As a child I suffered from asthma. Every year I would spend long spells in the hospital and take weeks off school while I struggled to breathe.
My parents took me to various specialists and paediatricians and made sure I took my medication every day. They also brought me before every faith healer that came to town. In church I would be led up in front of the congregation and the priest would lay hands on me and pray and I would faint. When I came round I would be told it was the work of God and I was healed. Until the next asthma attack.
When I was about nine years old my parents decided to try oxygen therapy. Once a week, after school, my mother and I walked the three miles to the oxygen clinic and then walked back home again.
At the clinic I would be placed in a cubicle on a bed and hooked up to an oxygen cylinder. A tube would be placed in my mouth and I would breath in the oxygen for half an hour and end up feeling lightheaded.
What I remember most about these sessions is that I was taught a breathing technique that was the exact opposite of how we breathe normally. Instead of breathing in and letting my abdomen rise, I was taught to breathe in and draw in my abdomen, then let it rise as I breathed out. It was a struggle to remember to do this as it felt so unnatural and I still can’t figure out what the reasoning behind this technique might have been.
It wasn’t until I was studying drama in high school a few years later and learning breathing techniques that I realised just how counter-intuitive the oxygen clinic breathing technique was. It was really confusing learning to breathe properly in a conscious way.
Remember to Breathe
And now here I am, several decades later, learning to breathe all over again. As I said in my post Listening to my Body, my coaching challenge this week is to remember to breathe. To take the time to breathe deeply and consciously, and connect with my body again.
So, every day I have been making a conscious effort to remember to breathe. I have a note on my computer to remind me which helps. In the morning, while waiting for the kettle to boil, I’ve taken to stepping outside and breathing in the fresh morning air.
While walking I breathe slowly and deeply, trying to fill my lungs with as much oxygen as I can. I’m also aware that my shoulders need to remain still while my lungs expand and my chest cavity rises. I think it’s helping to keep me calm and it feels good to reconnect with my body in such a conscious way.
And finally, my favourite breathing exercise which I used to perform at the end of Tai Chi classes.
- Stand with feet shoulder width apart, arms at your sides.
- Breathe in slowly and raise your arms out to the side and above your head. Look up and clasp your fingers together and raise them palms up to the sky.
- Hold your breath for the count of four.
- Breath out and lower arms to your sides.
- Breathe in while clasping your fingers together and drawing them up beneath your chin in a scooping movement.
- Hold for the count of four while you turn your palms to face downwards.
- Breathe out and lower hands and return arms to your sides.