“Our way to practice is one step at a time, one breath at a time.” -Shunryu Suzuki
When I was younger I frequently had mini panic attacks and feared that I might suffocate. It literally felt difficult to catch my breath; it almost felt like I was being smothered.
When I felt this type of anxiety, people often told me, “Just breathe.” But that was the problem—it didn’t feel like I could. The missing piece of their advice was how.
When we’re feeling frustrated, or panicked, or stressed, or scared, we tend to breathe rapid, shallow breaths, allowing minimal air to our lungs.
This can actually lead to a number of physical problems, including dizziness, headaches, chronic fatigue, heart palpitations, headaches, high blood pressure, and numbness.
So on top of the difficult emotions we may experience, we then create short-term and long-term physical problems by reducing the amount of oxygen that gets to our brains.
The alternative: Take deep, slow, mindful breaths through the nose. Then hold the breath briefly before exhaling for twice as long as the inhalation.
Not only does this help us release tension and reduce anxiety; it also provides a solid internal focus to help ground us when we may feel overwhelmed by external circumstances.
That’s what it means to just breathe: to just breathe. To concentrate solely on the experience of nourishing our bodies with air and in doing so foster a deep sense of internal safety.
This reminds us that no matter how catastrophic things may seem, we’re alive. We’re okay. We’ll get through it. We are still here, still strong, still breathing.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, just breathe. Forget for a minute about everything that needs to be done, and take it all one slow step and deep breath at time.
If you’re feeling worried, just breathe. Forget for a minute about everything that might go wrong and create what can go right, one slow step and deep breath at a time.
If you’re feeling scared, just breathe. Forget for a minute about everything that might hurt you and take care of yourself, one slow step and deep breath at a time.
Oftentimes the world inside our heads is far more chaotic than the world outside it. We have immense power to calm it by remembering to just breathe.
Photo by brewbooks