Friday, February 24, 2012

How to take a deep breath

I don't know about you, but I find February to be hard. Even during mild winters, like the one we're having in New England, February is that pause between the long haul of short days/long nights and the first real brushes of spring on your cheek. For all that it's a short month, it's a long one.

By right around now I'm giving myself pep talks to get through the rest of the month, even though we're most of the way to spring. The finish line is in sight and that's when I am most likely to stumble.

To get through these last dim days of winter, I remind myself to breath. Of course, I remind myself to breath throughout the year, throughout my life whenever I'm faced with any kind of adversity. In the midst of a difficult conversation or a challenging performance? Take a breath. Stuck in traffic? Take a breath. Migraine? Breath. You get it. A deep breath floods our cells with oxygen which reminds our most ancient selves that there is nothing to panic about, we can breath, we aren't drowning or dying, we are only afraid.

There are many ways to take that deep breath, many things we can do to remind ourselves that now, right now, is an excellent time to pause for a moment and breath.

Try it right now. Read this through then:

  • Close your eyes
  • Take a long slow breath in through your nose
  • Feel your lungs expand
  • Be grateful for them
  • Exhale slowly and steadily through your mouth
  • Pause
  • Repeat.

I hope you feel a little more relaxed.

Here are a few of my favorite breathing tips; some may sound silly but they really can help. I'd love to know how you remind yourself to breath.

  1. Set a timer. No, really. If you know you're going to be chained to one spot by your computer or some other responsibility, set a timer so every 30 minutes you stop, look away and take a deep breath. Close your eyes. relax your hands from the typing claw. Breath.
  2. Stretch. In my storytelling classes I remind my students that stories live in our bodies. Our bodies contain knowledge about what we're feeling, what we're hiding from our conscious minds. Does your stomach alway hurt after you talk to your grandmother on the phone? Hmm. If we're working on something challenging or even if we're just thinking hard, we tend to ignore our bodies even though they are rife with information. So stop for a moment. Stretch out those cramped muscles. Pay attention to what hurts, is cramped or tired. What might that mean? Breath.
  3. Build a deep-breathing routine. Do you know you're going to have a long commute home? Tell yourself to take a deep breath whenever you pass a certain exit on the highway. Do you know you get tense when you talk to certain people? Teach yourself to close your eyes and take a deep breath every time you hang up the phone.
  4. Inhale joy, exhale gratitude. Look at the world around you, even when difficult and bleak, caught between winter and spring. Find something that brings you joy (family, friends, a spring of green) and imagine it as you inhale. As you exhale feel gratitude for its presence in your life. I do this for the swelling buds this time of year.
  5. Remember that with each breath, you are alive. Whether the slow rhythm of sleep or the urgent breath of exercise, with every breath you are here. You are living. You are a gift to the world. 

(c)2012 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

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True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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