This week I am breathing up a storm. Deeply. Loudly. I am flooding my brain and my very being with oxygen as I go about my day. I’ve written about breathing before – acknowledged that it’s the best piece of parenting advice I was never given. Which it is. But this week, I feel like I’ve taken my breathing practice to a whole new level. And I get that it may sound terribly counter intuitive to practice something that is entirely natural, crucial and essential in order to stay alive. But what I’ve learnt this week, and what was news to me, is that there is breathing, and then there is Breathing. And this week I’ve started Breathing.
A random yoga class during the Easter holidays, combined with a piece of inspired teaching by Brene Brown on her e-course has opened my eyes to the importance of breath, and to the idea that our breath is a tool we have at our disposal in any moment of any day. That our breath is a doorway to peace and calm and all the good things I strive for on a daily basis.
And if you’re anything like me, and a bit prone to breath-holding during moments of stress and anxiety – that’s some exciting news. There are undoubtedly and absolutely moments in my life when breathing ceases to be automatic for me, and instead becomes something I temporarily stop. In hard moments, breathing becomes something I opt out of, as I freeze in horrified anticipation of whatever (real or imagined) misfortune is about to befall me. I am someone who can become paralysed by tension, who as a child used to vomit when fearful. And the thing that’s always been conspicuously absent in these frankly hideous moments, is my breath. Oxygen flowing through my veins. A conscious, calming inhale and exhale.
What’s taken my Breathing practice to its new level is the act of breathing loudly – so that you can hear it in your own head. I have learned that there are times when your breath should be something other than quiet and unconscious. When it needs to be deliberate, loud, and powerful. When it needs to resonate through your skull, to flood your nose, your brain and your body with a ton of oxygen in one inhale. Which is far more entertaining and dramatic – and effective.
Because when I inhale deeply, loudly and powerfully once, twice or twenty times in a row – something magic happens. In that moment when the oxygen is pouring into me – it’s like I’m pressing pause. When I’m breathing really deeply, it’s about all I can do. My thoughts have to stop and respectfully make way for my breath. And when I’m done with the noisy, conscious breathing, and I come to – the less helpful, less productive thoughts have often moved on. It appears that ugly, unwanted, fearful thoughts struggle to survive the enforced pause of my breathing, whereas the good ones, the helpful ones, the thoughts that bring me closer to that which matters in my life – they tend to stick around.
But when I’m in the act of breathing, nothing takes precedence. The breath wins every time. And the exhale breathes out whatever it is I can do without – the anger, the anxiety, the resistance, the fear. Which makes the difficult stuff a little more manageable. It doesn’t cure it, or make it go away, but by consciously practicing breathing away the extreme resistance I felt to cleaning my house yesterday, and by actively exhaling my frustrations and fears when my kid had a meltdown as we tried to cross a busy road, I was able to stay in that moment. The power, and the noise and the force of my breath distracted me from the thoughts that typically exacerbate my suffering in these moments. My breath temporarily addles my brain in a lovely, and slightly intoxicating way, which makes me better able to do what needs to be done in a more peaceful manner than I would otherwise manage. I retain the energies that would otherwise have been expended by feeling scared, frustrated and resistant. And in the aftermath, it leave me feeling a whole lot more peaceful, far less angsty and a little bit light headed and tingly from the oxygenated onslaught of my breath.
So, I’m going to keep on practicing the noisy breathing. It’s not delicate or pretty. It’s absorbing and a bit primal, and probably looks more than a little weird from the outside. If nothing else, it freaks the kids out when I start doing it in response to their nonsense. Which stops us all in our tracks, and opens the possibility that one or both of us will make a better choice than we might have otherwise done, before I started noisy breathing at them.
Which can only be a good thing. Because it’s a way of pressing pause when you most need to. Loudly, fiercely and powerfully. But pausing nonetheless.