So, there I was, face down on the massage table, which, I’m sure, seems more like a bed to me than to Jessica, floating away with whatever silly thought was flitting through my mind at the moment, when I hear, “Remember to breathe,” with such soft, sweet kindness.
And my unpracticed mind snaps out of my monkey-mind reverie and right to attention with all sorts of thoughts—[Cuss!] I thought I was breathing, and [Cuss!] I’m paying 60 some dollars to not breathe?, and There’s no [cussing] way I’m going to be able to breathe for an entire hour!
And when these fleeting thoughts finally flee, I simply remember to breathe, to just breathe. I inhale deeply during a count of eight, and exhale slowly for a good count of ten. Poof, puff! Carbon dioxide and oxygen exchange complete!
I continue to pay attention to my breath, just noticing it expanding my body, slightly raising me from the table, and then gently relaxing me further onto the bed.
And pretty soon, the soft sweetness says, “Good.”
My body seems to remember how to react to my thoughts. Or maybe my body stores reactions to these thoughts in its tissues and triggers them. My mind and muscles are playing some sort of what came first (chicken/egg) game.
But I’m onto this game—that’s why I breathe with awareness each day. Like most humans, I learn by doing something over and over and over again—I practice.
And then Jessica jests, “I see you’re wearing your shoulders as earrings today,” as she pulls each of my arms down alongside my body to a position that feels unnatural, but that I know is. I smile with my face squished into the doughnut pillow, but I think she sees it anyway.
I wasn’t bestowed these earrings upon birth. I’ve earned them through tough work experience. Whenever stress, worry, fear, or anxiety have come ’round for a visit over the years, I’ve donned these earrings, so often that they’ve fashioned neural pathways and made associations.
And each and every thing (the good, the bad and the neutral to my undiscerning mind’s eye) I practice and learn becomes a piece of my memory—connected in mind and body—remembered. And with practice comes automaticity. I don’t even realize sometimes that I’m holding my breath while putting on these earrings.
Luckily for me, I can create new pathways and make better connections. My brain constantly works to create new neural pathways, setting course from everything I choose to practice and learn and remember. And I’m learning to choose consciously, sometimes even wisely.
And, like anything we learn, the more I practice, the more my mind changes, actually creates new neural pathways and associations. Each time I simply bring awareness to my breathing and my body, kindly acknowledging and lovingly accepting what is, and consciously choosing to breathe in and out, my body responds with relaxation.
This hard work in breathing easy is a practice that I intend to make a habit through repetition, repeated practice. By consistently and consciously rerouting and re-wiring my brain, I will actually change my mind. It’s pure and simple (okay, maybe not so simple) science. And it takes consistent, persistent practice. I’m willing to practice hard because I want to relax and take it (life in general) easy.
And relaxation is my chosen response to stress. I sometimes choose a word, sound, or image to focus upon while I breathe in and out and relax my body. Whenever thoughts pop into mind, I just let them go and come back to the practice, the repetition. When I’m relaxed, my body responds with a sense of calm and peace. Hard work, done well, feels wondrous.
I’ve read that as I practice, my breathing rate, muscle tension, heart rate, and blood pressure decrease, and that my body reaches a deep state called the relaxation response, during which I can change the physical and emotional responses to stress. Reaching this relaxation response consistently can alter brain chemistry permanently—it’s the body’s built-in pharmacy, naturally.
10-20 minutes, 1-2x/day
This is another reason why breathing easy is sometimes hard work—I have to remember to practice it and dare to take the time to do it.
In what ways and how often do you practice relaxation? And in what ways do you see your practice changing your body, mind and life?