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Tiny Wisdom: Just Breathe

“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

About Lori Deschene

Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha and Recreate Your Life Story, an online course that helps you let go of the past and live a life you love. Her latest bookTiny Buddha's Gratitude Journal, which includes 15 coloring pages, is now available for purchase. For daily wisdom, follow Tiny Buddha on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram..

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  • Stephenliben

    This is very helpful in the way it offers a “how” to the instruction “just bring your attention to the sensation of your breath”. I personally have found that the support of a meditation group, especially at the beginning, is immeasurable in expanding my own capacity to bring attention back to the breath. Keep going on this Lori!

  • hammondart

    Thanks Lori, I really needed this today.  Even when we know this we tend to forget when we need it the most.
    b

  • kathleen

    Great post! I do believe most of the world’s problems could be solved with this advice xo

  • Iramhussain17

    Thank you..I really needed this today!

  • Perfect timing…thank you!

  • Celi

    So true….it really came at a very good time in my life.

  • Connie

    I remember while walking through the mall and experiencing what I now know to be a Panic Attack. I thought I was actually having a heart attack and dying, being scared and alone, I could only think and kept thinking “What is going to happen to me if I die, who’s going to take care of my son?” That made the situation worse, I was gasping for air and almost blacked out. Thank goodness I found safety and assistance. I went to the doctor who diagnosed me as I sat there staring at him blankly. Since then, I’ve learned how to breathe deeply am back to practicing yoga, working out and meditating. Life does turn around for the better 😉

  • Jousagirl

    Wow, really needed this today. Thanks SO much!

  • You’re most welcome! =)

  • peacefoodlove

    I have a group of lovely ladies and we refer to ourselves as (evolving) SBP’s–Shallow Breathing People. I think we were all peacefully shocked to find a name and to see that others have this same issue. Fear ramps up the SBP response! 
    “Just Breathe” is such simple, gracious advice, thank you–I was actually not-just-breathing when I stumbled on this! It’s amazing how difficult it is for me to stop and just breathe, even when I need it, even when I know it’s the most loving thing to do for myself. Isn’t it funny to think that we have to use self-compassion (I do, anyway) to perform a basic, life-giving bodily function in a mindful way–not just a sympathetic nervous way? Thank you for this.

  • You’re most welcome. As a former SBP, I know how important self-compassion is! I find whenever I’m stressed or upset, it’s because I’m being hard on myself. If I’m good to myself, everything else falls in line.

  • Isn’t it amazing how so much can be healed through yoga and meditating? We have such amazing simple tools at our disposal, if only we’re able to use them.

  • You’re most welcome!

  • You’re welcome. I’m glad it helped!

  • Thanks Kathleen, and I agree!

  • Isn’t that the truth. I often need reminders for the same simple, helpful ideas. I’m glad this one came at a good time for you!

  • I have actually been thinking of joining a meditation group. Thus far, I’ve done it alone (though I’ve taken yoga in group environments). I think group energy can be so healing and transformative!

  • “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.” – great way to wrap up the message on staying grounded through the simple act of taking slow, calm breaths!

  • Thank you!

  • R_mkrtchyan

    This is so true. One day I discovered that I am not breathing properly. Stress, being so much busy and overwhelmed can make us to breath profoundly, deeply. And once I started breathing with mindfulness, a lot of things changed: I felt better, had less headaches, felt calm and concentrated. Just breathing can do so much. We need just to breath. Sometimes I also say to myself “I am breathing love, I am breathing health, I am breathing wisdom, etc.” Thank you so much for sharing. I relly enjoyed. 🙂 

  • I love that, about the things you say to yourself! I’ve done something similar, thinking, “I’m breathing in peace,” on the inhale, and “I’m releasing stress” on the exhale.

  • Great synchronicity!  Just a few days ago, I had a mini ‘panic attack’ when I couldn’t find the key to a safe box which I’d been assigned to keep.  The safe box contained some very important items and losing the key would be a crisis.  I spent almost an hour looking everywhere for it over and over, my anxiety increasing.  Then someone said to me, “Just breathe.”  I took a deep breath, and all of a sudden I remembered exactly where I’d placed the key.  I have been consciously practising this simple but powerful technique since, and it’s nice to get a confirmation from your post today.  Thanks, Lori.  Loved it! 

  • You’re most welcome Amyra! How wonderful that simply breathing and centering yourself helped you remember where you left the key. I have a tendency to misplace important things…so I’ve been trying to be mindful in that area lately!

  • I’m going to especially remember and use these 5 words, remembering to change “just breathe: to *just* breathe” (adding the stars to serve as your italics).

    Simply changing word emphasis makes the advice to SO much more meaningful, gives a much more valuable reminder in times of anxiety/panic.

    I was told during my first childbirthing that I’m a diaphragm breather (because it kind of interferes with baby-heartbeat monitors, but it’s an excellent way to breathe, ongoingly). Still, I’m apparently also good at tightening up that diaphragm during my panic attacks and forgetting my breathing entirely.

    I tell myself “just breathe”, but now I’ve got a new tool to add to that — your clever word emphasis. Awesome! And as always, thank you, Lori!

  • Pal

    Thank you very much Lori to post this useful info to everyone and me.I am very greatful to you.Being a mother of 2 kids,I sometimes loose my patience and becomes panic and your children are your mirror image.They do the same thing what a mum does.Now I know how to control my mind by good breathing and which in turn will result into good body .
    Thanks,

  • You’re most welcome Pal. Your children are fortunate to have a caring, conscientious mother like you. =)

  • You’re most welcome Kate! I remember learning diaphragm breathing when I took voice lessons many years back, but sometimes I still fall into rapid chest breathing when I’m stressed or panicked. Focusing on my breath really makes a big difference…as it did today when I was stuck in LA traffic!

  • StepLT2

    Meditating while focussing on your breathing helps a lot with changing breathing habits. And it acts to deter the  thoughts one inevitably has about what you are having for dinner or breakfast.

  • Bluventures

    As soon as I saw the title of your article all I could do was laugh knowingly to myself. For over twenty years now that has been my mantra and I have constantly said it to my friends in their time of need, sometimes to the point where they laugh and roll their eyes but do it anyway. I’ve even physically helped a few times by keeping eye contact and breathing with them. It is amazing the difference it makes and it is definitely a mindful act of compassion for ourself that is not always easy to remember. I find myself not always practicing what I preach and even have it written on a board for a reminder. Great article and I’m glad it has touched others.

    Namaste
    Jacquellyn

  • That’s a wonderful idea–to breathe with someone else in that way. Your friends are fortunate to have your love and support. =)

  • Helen

    Thanks so much Lori! Your writing and wisdom inspires me.

  • You’re most welcome, and thank *you* =)

  • Mbalestr

    Thanks Lori this has become my go-to quick fix in times of stress when I can’t meditate or practice yoga or calm myself. It is such important advice:) thank you

  • You’re most welcome. It’s the same for me! I have been using commute time for deep breathing recently, and it’s like inserting mini meditations into the middle of my day–very relaxing and helpful!

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