The other day I was on a Zoom call with some of my friends. We were all sharing our quarantine stories. The mood was generally pretty good. At some point though, the discussion went to what I call, Corona-virus Scary Talk. People were throwing out frightening statistics and gloomy predictions they had read about. I tend to stay away from the news and only listen to the facts that are necessary for me to know. But in this conversation, I was hearing predictions of catastrophic numbers in deaths and overwhelming talk of hospital overflows and running out of supplies. As this line of talk continued, my jaw began to tighten, my mouth became dry, my head was aching – all signs of stress for me. As this stress built up and I started noticing what was happening – I suddenly realized that I was holding my breath. HHHHHAAAAA! I finally released that way too long detained breath. Oh my, I thought. How long had I been not breathing!? I needed to stop this rising anxiety before it got out of control. Not to worry, I knew right away which tool to use to relieve this tension. AND it was exactly that which I had been involuntarily suppressing. My Breath.
In my many years of meditation and mindfulness practice, I have learned that my breath is the most powerful tool I possess to bring me to and keep me in the present moment. And I know that when I am in the present moment, fear and anxiety cannot exist. In the present moment there can only exist Peace and Love. Now, don’t get me wrong - We cannot expect to be perpetually free from anxiety and fear. We are after-all humans living with other humans, so it is likely and expected that we will NOT always be in a state of peace. Our purpose here on earth is to grow, and growth occurs when we experience discomfort and suffering. So, a life free from normal human feelings and experiences would prevent this growth.
It’s helpful to remember, When we are in a state of anxiety or fear, it is best to take a conscious breath. Take a breath and pay attention to that breath. Anxiety and fear prevent us from breathing properly. When in anxiety or fear, we tend to hold our breath or breath very shallowly. This keeps air from fully entering our lungs which can cause other physical stress reactions and in turn perpetuates the feeling of anxiety and fear. Taking a conscious breath brings your awareness into your body and out of your head where all our scary thoughts live.
So, I took a long deep breath in through my nose [inhale], and out through my mouth [blow]. I did this a couple of times and started feeling much better. If you like, we can try this together now. As you are breathing in through your nose, imagine that you are pulling the air up from the bottom of your feet all the way up your body, filling your lungs. This is a way to really get a good deep breath and also to connect yourself to the ground. Anxiety is like a live wire that is not grounded, so this is a good way to ground that live wire. When you exhale, do it like you are blowing out birthday candles – emptying your lungs as much as you can. Let’s try a couple of these now. (1) In through your nose [do it] AND out through your mouth [do it] . (2) In through your nose [do it] AND out through your mouth [do it] . You can do this for as long as it takes to calm yourself. When in a stressful situation or in the middle of a panic attack, it is best if you do this for at least 5 to 10 times. You will know and feel once it is working. If you can Practice this conscious breathing daily. You will be Training yourself to breath properly so that you are less likely to unconsciously start shallow breathing or holding your breath when in difficult situations.
When I started paying attention to my breath the other day while on that Zoom call, I started to relax. I paid attention to my breathing - instead of paying attention to the Corona-virus Scary Talk. And eventually the discussion returned to more enjoyable topics.