I have a Sunday morning ritual of taking a virtual stretch class. It’s not my most physically taxing workout, but when I take time to stretch the muscles that I build during the rest of the week it seems to make the hard days easier.
This past Sunday was no different, except that very early into the class, the instructor said that we were going to ‘integrate controlled breathing” into our practice.
I had just woken up from yet another sleepless night. I was feeling stressed out of my mind, sick of the constraints around me and on the verge of tears. And she was talking to me about… breathing?
I practically hyperventilated then and there. My breath seems to have become so shallow lately. Like a physical and emotional gasp for air.
* * *
A few minutes later, she asked us to take in a long breath through the nose, pause for four seconds, exhale for four seconds (again through the nose) and pause again. All of this while doing squats at a rotated angle from my perch on a foam roller.
Throughout the next hour, she had us integrate breathing into the physical work we were doing. And do you know what?
I realized that the focus on breathing was doing more for me than the physical portion of the class. How did she know that I had been spending months holding my breath?
As I inhaled slowly and exhaled fully, I was discovering the power of the pause. The simplicity of silence. The leverage that comes from letting go.
* * *
Since then, I’ve been thinking about other ways to extend that breathing – the self-awareness of burdens and anxieties I’ve internalized in other aspects of my life, and letting them go too.
Obviously, I’ve got to think about breathing more often. Because taking more conscious breaths for myself will also make me stronger in the things I do for others.
Specifically, I want to regain strength for the things I like most: appreciating, supporting, connecting and lifting other people. I feel like I have been falling short on doing those things lately, probably because I was short on oxygen myself.
So, let me start breathing again by saying this. If I haven’t been there for you in my usual way, I’m sorry.
It took me a while, but now I understand that before I can be there for you, I need to be there for me. I used to think that was selfish, and now I understand that self-care is crucial to building inner strength.
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As we head into a new year, with a vaccine on the horizon and a rekindling of hope for the world, I’m making a resolution. I’m going to do a better job at self care. For me, it will start with breathing.
In Japan, people practice Shirin-yoku – the art of “forest-bathing” or immersing one’s self in nature in order to breathe and find their center. In Norway, they seek Friluftsliv, or “free air life” – another version of relaxing in nature. And in Turkey, there is a practice of Keyif, which doesn’t focus on the outdoors, but emphasizes quiet relaxation and living in the moment. While I can’t travel the globe to try those techniques directly, I’m going to go there in my mind.
I also know that there are so many ways to breathe starting at home. I’ve been living in Hawaii for the bulk of the past 9 months, and here, they practice Ho’oponopono.
Ho’oponopono is a Hawaiian healing technique that literally means “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.” It’s about the idea of being doubly right. Being right with yourself and being right with others.
Ho’oponopono feels like the perfect way to enter into a new year, beginning with self-care and self-forgiveness. I have no doubt it will blossom into opportunities to become more external in our focus and to reclaim opportunities to see, feel and lift each other.
Let’s start now.
Before you forward this email to someone else who might need to breathe, take a minute for yourself.
Inhale again, even more slowly.
Exhale again, loudly and completely.
It’s time to begin again.
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Share it Small: My guess is that most of us have been forgetting to breathe or feeling too tired to care for ourselves at the level we need. Let’s change that. Take five minutes to breathe at least three times a day. Inhale the thoughts of what you’d like more of in your life. Exhale and release the “shoulds” and “didn’ts” and “musts” that make you feel bad.
Share it Big: Are there other people you care about who may be struggling to breathe too? Please forward this email to them and maybe even offer to breathe with them via phone or with synchronized watches. It’ll be a great way to practice self-care with a friend.
Share it with Me: We all learn from each other. If you have had a revelation, a break-through, an insight, or a triumph, we can learn from you so please tell me about it here! I’m collecting stories of these cascades of good for ongoing community building and to track The Parlay Effect in action. I would love nothing better than to hear how you lifted, were lifted, or observed something in others that made you feel good and recognize your own power.