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 Breathe for Life 
 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Simply Well by . View all columns in series

You may not be aware of it, but every tense situation, or even memories of tense situations, will cause a change in your breathing. Generally, the more stressed you feel, the more shallow your breathing will become. People who are under the strain of a serious loss frequently report that their chest feels locked, like they can’t take a full breath. Almost every approach to relaxation and stress management focuses on attention to breathing.

Breathe to Relax
Here’s an exercise that only takes a few minutes to complete, and you can do it imperceptibly almost anywhere, at any time.

  1. If you can safely close your eyes, do that first. Otherwise, just stop talking and attend to your breathing.
  2. Inhale, and as you inhale, say to yourself: "I am ..." Exhale, and as you exhale, say to yourself: "...relaxed."
  3. Continue repeating, "I am ...." with each inhalation; "...relaxed" with each exhalation. Let the breathing gradually become a little deeper, a little slower, but don’t force it in any way. Just let it happen. As your mind begins to wander, gently bring it back to an awareness of breath and your statement, "I am...relaxed." Be easy on yourself. Continue doing this for a minute or two, longer if possible. Notice the overall effects of relaxation throughout your body.

More about Breath
While it is not possible or necessary to fully expand your lungs with every breath, you can heighten awareness of the breathing process, by intentionally creating a complete breath. Taking a full breath periodically uses the lungs to capacity and extracts great amounts of "life force" from the air.

Experience a Full Breath
Try this next exercise sitting, standing, and lying down. With gentle practice you will find that it becomes a smooth flow. Do it no more than about ten times consecutively unless you find the feeling of lightheadedness pleasurable.

  1. Exhale deeply, contracting the belly.
  2. Inhale slowly, expanding the belly first, then the chest, and finally raising the shoulders, slightly, up toward your ears. Hold this breath for a few comfortable seconds.
  3. Exhale in the reverse pattern, slowly. Release your shoulders, relax your chest, relax your belly.

Adult human beings breathe an average of 16,000 quarts of air each day.

Breathing for Healing
Parents often sense that their child needs to breathe more fully to relieve panic or pain. The same is true for adults. Conscious breathing practices are now routinely taught in childbirth preparation classes. Anxiety intensifies pain, and the normal reaction is to tighten up when breathing. Breathing consciously not only will relieve tension and help quiet any fear, it can also relieve pain. So before you reach for the aspirins, the antacid tablets, or the telephone to call your doctor, do some breathing. Here is a simple healing exercise:

  1. Scan your body mentally, noticing how different areas are feeling.
  2. As you inhale, imagine that you are breathing increased life into areas that feel tired, painful, tight, or "starved" in some way.
  3. As you exhale, imagine that the tiredness, pain, and tightness are leaving with the expelled air.
  4. Repeat for two or three minutes. Enjoy.
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 About The Author
John W. Travis, MD, MPH, is the creator of the Wellness Inventory and its parent, the Wellness Index. He is the founder and co-director of ...moreJohn Travis MD, MPH
 
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