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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...)


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