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Take time to catch your breath

One of my new year’s resolutions is to pay more attention to my breathing. I’ll have plenty of chances to do this, but it’s going to require determination too.

We take about 20,000 breaths daily and approximately 100 million breaths in a lifetime.  Although we can go without food for several weeks and without liquid for several days, we can live only minutes without air and breath.

Whether or not we notice our breathing, it is constant – present in every moment of our lives from the newborn baby’s first cry to the last breath at the end of life.

The power of purposefully inhaling and exhaling has been known and used throughout history.

·      Hippocrates, ancient Greek physician considered to have been the Father of Medicine, said: “Breathing is the basic rhythm of life.”

·      Tibetan legend imagined, “Breath is the horse and mind is the rider.”

·      In Kabbalistic teaching, “Breathing equals soul.”

·      In Genesis 2:7, the Bible says that after forming man from dust, God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”

Although body-centered practices such as yoga, qigong and meditation have long emphasized attention to one’s breath, for skeptics of these ancient practices, learning to focus only on their breath makes more sense. A recent New York Times article reported that breath-work is becoming a discipline in its own right.

Your breathing reflects your state of mind and emotions.  Focusing attention on your breath, typically felt either in the chest or abdomen, helps relieve psychological and physical pain.  Learning to recognize and control one’s breathing is fundamental to the treatment of anxiety and panic attacks.

Chest breathing – especially when rapid shallow breathing is high in the chest – is common when you wear restrictive clothes, have poor posture or lead a sedentary or stressful life.

Abdominal breathing is usually even and non-constricting.  The good news is that it is not possible to be anxious when you breathe abdominally.

Try this quick and proven method called Take Three Breaths.  Athletes in the middle of competition testify to its winning results.  It works anytime, anywhere when you remember to bring your attention to your internal sensations of breathing to the count of three breaths.

Three Consecutive Breaths

·      Shift your focus away from the external and feel the physical sensations of breath expanding and contracting.  You can feel this in your torso, your nose and even in the air moving around.

·      Let your breathing continue naturally.  Because your body is always breathing, simply observe and feel what is happening as you count three consecutive breaths.

·      Keep as much of your attention on the feeling of breath as possible. You’ll have an opportunity for each successive breath to become increasingly more vivid.

·      After the third breath, take note of whatever change has occurred. If you choose, continue your attention on three more breaths for further results.

Here is another way to breathe while slowing down to inititate healthy abdominal breathing.

Progressive Relaxation

·      Breathing with intention while practicing progressive muscle relaxation can be done at your desk or in bed and just about any place when you feel the need to ground yourself and return to center.

·      Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth slowly and with attention and close your eyes as you take note of each muscle group for two to three seconds.

·      Notice your breath as you gently tense and release one muscle group at a time starting with your feet and toes, moving your attention up to your knees, thighs, glutes, chest, arms, hands, neck, jaw, and eyes.

·      You may want to repeat this exercise in reverse order – from head to toe while continuing to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.

In my writing groups, we pause before each exercise to turn our attention inward and simply watch the breath without trying to control anything.  This simple practice makes a difference in the content and quality of writing as well as in our body. Google breathing exercises and you’ll find many with different levels of difficulty.


New writing groups begin January 18th with more new groups in March.  Contact Susan to be notified.  As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Journal Therapist, Susan is approved to offer CEU’s to mental health counselors. 


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