Learning How to Breathe When There Is No Air

“Breathing is the fundamental unit of risk, the atom of inner courage that leads us into authentic living.” – Mark Nepo

As you sit here reading this, you are breathing…stop for a moment and realize this. In the space between breaths, listen to what your heart has to tell you.

In Thailand, the word for breathing is ‘hai jai,’ which translates in English to “give your heart.” I love this. It reminds me that to breathe, to simply be aware of that breath, is to give your heart to the world.

Your breath is always with you. From the moment you are born to the moment you die, you breathe. Breath is a fundamental rhythm of life. The ebb and flow of matter and energy in your body. Without breath, life ceases.

Slow or rapid, deep or shallow, noticed or ignored, the breath keeps going, day and night, year in, year out, through all of the experiences and stages of life that you traverse. Ignored, until something happens that forces you to become aware, if only for a second, of the enormous power of your breath.

When was the last time you noticed your breath? How long has it been since you felt the gentle inflow and outflow of the air that brings life?

“You that seek what life is in death now find it air that once was breath.”- Baron Brooke Fulke Greville 

Breath Is A Gift

Being aware of your breathing is the easiest way to cultivate mindfulness.

However, when anxious or overwhelmed, breathing can become difficult. You start to breathe faster and faster, shallow instead of deep, which will ignite the fear that you may suffocate for lack of air. Of course, this creates more fear that only perpetuates the cycle causing you to fill up with steam until you are forced to let it out, often in the form of panic.

When fear and anxiety grip you, the reflex is to hold on and speed up. This desire to accelerate often comes at the very moment that you should slow down. Taking a deep breath from the stomach, counteracting the fear of panic with the power of your breath and breaking the tidal wave of emotion.

I used to fear my breathing because I thought that it was something beyond my control. Something the panic had complete ownership over. Something that I could not use to power myself to lean into whatever emotion or thought arose.

Now, after months of studying mindfulness, I am grateful simply to breathe. And it was through being mindful of my breath; I relearned how to live. How to develop, as Wayne Muller said of Mark Nepo, a passionate enthusiasm for sucking all of the marrow out of moments, out of the bones of time.

Most of life’s most precious moments are acts of breathtaking simplicity. A single laugh. An exchange of vows. A flower. A kiss. A deep breath.

When you hold these moments in awareness, they open the doors to the depth of life, bringing nourishment and delight into the empty spaces of life.

How to breathe – when there is no air

When you are anxious and overwhelmed, breathe. By taking a breath, you surrender and accept what is.

If you are worried about something in the future, caught up in something in the past, breathe. It will bring you to the present.

If you are moving too fast and feel out of control, breath. It will remind you to slow down and enjoy the simple moments of life.

Breathe, and be present, for this moment is all you will ever have. The future will never come. The past is just a memory. The present is all there is. Remind yourself of this and experience this moment, for it is fleeting and there are few left to waste.

The next time you are feeling stressed, anxious, angry, etc. and a little lost, take a deep breath. Take your mind off of your thoughts and worries and place them on the rising and falling of your stomach. Do not try to change your breath, just put your awareness on it.

Within seconds, your mind will wander, accept that this is okay and the moment you realize that you are thinking again, simply move your awareness back to the rising and falling of your stomach.

Your breath is a soft, autonomous thing. Moving in and out without you having to do anything. Be aware of this and do not try to force it to do anything it is not already doing.

Then notice this moment, at this moment everything is okay. This moment is complete.

Your fears, worries, and anxieties will return without your control, just as clouds roll in when a storm is approaching. But, like the blue sky beyond the clouds, understand that peace is always there for you to experience when you are here. 

Come back to the breath as you notice your surroundings, the smells, the sounds, the feeling of your weight in your chair. At this moment, you are here.

Like the crashing of waves, your fears and the moment surge back and forth, with you caught up in between.

You stay with the breath for a moment, and for that moment … you are no longer caught. You are free.

There’s just the breath, the body, and all that’s around you. Now.

 5 Practical Mindful Breathing Tips
  1. Change the background (wallpaper) on your phone to a picture of the word “breathe.” This way you are reminded to breathe every time you look at your phone.
  2. The next time you feel a wave of anxiety, stress, or anger come over you, stop and take three deep breaths. Breathing in for 5 seconds, holding for 5 seconds, and breathing out for 7 seconds. This will calm your parasympathetic nervous system and counteract the panic. Then replace the negative thought with a positive one.
  3. Set a reminder that reminds you to take a deep breath on your phone to go off 3-5 times per day.
  4. Place a sticky note that says “Breathe” above your workspace or on your computer
  5. One meal per day, commit to taking one deep breath before each bite. This will help you enjoy your food more, eat less, and ground you in the present.
Ben Foley

Author Ben Foley

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