Just Breathe

Jan Bidwell

By Jan Bidwell

Talk of the benefits of breathing is everywhere these days. Ironically, this is one of the things we do from the moment of our birth, without any instruction. No one survives birth without this part of the autonomic nervous system working well.

You can spend your entire life without structuring your breath in a conscious way, but we all do have control of our breath. It is the only part of the autonomic nervous system that you can control in a conscious way. We survived as a species because we have this control. We can hold our breath underwater, an instinct we have as early as infancy.

When you look with a broader lens, you see that humans consciously breathe in a number of ways that bring us together as communities. We sing in church and in musical performances. We blow horns. We call one another from across the yard or the ball field.

We hold our breath in anticipation. We hold our breath to be quiet while hiding, either in hide-andseek, or in earnest when we feel unsafe. We soften our breath when speaking to a baby or our beloved. We quietly speak to another in a situation when speaking loudly would be disruptive.

Our control of breath goes way beyond not drowning. It can go beyond adaptation as well. Science now shows that our breath can slow the release of stress hormones, lower the heart rate, lower blood pressure, and relax our internal organs.

We have control of our inner state, in part, when we structure our breath with intention. We all breathe all day, even in those days when we are very stressed out and kinda miserable. There are breathing practices you can do to consciously calm yourself to lessen that miserable feeling, hence all of the attention to our breathing these days.

We can improve the quality of our life when we take a few moments to structure our breath with intention. It’s the structure and the intention that is powerful. I have found using the time you brush your teeth to be a good time to do breathing practices. What else are you going to do while you brush your teeth? You can structure the breath easily while you brush.

Try the following for a month, then let me know how you feel.

Box Breathing:

Inhale to the count of 4

Hold your breath for the count of 4

Exhale to the count of 4

Hold your breath for the count of 4

Repeat this 8 times or so. Your mind will wander. No worries. You’ll lose count. No worries. You can’t flunk breathing. You know how to do it already. You know how to hold your breath or you probably would have drowned in the shower by now. Just do it with structure and intention every day, twice a day.

Navy Seals use this technique before dangerous operations. There is a lot of science behind it. The trick is to do it. And, again, what else do you do while you brush your teeth?

This will become a habit. You will do it more and more often because you feel good after doing it. There are other exercises you can do and I will write more on them later, but try this. This will help you feel calmer.

Don’t for a moment underestimate the power of your breath. Don’t take it for granted.Use it. It is your alone.

Jan Bidwell is a licensed clinical Social Worker, an author, social activist, front line crisis responder, community activist, psychotherapist, and mediation teacher. She is currently in private practice, offers training in resilience and mindfulness, and continues to volunteer in Ingham County. For more information log on to janbidwell.com.