I believe in breathing. I know, I know, it’s a pretty controversial thing to say, but I can’t help it. Breathing has not only done the miraculous — sustaining my life every second of my life — but it has offered me a way to deactivate my automatic pilot. I believe in the power and the magnificence of breathing.
A few years ago I had a jaw-clenching problem. For whatever reason, I started clenching my jaw during the day, and the more I did it, the more I did it. I tried to stop, to resist the urge, to distract myself, but I just felt compelled to clench my jaw. I didn’t know what was prompting me to do this and I didn’t know how to stop.
One moment when I felt particularly helpless to bring about a change with this behavior, I decided to work with mindful breathing. I sat down and led myself through ten very deep, very slow, very mindful breaths. I saturated myself with breath and unified the entire focus of my bodymind on those breaths. I am hesitant to tell you what happened for fear of losing credibility with you but, here it is — I never clenched my jaw again. Not even one more time and it’s been a couple of years (okay, a few days ago I did feel that familiar urge at which point I promptly stopped what I was doing to take some mindful breaths). I don’t know how to explain it, but that’s what happened.
I have also come to rely on the power of breath to help me during moments of reactivity. When something provocative comes up, our reactions can be so immediate. It all happens so quickly, doesn’t it? How do we interfere with the instinctive urge to react in the moment?
Our breath can transport us right past our initial reactions, guiding us beyond the knot and toward our center on the other side of the provocation. Breath can help us to find the “pause between stimulus and response” that can make all the difference in how we conduct ourselves and, ultimately, how things unfold. Trying to press the pause button without mindful breathing is much harder to do.
Breath revitalizes, balances, soothes and settles. It can liberate us from the tyranny of our own reactivity if we use it with focus and intention. And what do we have to lose — it’s free, pleasant, convenient, inconspicuous and makes us feel more alive. Let’s hear it for breathing and for finding the pause that can make all the difference. Leo Babauta also has some thoughts to share about the pause upon which all else relies.
Linda Anderson Krech, LICSW, is Program Director of the ToDo Institute and has been a frequent contributor to Thirty Thousand Days. She is the author of Little Dreams: A Practical Guide to Spiritual Parenting and has been teaching Japanese Psychology for over 25 years.