Finding Balance – In a Single Breath

Give yourself permission to take time to breathe, to live life, to give, to love, to reflect, to be present. And to just be. – Author Unknown

It’s only happened a few times in my whole life…but when it does, it’s more intense than anything I’ve ever experienced! Muscle spasm, legs cramp….”Charlie Horse”. So, out of nowhere it just hits you. Pain from zero to 10+ in less than one second. An emergency, a red light, sirens and stabbing pain. So I go from a sound sleep to instant ‘try to sit up’ mode and Lamaze breathing. Tiny, very fast breaths, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale… in though the mouth and out through the mouth, pursed lips,  as fast as I can. Involuntarily I’m using my breath to calm my body and the pain. And then in the next few minutes, the muscle calms, the heart rate settles, my husband isn’t freaked out anymore thinking someone is breaking in the house, and I start to think….. Why did I breathe like that? Why did I automatically go to that breath?

The more I thought about it, the more interested I got in the ‘why’ of it all. The healing and calming power of something as simple as a single breath.

“Full, free breathing is one of the most powerful keys to enhancing physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.”

The breath of a baby and that of an adult is quite different. If you watch a baby sleep, the breath is full and complete. It’s natural and whole. The chest doesn’t just rise and fall, the whole body breathes. In time, somehow we lose that. The stresses of the world and unconscious muscle contraction all lead to adults’ shallow and short breath. It’s as if we’re robbing ourselves of something we were freely gifted. Your breath is a tool to be used whenever you choose and so many of us forget it’s even there.

It’s not a coincidence that most meditation techniques begin with focus on the breath. If you go to a yoga class or hit up a YouTube channel on meditation, you’ll almost always find breathing techniques. In yoga classes it’s called Pranayama. In most other meditation practices it’s called Breath Work.

Breath work can be powerful and therapeutic. It can benefit the mind, body and the spirit. You can reduce your heart rate and your blood pressure. There are studies proving that breath work can reduce anxiety, treat depression and post traumatic stress syndrome. Breath work can free you from a negative mental state and calm the nervous system. It can regenerate and restore us.  An added bonus, breath work can be spiritual and your Apple Watch even includes a free app that nudges and reminds you to stop and breathe.

And it’s simple to begin. All you have to do is breathe with awareness and intent. 

“Breathing is regenerative and restorative. It can cleanse us of toxins that have built up in the body and the mind.”

There are many breathing techniques you can explore but ‘Equal Breathing’ (Sama Vritti) is one of the easiest to learn and practice. Think ‘balance’…balance of the breath. If you can, breathe in through the nose and out through the nose. Breathing just with the nose offers a natural resistance and control to the breath. Breathe in and out equal counts. This is how you do it:

  1. Find a comfortable place, seated or reclined, eyes open or closed. 
  2. Start with a quick overall softening (of the jaw, shoulders, arms) and then inhale to the count of 4, slow and steady. 
  3. Match the exhale to the inhale and count to 4 again.  Allow the breaths to be slow, steady and complete.
  4. Continue for a set time. No time is too short or too long. Allow yourself to do what feels right. 

**Once you are are more advanced, you can lengthen your inhale/exhale to 6 or 8.

‘Bee Breath’, also known as brahmari (sanskrit meaning bee) is an easy breath work practice that calms the mind. Take a few natural breaths before you begin. With eyes open or closed, Inhale through the nose slowly and steadily and then exhale making an ‘mmm’ sound (like humming). Repeat the inhale and then exhale with the sound of the bee. Continue for 6, 8, 10 or 12 breaths.

‘Three Part Breath’ is another very easy breath to master. Many yoga classes use this breath at the beginning of the class as a way to transition students from the busyness of the day to a meaningful practice. Three Part Breath increases oxygen to the blood, calms the body and allows you to become more alert and better focused.

  1. Find a comfortable seated or reclined position.
  2. Breathe a few natural breaths feeling the body move with the breath.
  3. Inhale through the nose 3 times. The first breath is a belly breath, the second is a rib cage breath and the third is upper chest.
  4. Exhale slowly, smoothly and completely.
  5. Continue if you can for ten breaths.

Just a few more:

Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana) ~  Rebalancing, purifying

Breath of Fire (Kapalabhati) ~ Activates the sympathetic nervous system ~ jump starts your brain power.

Ocean Breath (Ujjayi) ~ Calming

Breath Retention (Kumbhaka) ~ Oxygen increased in heart, brain and muscles.

It’s free and flexible. You don’t have to have fancy equipment or a membership. It’s with you from the moment you’re born until you take your very last one….your breath. Use it, value it, receive it as if it were a gift. Allow your breath to carry you and balance you. Let it calm and heal. 

I know I’m going to breathe a little easier these days.

Run Jodi 

***Breath work is completely safe for most people. If you have asthma or other health issues related to breathing or if you feel dizzy during breath work, just return to your normal breathing pattern. 

Related link:

Finding Balance – and Writing Our Story

Life isn’t happening to you; life is responding to you. Life is your call! Every area of your life is your call. You are the creator of your life. You are the writer of your life story. You are the director of your life movie. You decide what your life will be – by what you give out.

~ Rhonda Byrne

Recently, a friend pointed out to me how I often refer to my inability to cook. She reminded me that this is my story – a story I have told myself repeatedly and shared so often with others that it has become part of my reality. The thing is – I actually DO cook and I am not all that bad. I make a mean lasagna and my chili is fabulous. It’s not like I can share the recipe though because they taste a bit different each time I make them. The reason? I hate following a recipe – I find it tedious and boring and if I don’t have a particular ingredient on hand, then I wing it and use a substitute instead. The truth is, actually, that I’m NOT a bad cook. Rather, I simply don’t enjoy cooking for the most part. Sometimes, like today, I whip up two or three dishes and freeze them for later in the week. Generally speaking, it all turns out well and a tasty meal is enjoyed by all. 

Being single into my mid-30’s resulted in me not being overly concerned with making elaborate meals on a regular basis. As a flight attendant, much of my time was spent traveling the globe and enjoying local meals in whichever city I found myself. Once I got home, I normally brought a bottle of wine to a friend’s house for dinner and enjoyed a home cooked meal in exchange. Since I have several friends who really enjoy cooking, it became unnecessary for me to cook. My husband also enjoys cooking so once we married, he took over the majority of the cooking duties. 

The thing is the whole ‘bad cook’ story got me thinking – WHY is that a story I tell myself? WHO does it benefit? HOW is it helping me? And most importantly, WHAT other stories am I telling myself? One fairly insecure friend, in particular, thought of herself as an excellent cook and enjoyed the compliments and gratitude that her guests offered after a good meal. That was her story and if someone else did the cooking, she was critical and irritated. Since I spent a great deal of time with this friend, it benefitted me to let her story dictate my story. She was an excellent cook and I was a bad cook. Subconsciously, it was a win-win, and she got to feel good while I got a good meal. 

Letting others decide what our story should be is a slippery slope, though. If we give the power of our story to others, we are in essence allowing them to shape our self image. Are there stories you have been telling yourself? That you don’t deserve the people or things in your life? That your job, relationship, weight or finances are out of your control? WHY do we internalize these stories? WHERE did these stories come from? HOW are they helping us to be the best version of ourselves? WHO do these stories benefit? WHAT do we gain by believing them? Ask yourself the tough questions and then choose a new story that better represents WHO you are and WHERE you want to go in life. You are the creator of your own story and you have the power to rewrite not just the ending but the whole entire story. Dream big, be creative and start writing!

XOXO, Jodi