What conscious breathing changes

I have been consciously working with my breath for about a week, now, and I have to say, the changes I’m noticing are remarkable. These are changes for the better. Changes to patterns and aspects of my life that have been entrenched for a pretty long time. In fact, the patterns and aspects of my life that I feel shifting are ones that I had actually been resigned to having to deal with, for the rest of my born days.

I had thought that I would just always have to deal with things like constant agitation, anxiety, fear, and avoiding the things that freak me out. I had thought that I would just have to get used to restlessness running my life, a perpetual undercurrent of manic-ness flowing in the background of my life, 24 hours a day. I had thought that relaxation was something that other people could do, but not me. I had even thought that conscious breathing was not something I’d ever  be able to practice fully.

Turns out, I may have been wrong. All the stuff that I’ve been battling against, for as long as I can remember — especially the behavioral things, and the hidden, underground state of anxiety, despair, and agitation that stokes them — may not be as unmoveable as I had thought. And a very important piece of this puzzle, perhaps the one missing number in the combination that would unlock this mystery that is my life, has turned out to be mindful breath.

In just the past week of doing just a few minutes of conscious breathing a day — and I’m not joking about the “just a few minutes” because I am at this point unable to focus exclusively on my breath for more than about 3-5 minutes — this amazing change has taken place. I’m actually relaxed. Loosened up. Not nearly as rigid as I had been. I’m so relaxed, in fact, that it’s taking some doing, for me to get moving in my current daily work. And looking closely at that pattern and examining why that is, I am realizing more and more each day that it’s not because there’s something wrong with (only) me — I’m just not in a good job. The position is not a good match for me. And I need to change that.

So, I’m revising my resume and I’m reaching out to talk to recruiters. And you know what? The whole way I’m doing that, is changing, too. I have been more present, more confident, more secure in my dealings with recruiters, than I’ve ever been in my life — and I’ve been dealing with headhunters for over 20 years. I’m actually clear and relaxed and centered, and I’m not on constant guard all the time.

This is amazing. Nothing short of phenomenal. During one of my job interview discussions last week, when I couldn’t understand what people were saying to me, I didn’t just sail on past it and assume I would figure it out later. I actually stopped the conversation, made sure I understood what they were asking/saying, and then I responded to the actual question they asked. In the past, I would have just rushed it and fudged it. And I would have ended up either looking a little “off” or getting into a job that I had no business getting into. I’ve done that more times than I can count, but this time I didn’t do that. I actually held my own, and I participated fully in the conversation.

That, because I was calm and centered and focused. I was consciously working with my breath.

Which amazes me, because for years, I’ve been confounded by people who tell me “Just breathe…” in response to traumatic situations. It’s so friggin’ annoying, being told to “Just breathe” when all hell is breaking loose. Seriously. It seems like such a slap in the face, such an over-simplistic, dense, “dumbed down” (if you’ll pardon the expression) response to what can be complex and mind-boggling situations in life.

I mean, honestly…  I’m in extreme existential crisis, and you expect me to “just breathe”?! Come on – gimme a break.

But taking a closer look at it, thinking about what mindfulness can do for the physical system*, and thinking about the breath in terms of what it does for the parasympathetic nervous system (the “PNS”) (I wrote an extended post about the importance of the PNS here), I had to reconsider my attitudes towards conscious breathing, and give it a try.

And it’s paying off. In a very big way. Whether it’s the stimulation of the vagus nerve by the expansion of my lungs against the inside of my chest cavity, or it’s bringing my full attention to the act of breathing and blocking out everything else, or it’s the delivery of more oxygen (prana, according to some of my friends) to my physical system — including my brain… it’s working. I could tell something was different, almost from the start. Literally. Within a few days of doing a “piddly” little bit of conscious breathing, I was noticeably more relaxed in my mind and spirit and body, and people around me could tell there was something different.

On Friday night, a long-time friend of mine told me it was good to see me “back” to my old self again. “You’ve been so serious for such a long time,” they said. And others around us agreed.

Yes, it’s good to be back.

And all over the breath. The missing piece of my recovery process. Something I do, every single minute of every single day. It sounds almost too simple to my complexity-hungry mind. But maybe it is.

Anyway, I’m not bothering to doubt the importance of this. These changes are very similar in nature the improvements I’m experiencing as a result of regular (daily) exercise. But they’re happening a whole lot more quickly. I’m quite certain that several things have helped with this — they’ve laid the foundation:

  1. I see a chiropractor regularly, and they have been really helping me get my central nervous system in shape.
  2. I exercise each morning 99.99% of the time without fail.
  3. I am intent on changing my life for the better and I am determined to overcome the obstacles that get in my way.
  4. I eat the right things and stay away from lots of junk food, including drugs and alcohol and cigarettes.
  5. I have help from a great neuropsych.
  6. I have the support of people who love and care about me, who want the best for me.

There are more factors, of course, but these are really the foundations for my own improvement, and my own experience of the breath. I suspect that if I didn’t have these, I might not have the kind of success I’m experiencing. But the fact is, I do have them, and I am experiencing a radical shift for the better in my life, as a result of conscious, intentional breath.

Amazing. Truly amazing.

———————————————-

In a . . .  study, Montreal University researchers from the lab of Pierre Rainville, PhD showed that meditators experienced an 18% reduction in pain sensitivity compared to their non-meditating counterparts.

Building on this earlier study, researchers have found that Zen meditation can decrease sensitivity to pain by thickening brain matter.

In an earlier study, Montreal University researchers from the lab of Pierre Rainville, PhD showed that meditators experienced an 18% reduction in pain sensitivity compared to their non-meditating counterparts.

Building on this earlier study, researchers have found that Zen meditation can decrease sensitivity to pain by thickening brain matter. (Source: NICABM Website at http://www.nicabm.com/nicabmblog/?p=751)

Author: brokenbrilliant

I am a long-term multiple (mild) Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI or TBI) survivor who experienced assaults, falls, car accidents, sports-related injuries in the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. My last mild TBI was in 2004, but it was definitely the worst of the lot. I never received medical treatment for my injuries, some of which were sports injuries (and you have to get back in the game!), but I have been living very successfully with cognitive/behavioral (social, emotional, functional) symptoms and complications since I was a young kid. I’ve done it so well, in fact, that virtually nobody knows that I sustained those injuries… and the folks who do know, haven’t fully realized just how it’s impacted my life. It has impacted my life, however. In serious and debilitating ways. I’m coming out from behind the shields I’ve put up, in hopes of successfully addressing my own (invisible) challenges and helping others to see that sustaining a TBI is not the end of the world, and they can, in fact, live happy, fulfilled, productive lives in spite of it all.

10 thoughts on “What conscious breathing changes”

  1. BB,

    Glad you’re discovering the benefits of meditation. You’ve inspired me to get back into it – I was way into it year ago, before my last couple of concussions, then found for a long time after the injury the fog in my head made meditating sort of pointless. I’ve dabbled in it the last couple of years, but need to take it more seriously again – like exercise, yoga, mindfulness, it helps, it really does.

    I think I suffer a great deal sometimes from the part of my brain that tells me everything’s fine . … and then of course it isn’t.

    T.

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  2. BB

    Ah yes, I have been suggesting meditation for a long time and in fact I believe it should be a STANDARD part of rehab. It is however difficult to maintain – as you point out in tough situations we do not normally think – ohhhhh, breathe – we think furious, angry, intense.

    The 3-5 minutes breathing is a great start – and if you want to take a course in mindfulness it can open you to even greater positive changes – but as I said it is not so easy – even though the practice is – because so much in the world is opposed to the idea of being present. I have done some research on the advantage of meditation for tbi and had encouraged the mindfulness folks to create a program for tbi.

    M

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  3. Isn’t it mind-blowing (excuse the pun …?) what a simple shift in consciousness towards breathing mindfully can do! … I’m so glad for you. 🙂

    I was once resident in a psychiatric hospital for a devastating depression and a fresh round of PTSD. During the weekly program (for the unit that I was on, anyway), there was exactly ONE session — optional — per week for somatic education and awareness. And each week, another technique would be presented. One such session per week, and nothing to build on it! Incredible.

    I learned the mindful breathing through Jon Kabat-Zinn’s excellent mindfulness program. It’s very subtle, gradual, gentle work … and has remarkable effects. It all begins with awareness and the breath … 🙂

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  4. This is exactly what I need to practice on a break at work. As a Corrections Officer I am continually dealing with highly stressful situations that challenge my patience and send my heart rate off the charts. It takes a long time to come back down from those encounters, often doing something counter productive like grabbing a cup of coffee and engaging in reviewing post-game highlights of the incident. Mindful breathing would be much more beneficial than rehashing the event with a dose of adrenaline. Now that I look at it, I feel stupid… duh!

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  5. Hey there – don’t beat yourself up. We live in a world that actively encourages us to grab that cup of coffee and think everything through again.

    It’s also how our brains work. This is important, so listen up —

    Our brains are wired to “review post-game highlights of the incident” as you said – that part of our brains that is determined to keep us alive, is constantly scanning our environment to identify patterns that we can respond to appropriately. It’s not being dumb. It’s staying alive. Our brains are constantly on the lookout, keeping us safe and trying to figure out better ways of handling things next time. So, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing — within reason, of course. You don’t want to obsess over it and make yourself feel worse.

    Also, our brains need to be fully awake to work properly, so grabbing that cup of coffee may be exactly what your brain needs, in order to do what it thinks it needs to do.

    If I were a corrections officer, I’d sure as heck be rehashing things, to make sure I handle myself properly the next time. Improvement is a good thing.

    Where the conscious breathing comes in, is in supporting your brain and your system to do its job better. We have a central nervous system that’s like an alternating current — half of it (the sympathetic nervous system) turns us ON and the other half (the parasympathetic nervous system) powers us DOWN so we can catch up. Getting your parasympathetic nervous system — the “rest and digest” part of us — to kick in, is like pulling your car into a gas station, when you’re running on fumes. You want to refuel — but eventually you’re going to need to pull out of the station and hit the road again.

    My suggestion is that you do the deep conscious breathing, yes, but still take time to think through the events, so that you can address them next time (and there always seems to be a next time, no matter how we try to avoid it), in a more mindful and aware fashion.

    Try that deep, conscious breathing in intermittent periods throughout your day, and let me know how it turns out for you. I’ve been doing it, on and off, for the past couple of weeks, and the results have been just amazing.

    Maybe your spouse can try it and benefit, as well? You may want to make sure you explain it to him, tho’ — I know I really bristled at the “just breathe” commandment for most of my life. It made no sense to me and felt like people were dismissing me, and I just rejected the idea (very angrily) until I got my head around it.

    Good luck and don’t let ’em get you down.

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  6. It sure is mind-blowing… I love it, that people are getting a clue that the body plays a part in how the brain works — and how the mind functions.

    I suspect that the reason there isn’t more physiological/somatic training in the psychiatric/psychological realm, is that the folks who have really made the most inroads in research and clinical work are spending all their time being sedentary, sitting in offices or at desks, working inside their heads all the live-long day. I really think that has something to do with it. Perhaps people go into those sorts of academic situations to begin with, because they have never been disposed towards lots of physical activity, and they found their niche in the library, instead of on the playing field. Just a theory, but I think it bears out in real-life.

    I’ll have to check out Mr. Kabat-Zinn. Some of his books are way too long for me to pore through, but maybe I can find a cliffs-notes version. Or just find a class.

    I do think things are changing with regard to body-mind relations and healing. They’ve got to. Think about it — the human race has been fixing itself up with balanced approaches to healing and health for millennia. The official professionals just haven’t figured out yet how to incorporate that into their regimens. Ultimately they may figure it out… we can hope.

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  7. You know, it’s funny – many years ago, before my last couple of TBIs, I had a regular meditation practice. I would meditate several times a week — sometimes every day, for weeks at a time. When I was in that car accident in 1996, it felt like that part of me got shattered. And I buried myself in my work and just trying to learn as much technical stuff as I could get my hands on.

    Then, when I got myself back into the swing of things in the late 1990s, I was doing a lot of writing and a fair amount of meditating, too. I had a regular practice of quiet mindfulness that kept me fairly centered throughout some extremely challenging situations. In fact, in the months immediately prior to my 2004 fall, I was the one person in my group at work whom people would come to for reassurance and support. They would ask me, “Do you think we can pull this off?” — “this” being a massive project that was to be rolled out to over 16 million customers, and I was able to tell them confidently, “Absolutely!

    But when I fell down the stairs in 2004, there was another fragmenting, another shattering. I lost all my composure, I lost all my confidence, I lost it… and I didn’t even fully realize how much I’d lost, till years later. I most certainly did not have any interest in my mindfully aware practice that I’d pursued for years. I just dismissed it as a distraction and plunged headlong into a lot of destructive behavior — of course, I was totally justified, because everyone else had serious problems! 😉

    Mindfulness meditation should most definitely be a “requirement” in any rehab curriculum. Especially considering that lacking self-awareness is one of the biggest contributors to failure to thrive and recover after TBI. I wonder if Dr. George Prigatano at the Barrow Neurological Institute incorporates it… he’s done a lot of work around anosognosia (not knowing that you have a problem with your brain) and self-awareness issues and psychotherapy for TBI survivors. He may be open to your suggestion. I think you should contact him and see what he has to say.

    I may actually take that course in mindfulness. My schedule may be freeing up a little to make room for it.

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  8. T –

    I hear you loud and clear. My brain tells me everything’s fine all the time. Then I check my daily notes and see how little I actually got done that I’d planned… and I can’t remember what I was doing instead of what I was supposed to be doing.

    All I know is, I wasn’t doing what I’d planned.

    My daily schedule is probably the best barometer of how I’m doing. After taking a long, hard look at it, lately, I’ve refocused and I’m starting to get back on track.

    And now, for my breathing…

    1…..
    ……….2……….
    ……………………3……………
    ………………………………….4…………..

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