By Bonnie Hutchinson
Remember to breathe
Remember to breathe
So, there I was, lying on a gurney under a CT scanner. Two radiology people were asking me to hold my breath for 30 seconds. I could do it.
At a time when so much seems beyond my control, it was good to know there’s something I can impact. I can hold my breath for 30 seconds. Woo hoo!
***On the way to writing this column, I was thinking about what I’d been thinking about over the past few days. Events in our province. Events in the world. I realized that almost everything I thought about was something I wished were different!
On the other hand, when I thought about my personal life–the tiny moments and the bigger things–almost everything I thought of had a gift. Acts of kindness and generosity. Belly laughs. People reaching out to one another. Beyond my own little life, there was nature. Pussy willows. Birds building nests. Hints of spring green unfolding.
I took a deep breath. And what flashed in my mind was a memory.
Once when I was upset, I was babbling out a blather of distress to a dear friend. She listened. When I finally stopped babbling, she said one word: “Breathe!”
I was startled. Then I took a deep breath. And something changed. I could actually feel my heart rate slow down and a few muscles relax. I wasn’t exactly calmer, but I was not wound up as tightly.
Just moments after that memory, what should pop up on my screen but an article about breathing. I considered that a hint.
***The article that popped up on my screen described a book about breathing. Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art is by James Nestor, a journalist. He began to be interested in breathing about 10 years ago. It was a tough time in his life–job stress, relationship stress, living in an old house that was falling apart, and frequent bouts of pneumonia and bronchitis. A doctor recommended that he take a breathing class.
In the breathing class, participants sat on the floor. A voice on a cassette tape instructed them to inhale and exhale slowly through their noses, over and over again. In the first session, Nestor was skeptical, but settled into the exercise. To his surprise, over the next few days, his sleep improved and his stress level went down. That began his interest in breathing.
Over the years, he met ocean divers who trained themselves to hold their breath underwater for up to five minutes. He read scientific studies. He surveyed ancient Chinese texts. He learned ancient yoga breathing techniques. He volunteered to be a subject in numerous experiments.
At one point, he took part in a study at Stanford University. The study looked at what would happen if people were to breathe through their mouths for 10 days. What happened? Lots. In Nestor’s case, his blood pressure rose. He had 25 apnea events (like mini-choking episodes) while he was sleeping. Bacteria settled into his face. He looked and felt terrible.
In contrast, as he learned more about proper breathing techniques, his physical and mental health improved.
Nestor’s book reflects what he learned. He explains why breathing deeply puts less stress on the heart and why humming is good for you. Why inhaling for five and a half seconds and then exhaling for five and a half seconds might be breathing’s magic pace. Chapter titles are like instructions: Exhale. Slow. Hold It…
***Feeling a bit stressed by whatever is going on in your life? Breathe! And keep breathing. Slowly. Through your nose.
Deep slow breathing won’t change your world, but it will help you be better able to deal with whatever is going on in your world. Best of all, it can’t harm anything. Try it!
And maybe we’ll only have another six weeks of winter!
***I’d love to hear from you! If you have comments about this column or suggestions for future topics, send a note to Bonnie@BonnieHutchinson.com. I’ll happily reply within one business day.