The Power of Breath

By Brittany

How many times in your life have you heard “take a breather” or “take a deep breath” or “just breathe”?

Many times I’ve heard these, or said them for that matter, are in moments of anger, overwhelm, stress, fear, or really any sort of negative emotional state. Most of the time, we are not consciously aware of our breath. Yet, our body does it for us without us even having to think about it. How often do you take your breath for granted?

Almost 4 years ago, I completed my 200 hour yoga teacher training in the south of Spain, which is where I began the journey with my breath. In training, we learned about Pranayama, which is the formal practice of controlling the breath. When I learned that “Prana” means “life force energy,” my appreciation for the importance of breathing consciously increased significantly.

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Fast forward to the other day, a particularly rough migraine day for me. After a relatively sleepless and overbearingly nauseous night, I awoke with what felt like a vice being tightened on either side of my temples. The back of my skull throbbed where my occipital nerve block injections went in two days prior. I could no longer lay on the back of my head, and lying on my side put pressure on my temples to the point it felt like my eyeballs were being squeezed out of their sockets. I sat up, and eventually mustered enough strength to stand up to go to the bathroom, but I was overcome with dizziness and blacked out, thankful I was beside my bed.

I called for my partner, Derek. “I just need you to love me,” I said to him, which is our way of saying to each other “please just hold me and make everything ok.”

Luckily, Derek was able to be home all day with me. He helped me move around the condo, prepared food for me and made coffee, made sure my water glass was full, and held me throughout the day.

There isn’t much that makes me feel better on a day like that. A general rule of thumb for me is the less movement, the better. I was messaging with a dear yoga teacher friend of mine, who inspired me to take some action that required very little movement–meditation and breathwork.

One of my favorite nurturing and self-care tools has always been a bubble bath with candles and soft music. That was something I could do! I asked Derek to light some candles and draw me a bubble bath with some epsom salts and a calming essential oil blend.

As I sank into the warm water, I felt my body begin to relax. I closed my eyes and tuned into my breathing.

Slow count of 4 inhaling through the nose, visualising waves gently rolling onto the shore. Slow count of 4 exhaling through the nose, visualising waves retreating back into the open water. With my favorite “quiet time” playlist on Spotify softly playing, called Deep Focus, I was able to link that count of breath with the beat of numerous songs. The chatter in my mind subsided and my body relaxed even more. After 20-30 minutes, my pain was cut in half.

I then allowed myself to slip under the water, gently floating up and down with the rhythm of my breath, continuing to feel held and supported by my surroundings. Since getting my occipital nerve block injections, showering has been too painful on my scalp, so I carefully washed my hair and got out of the bath.

I was amazed at the difference in my body, mind, and level of pain, yet I felt silly for being so amazed. Why hadn’t I thought to do that hours earlier?!

I know the power of my breath and the effect it has on my pain! I’ve practiced time and time again, when in pain, stressed, overwhelmed, angry or in grief, and I always have the same result: unbelievable lightness, calm, and serenity in body, mind, and soul.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t last forever. However, this time it lasted long enough for me do a 25 minute restorative yoga practice in my living room after my bath, the whole time staying connected to my breath. At about the 20 minute mark, the pain started to creep back in. But for almost an hour, I felt significantly better. When I ended my practice, I made sure to express gratitude towards my body and my breath, and I celebrated my wins for the day.

All too often, we overlook the power we have within ourselves–searching, reaching, grasping for a pill or a treatment. Sometimes, the simplest things bring the most relief.

A year ago, I got “breathe.” tattooed on my left wrist and “Let go” tattooed on my right wrist so I always have a constant reminder of the power within me. I admit, I often forget, even with those three words constantly staring at me. But I know, at my very core, that there is power within me, in my breath. All I have to do is breathe, and let go.

Next time you’re feeling a negative feeling or you’re in pain, try this…

1. Find a comfortable seat, or lay down if sitting still is uncomfortable for your body.

2. Do a brief full body scan and notice any areas of tension.

3. Once complete, bring your left hand to your heart and your right hand to your belly.

4. Close your eyes and inhale through your nose for a slow count of 3, feeling your chest and belly inflate and rise under your hands.

5. Exhale through your nose or mouth for that same slow count of 3, feeling the deflation beneath your hands.

6. Continue for 4 more rounds. Once complete, check in with how you feel.

If a count of 3 was too strenuous for you, be compassionate with yourself and drop it down to a count of 2. If it felt too easy, bring it up to a count of 4. Sometimes it’s easier to inhale for longer than to exhale, or vice versa. Ideally, you want to get to a point of equal counts for inhales and exhales.

If you’re new to conscious breathing, it’s important to allow your body and lungs to adjust to various breathing techniques. Remember, Pranayama is the formal practice of controlling your breathing, practice being the key word. It can feel uncomfortable, or maybe even silly, and your experience can vary from day to day, but the rewards are powerful.

Please feel free to reach out with any questions, assistance, or various other simple breathing techniques. Ultimately, we all hold within us this invaluable tool, available at any given moment.

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