breathe through her lower extremities. She imagined standing barefoot on the grass and feeling the earth’s energy rising up through her. She visualized getting her sea legs if she felt nervous and found herself swaying. What came next was the delightful visual of dancing barefoot on sand, hearing the ocean wave washing ashore.
“What can we do but keep on breathing in and out, modest and willing, and in our places?” ~ Mary Oliver
Willie and Lukas Nelson remind us to Just Breathe.