As we experience difficulties in our lives, we can take comfort from remembering that awareness of our breathing will get us through just about anything. Helpful breathwork doesn’t have to be complex, and we can start in the simplest way possible, by paying attention to how we are breathing at this moment, without judgment, just noticing whatever is going on.
There are many breathing methods, books, systems, and so forth, and all of them have interesting ideas to study or consider, but for our purpose, given our situation as stressed-out family members, why not keep this as simple as possible?
Time spent exploring and enjoying your breathing is a marvelous investment in your future peace of mind, as almost inevitably, sooner or later, we will find ourselves in the middle of a crisis. For those of us with ill family members this is just about guaranteed, often repetitively so. Sometimes a crisis means you will spend time waiting for the phone to ring, just sitting there or pacing for hours and hours, unable to do much or concentrate on just about anything. Sometimes the crisis is taking place in a hospital or police station, and you may find yourself stuck there for a long time, i.e. all night. What can be done at a time like that? I have had these experiences, and based on my own experiments, I would heartily recommend just paying attention to your breath. Nothing you can do at such times is better than listening to your breathing.
Breath is always with you, so working with it is always available to you. You don’t have to buy anything or pack a prop or remember to bring along some equipment. All you have to do is become aware of your breathing.
Before we start, it is important to emphasize that self-judgment and self-criticism have no place anywhere in our lives, but especially not in breathwork. We are not after perfection nor are we chasing some ideal state. We are searching for a path toward experiencing less tension and greater peace of mind. However, it is also true that we can be so gripped by anxiety or tremendous worry that beginning to explore breathwork in our moments of greatest stress can be counterproductive and even make us feel worse. This is why I STRONGLY advocate making breathwork a part of your daily life, and not waiting until you are totally stressed out before you begin. This way, you can learn what you need to learn, experience the inner calm that comes with daily practice, and once you do the benefits of breathwork will be there waiting for you when you need them the most.
Why don’t we do a little gentle exploring right now for a few moments, just to see what it might be like? Let’s start with your experience of breathing in. When you draw breath in, feel whether the air comes in through your nose or your mouth or both. There is nothing right or wrong about anything you could be doing; so just pay attention to what is happening.
Where do you feel the air is going? To make this easier, maybe pick one side of you, either left or right, and notice what you feel in your throat when the air is being drawn in. Perhaps you notice the breath going down your throat, and into a bronchial tube, and then into the lung itself. You might note how much of your lung begins to inflate and expand, and where you feel this. Do you feel most of the expansion in the upper part of the lung? In the middle? In the back? All the way down?
Finding a picture of lungs makes it easier to have a clearer sense of where you could breathe physically, if you were using all of your lungs. Most of us, especially when we are under stress, do not use our lung’s full capacity, probably not the lower part, often not the parts in back, and sometimes not even the parts in the upper corners. If you find this is so for you, just note what you experience, without judgment, and do not make attempts to change or “improve” anything. But you might also note that by merely making observations about what you are experiencing, things might change spontaneously.
Especially, notice where you feel tension and see if you can let it go. When we have been living with a stressful situation for a long time we begin to accumulate much tension, and we will feel so much better when we become aware of it and can let some of it go.
Once you have explored inhalation on one side, do the same thing on the other. Look at the picture of your lungs again and note they are not exactly the same. The left lung is shaped differently because room is needed for your heart. Lungs are not mirror images of each other, though it is interesting that no one experiences any difference between them when breathing.
Most likely, just by paying attention to yourself for these few moments you will find you are already breathing in a fuller way, and you might even feel calmer.
Now let’s observe exhaling. As you have already noticed, when you breathed in, your lungs expanded, filling your chest, expanding your diaphragm, and now when we exhale, our lungs shrink, pull away from the chest wall, and our diaphragm pulls up too. We also feel the air coming out through our throat, and then our nose or mouth or both. The inhale and exhale feel very different, and we can take pleasure in paying attention to both. It is always a joy to consciously experience this life-giving force.
There is also a moment of perfect peace between the breaths. As you explore breathing, you might wait for a few seconds before changing over from inhale to exhale or vice versa. Between the breaths, perhaps you can catch a glimpse of a few moments of total peace and calm.
You don’t have to overdo anything when you are breathing. Just breathe and notice what you are feeling and what happens in your body. That’s all there is to it. When I work with people individually, in person or online, or in a class setting where we are all in a room together, I can monitor what is going on with someone, and can help people explore many other aspects of breathing. The topic is astonishingly deep, and we only have to ponder the number of breathing methods, breath techniques, books about breathing, and so forth to realize how much we can get out of this.
For those of us coping with mentally ill or addicted family members, I can say from personal experience, paying attention to your breathing is a godsend. I look forward to helping you experience a great deal more about the power of breathing to help you cope with your life and achieve inner calm.