baby steps | just. breath.
Since the murder of George Floyd, I’ve been especially aware of telling people to “just breathe.”
Breathing is NOT a privilege—it’s a right, and yet so many in our country are denied that right, both literally and figuratively. And around the world, many breathe air that is thoroughly toxic.
It’s why I hesitated to title the last Foundations of Wellness for Women retreat “Just Breathe,” particularly because it featured civil rights activist and breath coach Dwania Kyles. (BTW, the replay will be available in the FWW store soon!)
And how irritating is it when you’re panicking, and someone tells you, “Just breathe!” We can talk about that word, “just,” another time. It ranks right up there with “should” and “used to” as one of my trigger words!
So I’ve titled this post and this month’s Baby Step to Health “Just. Breath.” in hopes that you’ll consider the injustice you do to your body when you don’t breathe properly.
Unless we suffer from respiratory issues, we generally breathe without thinking too much about it, and our breath automatically speeds up and slows down as necessary.
We don’t have to consciously will our bodies to inhale oxygen and exchange it for carbon dioxide: it happens naturally when our respiratory system is functioning properly.
And if detoxes are your thing, consider this: your lungs are detoxing your body all. the. time. No special protocols required.
The one skill (and it’s a skill that can become a habit) that will help you breathe correctly is what’s known as “belly breathing.”
Now, obviously, you’re not breathing into your stomach. What “belly breathing” really means is that you are filling your lungs to capacity, using all the lobes and thereby pushing your diaphragm down and making your belly pooch out.
I know—you’ve been taught to suck in your belly, and I’m giving you permission to 1) pooch it out and 2) wear clothes that allow you to do that! (Easier during the pandemic, when Zoom life has cancelled “hard pants!”)
mouth breather? nose breather?
Your nose acts as a filter for particles that don’t belong in your respiratory tract, so try to breathe through it as much as possible.
Additionally—and especially important during this cold snap we’re having in Michigan—breathing through your nose gives the air time to warm up on its way down, reducing the shock to your lungs.
chest breather? belly breather?
I love teaching breathing exercises on Zoom because most of the time, all I see of my clients is their head, neck, shoulders, and upper chest.
Without saying anything about good breathing practices, I can ask them to take a deep breath and immediately see whether they breathe into their chest or their belly.
Shoulders go into the ears? Chest breather. No visible change? Belly breather.
(And something I learned from Dwania is that those of us who have a lot of tension in our neck/shoulders tend to be chest breathers. No judgment here—I’ve got my hand up, way up.)
If you want to test this out yourself:
- Lie flat with your knees up and leaning against each other (constructive rest pose).
- Place one hand on your belly and one on your chest.
- Take a deep breath.
- Which hand rises first?
So if you want to breathe as deeply as possible and really support your respiratory tract AND your best health, stay in this position and read on!
The simplest breathing exercise is one I call “pitcher breath.”
Visualize your body as a pitcher: your belly/the bottom of your lungs is the belly of the pitcher; your neck/chest are the neck of the pitcher.
Think about how, when you pour water into a pitcher, the belly fills first: that’s exactly how air flows into your lungs when you are breathing correctly.
From your position on the floor, take a deep breath:
- Let the breath fill your “belly” first.
- As your lungs fill, let your chest expand.
- Practice this a few times every day until it starts to be a habit and you can correct your breathing even when you’re upright.
That’s it! Simple, right? Just. Breath.
next level: mindful breath
Precisely because we don’t normally pay attention to our breathing, it’s an ideal activity on which to practice mindfulness.
There are many articles out there on the value of mindfulness—if you don’t know much about it, read the late Thich Nhat Hanh’s Savor. In brief, doing something mindfully means to stay in the present and to feel into what you’re doing with all your senses rather than doing something out of habit and allowing your mind to wander while doing it.
Here’s a simple mindful breathing exercise:
- Sit or lie very still and breathe through your nose. It helps to focus on where the breath flows in and out of your body, right under the nose, that little thing called a philtrum.
- Try following the breath all the way into your lungs using the pitcher breath technique.
- Then follow it all the way out, pushing it out at the end so that your diaphragm contracts, which makes the next inbreath happen automatically as you release the diaphragm.
- Feel how the air is slightly warmer coming out.
- Repeat, trying to make your inhales and exhales of equal length.
- If your mind wanders off, don’t worry about it—gently bring it back to your breath. Try to do this first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
So for this month, your challenge is to cultivate a just. breath. practice.
Want more accountability? Set up a free GroupMe account, and join the Baby Steps 2022 group chat! Why am I not running a Facebook group but asking you to use yet another platform? I’d like to keep this discussion focused—and I feel that most social media platforms are black holes of distraction.
This month, I’ll be posting a number of breathing exercises in the group—there’s certain to be one that feels right for you!
make the connection
This is the second challenge in a 12-part series that will run for all of 2022: every month, I’ll share a small, simple, sustainable shift to make on your way to healthier food and lifestyle choices. By the end of the year, you’ll be amazed at the difference in your health!
“A YEAR?!? But that’s so long,” you may be thinking. Remember: a journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.
Let me ask you this: how long have you been making poor food and lifestyle choices? I’ll bet it’s been more than a year, maybe even more than a decade….
And those poor choices have resulted in poor health.
The good news is that you can reverse the downward trend by making better choices, and the only way those will stick is if you make them one baby step at a time.
Practice “just. breath.” for the month of February and beyond—then come back for March’s Baby Step to Health! Want to make sure you don’t miss a single challenge? Join my email list.