Skip to main content

Breathing Easy(er)

I've been in somewhat of a summer funk lately. It hits me every year with the onset of summer: work slows down dramatically, running gets tougher with the onslaught of heat and humidity, and I feel overcome with restlessness and a lack of focus. I blame it on idle time--something I've never been good at handling--and summer just seems to encompass idle time, does it not? While I've never quite figured out how to beat these blues, I've found recently that focusing on breathing is helpful, both in stillness and in physical activity. This is no great discovery; the benefits of breathwork and conscious breathing have been heralded for decades in Western society (and since Ancient times in the East), largely alongside the rising popularity of yoga, which in its most basic form is a focus on the breath.

However, as a lifetime asthmatic with numerous environmental sensitivities, I've always struggled with breathing. Not focused breathing or breathing exercises, but merely breathing on a daily basis. It's something I think about every day--am I breathing with ease today, or is it more of an effort? So when in some yoga classes the instructor has the class do focused breathing exercises, particularly deep breathing, I get anxious. I know this will be one of the most difficult parts of class for me--and it often falls at the end of class, when we are (supposed to be) moving into relaxation. Three-part breath was especially challenging, as, by the time I would get through the second part (filling the rib cage with air, after having filled the abdomen with air), I had almost no capacity to breathe any more air into the third part (the upper chest). (Of course, we would always skip straight to #10 of this technique, which I'm just now realizing is not how it is meant to work). Sometimes I found myself resenting the exercise, or even the instructor--not a very yoga-like reaction. I still tried to do my best with it (most of the time), and after the times I actually accomplished all three parts of the technique, I did feel better, calmer.

Further, breathing was proving to be more difficult during runs as soon as the air turned humid toward the end of springtime in Florida. I would try to stick with my typical breath pattern of in for three counts (or footfalls), out for two counts, but I started feeling like that wasn't enough, almost like I was hyperventilating, and that would cause anxiety and frustration, which would only make running more difficult. But on one recent run, I tried to do what my body seemed to want (sometimes it's a mystery), and I changed the pattern slightly to in three and out three, and I felt more relaxed about my run. I think it might have slowed my pace a bit, but maybe that's also what I needed. So I felt there was some hope for summer running after all.

This made me think of the transformative nature of breathing, and I thought of how I might be able to apply it in other areas of my life. But I'm very slow to act on even my own ideas, so this thought just sort of got shoved aside for a couple of weeks. But apparently, the universe (or Internet--same difference) wanted me to think about it again, because not long afterward, I came across an article, "A Simple Breathing Exercise to Calm Your Mind & Body," from MindBodyGreen (a site I'm newly hooked on). I tried it while at work, and again I found it helpful. I know part of the helpfulness is just being able to concentrate on something--anything. I often have a hard time centering my mind, but when I am able to, I feel recollected and able to be a bit more productive. Which is oh-so-important during this summer lull. 

So rather than getting anxious about breathing, I hope to reverse that pattern and instead breathe to reduce anxiety. I'm going to need this device, because starting next week, I will officially begin training for the Marine Corps Marathon! (Inhale two counts, hold, exhale three counts, hold...)


People Liked to Read...

Surgery Chronicles: 12 Weeks and Progress

I'm now more than 12 weeks recovered from my second (and final!) foot surgery, and life is starting to feel a little more normal. When I last wrote an update, seven weeks ago (still blaming Irma for all of my delays), I had just gotten off of crutches but would wear my boot for two more weeks. I've been out of the boot and walking in shoes for just over five weeks. The constant discomfort I've felt in my foot from swelling is finally starting to wane. I work in the office now, I do my own groceries, and I even attended a work conference recently, which meant lots of walking at airports and the conference hotel, frequent standing, and few opportunities to elevate and ice. I was very concerned about how my feet, particularly the left one, would endure. And while it wasn't comfortable, I made it through, no worse for the wear in the end.

I joined a new gym/community center recently, with a new and beautiful outdoor pool, and I'm so happy that I'm able to use it n…

Irma: A (Mostly) Photo Essay

For nearly three weeks I've struggled to find the right words to write about Hurricane Irma, which destroyed islands in the Caribbean, then hit South Florida, eventually coming up the center of the state. The Tampa Bay region got really lucky in the end, as it avoided a direct hit and the storm had diminished to a category 2 by the time it arrived. And now Puerto Rico is experiencing a humanitarian crisis after being pummeled by Hurricane Maria. My heart goes out to those people.

My plan when severe weather is forecast to for Tampa is always to go to my sister's house, as the area I live in is highly flood prone and she is on higher ground. This time was no exception; however, her plan was different. She wanted to leave, head north, get out of the state, and she wanted me to go with her and the rest of the family. But I was not in a place to pack up and leave. I had real concerns about my foot recovery; I was about eight weeks post-surgery and very newly out of the boot and in…

Surgery Chronicles: I Exhale

I've really been holding my breath with this recovery, more so than the last one for some reason. After getting past the three-week point (which was two weeks ago, when I started to write this), I felt a little more at ease. Since then I've been changing my own dressing daily and slowly weaning off of crutches so I can now walk around in the boot—hands-free! I'm still a slave to icing and elevating as much as possible throughout the day. But the very best part? There's no other foot left to do. After this, I'm done, done, done. I can start to return to a life not defined by sitting and waiting and feeling confined and limited and trying my hardest to heal but having little actual control over any of it.

I wrote in my last post about the difficult emotions I'd been having throughout this second surgery recovery. I think I underestimated the psychological toll I would take doing one foot right after the other. And while there was a feeling of elation after gettin…