• Mind the Breath

  • When we say the breath is the connection between the body and mind, it also means that the breath can be used to influence one or both. The example that springs to mind is feeling anxious. When we have fearful, anxious thoughts or are in an uncomfortable situation, the body gets tense and the breath usually speeds up and gets shallow. When you are aware of your breath, as you should be after doing yoga for a while, there is no need to conquer the fear in your mind first to loosen the grip of anxiety; all you need to do is conquer the breath. Because as soon as the breath slows down, the body relaxes and the mind will follow. 

    A few years ago I had to have abnormal cells removed from my cervix. The gynecologist told me I needed to bring someone to drive me home because he was going to give me an anti-anxiety drug on top of the local anesthetic. Knowing how nauseous local anesthetic already makes me I accepted the anesthetic but refused the anti-anxiety drugs. I had to assure him that I'd already done childbirth twice without drugs, before he reluctantly agreed to do it that way. After I successfully breathed my way through the procedure, which was admittedly painful and uncomfortable, he told me that was only the second time in his 20 years of practice that he'd seen a woman do that. This baffled me. When did we all lose the ability to calm ourselves in this simple manner? 

    It makes me sad that so many have never learned to use such simple, but essential coping mechanisms. So next time you are uncomfortable, in the dentist chair for instance, try to keep your breath under control. Initially this means you focus on the exhalation, making it long and slow. Do not try to inhale deeply at this point: a long, forced, inhalation can increase tension and if you are already tense, you may be inhaling 'the wrong way around' and sucking in your belly as you draw in breath. Let the inhalation just happen and focus on a long, slow exhalation, preferably through the nose. Once the body starts to relax, you can start bringing your inhalation into the belly and let it expand. When that works you are ready for longer inhalations and well on your way to a state of calm. Chances are, at that point your dentist and gynecologist will be calmer too!



    (First posted March 2010)