“Just keep breathing.” No one should have to say that to themselves, or anyone else, about the most basic, most life-giving parasympathetic function in our bodies. Often we just need reminding.
Breathing is the basis of a yoga practice. And It’s only when we try to synchronize our breathing with a particular slow mindful motion that we realize that too often we are holding our breath. Or taking shallow breaths that do little for our wellbeing.
It is not an accident that we’re advised to take deep breaths during times of stress. Filling our lungs fully and completely oxygenates every cell in our bodies. It also slows us down and is the opposite of scary panicky hyperventilating. And if we can hold that breath for several seconds it improves our focus and the effectiveness of breathing exercises or pranayama. Breathing deeply warms the body, gets energy flowing, and relaxes the mind. It centres us. If we can succeed in clearing our minds of all thoughts the benefits magnify.
Often the urging to ?just breathe? is a metaphor. It’s solid advice when we’re feeling scared or angry or anxious; when we need a controlled moment to compose ourselves or regroup. I use it before public speaking to get the butterflies to fly in formation. It helps when broaching a difficult subject with a loved one or colleague. It helps with physical activities that are frustrating because our fingers aren’t working or the thingy won’t fit or the pieces keep falling. Effective breathing increases our stamina and enjoyment of life.
Sometimes when I hear the expression ?just breathe? I think about perseverance. Not getting through a sticky but short-term situation but hanging in there for the long haul; for staying the course over months, years, a lifetime. By just breathing we acknowledge that no matter the state of our lives at this moment in time?whether It’s hell or heaven?this too shall pass.
Before long, the anguish we’re suffering, or the grace we’re enjoying will vaporize. And then what? We need to keep on keeping on. We need to understand the cyclical nature of life and not soar when things are humming or wallow when they’re not. We need to just keep breathing through it all.
So whether we think about breathing as a mechanical process or a life metaphor, we can improve the quality of the experience on our lives and bodies. We can stop smoking and avoid pollutants. We can breathe out stress and breathe in calm. We can begin (or restart) a yoga practice, the premier way to get in touch with our bodies. We can get help if we need it. I was prescribed an inhaler to ease my breathing. Not asthma, I was told, but perhaps a viral infection requiring this temporary relief. We can thank the Lord for the life force or prana that allows us to enjoy the journey we’ve chosen. All together now, just breathe. In and out and in and out, from where I sit.
Hazel Anaka’s first novel is Lucky Dog. Visit her website for more information or follow her on Twitter @anakawrites..