“Don’t forget to breathe, girls!” Growing up I took dance lessons from Dancey Nancy, the only dance teacher in our small, rural town. This was before yoga was trendy, and I would guess it still hasn’t reached the cornfields of Indiana quite yet. “Don’t forget to breathe,” Nancy would always remind us in her peppy tone, over the loud crashes of beginner tap dancers and clunky toe shoes.
My sister and I would snicker at the ridiculousness of her advice. “Seriously, how do you forget to breathe?”
Turns out it was great advice and advice that has stuck. I’m what some might call a nervous person. I do not do well with public speaking or large crowds, something the military has forced me to overcome. The first time I had to stand in front of 50+ Marines in perfect formation, I realized I was holding my breath. I immediately heard Nancy’s voice taunting me over time, “don’t forget to breathe.” I took a deep breath and immediately felt the tiniest reprieve from my nerves. I focused on the next breath and the next. I survived the first of many military formations I would have to lead or participate in over the next few years.
I’m currently unemployed, like a lot of Americans, and it is eating away at my consciousness. I toggle back and forth between paranoia and depression; from unworthiness to complete apathy. I started getting stomach cramps so severe that more than once I contemplated going to the hospital. I came across an article explaining that most people breathe improperly. I took a moment to examine my own involuntary patterns and noted that my chest and upper lungs expanded with each breath. I continued to read and learned that we should breathe like a baby, expanding our diaphragm, stomach and ribcage. I tried it for a few minutes and instantly felt the same calmness I experienced in yoga classes. The past week I have very consciously (okay, a little obsessively) paid attention to my breathing. In the car, as I work out, after dinner when relaxing, when the computer freezes in the middle of a job application, and so on. This ridiculously simple advice has literally changed everything. Not only am I calm, but the stomach cramps have vanished, I’m more focused, even happier and easier to be around.
Nancy’s advice is rooted deep in my subconscious and comes out in moments of panic, but now it is my job to add to her calming mantra, “don’t forget to breathe properly!”
Check out Organic Lifestyle Magazine for information on proper breathing techniques.
Photo by Kakisky, creative commons 2.0
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This article was published previously in May 2012.