Teaching My Dad to Breathe

We’ve all heard someone tell us to Take a deep breath before a nerve-wracking event or during a stressful situation.

If you practice yoga, you hear the instructor repeating often in class, Remember to breathe. Sometimes we hear the yogi next to us practicing a beautiful, audible Ujjayi breath, which reminds us to tune back into our breathing.

I had an interesting opportunity to witness the power of breath this past weekend while visiting my dad in the hospital.

He had been admitted due to his high blood pressure. Since I’m convinced yoga can cure most anything, I spent some time researching “yoga poses for high blood pressure.” I found some easy poses, but I mostly found emphasis on the power of breathing to relieve stress.

During my visit with my dad, I sat by him and put my hand on his belly. I walked him through some simple deep-breathing exercises:

  • I had him take five deep breaths through his nose all the way into his belly. On the exhale I instructed him to exhale slower than the inhale.
  • I had him breathe deeply into his back body for five deep breaths.
  • I walked him through five deep breaths into the sides of his body.
  • I had him take five deep even breaths into his chest area, and then had him watch as his breathing returned to normal.

When we started the breathing lesson, his bottom blood pressure number (the one that causes concern if it gets above 100) was at 96. After the breathing we checked it again and it had dropped to 76.

I was pleasantly surprised but a little skeptical. Nothing else had changed except his breathing. Could it really have made it drop so quickly?

Thirty minutes later his pressure had risen again to 96. We were talking to my sister through Skype and my dad excitedly said, “Let me show you something!” He started doing his deep breathing. He took five deep breaths and we rechecked his pressure. I was extremely doubtful that anything would change after only five breaths.

Lo and behold, it had dropped to 76 again.

I wanted to run down the halls and tell everyone. Doesn’t the whole world need to know this works?

I didn’t run down the halls, but all of us sitting in the room were equally fascinated by what we had seen.

This was a great reminder to me that as long as I’m alive, I always have access to this powerful source of energy. Being able to teach this to my father was a unique and unparalleled experience.

Tuning into our own breath has endless benefits. Stress reduction is the most obvious one, but it is also key in many kinds of meditation and in pranayama.

I personally find tuning into the breath very centering and humbling. Here I connect with my own life at its core. Here, if I listen carefully, I can hear what my body is trying to tell me. Here I can encourage my breath to regain its balance and in turn help my body regain balance. Here, on this inhale and exhale, I find the purest and most complete version of myself.

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Safe & Sound

(You can find my full piece on this entitled, How Acts of God Empower Our Lives, at Intent!)

I’m sitting here in sunny California with my husband and my little dog fast asleep side by side. They are safe and sound. And alive.

Safe, sound, and alive.

This is so enough. This is so everything.

These moments we write off as nothing, as normal, as everyday life,

they are extraordinary
they are what we’re looking for

what we try to chase down and possess
unfolds before us every day

This is what matters
these small details.

I’m thinking about all of the people on the east coast. Perhaps they are safe and sound with their loved ones also.

Perhaps not.

The unpredictable and sometimes fierce nature of life has the power to uproot us, derail us, separate us, and even destroy us.

In light of that, isn’t it enough, this being here. This breath in our lungs. This roof over our heads. The beating hearts of our loved ones. The ability to reach out and touch them.

It is not permanent,

but it is enough.

Gratitude Board

I’m very fortunate to live where I live. It’s safe, it’s beautiful, and I have a lot of freedom and opportunity.

This is the case for many of us. Sometimes this comfort can make us indifferent to the value of life or to the small beauties everywhere. Over time we can slowly lose perspective. Then we have a bad day at work or something doesn’t go our way and we get irritated or bent out of shape. Things are so bad in our safe, beautiful, free life.

I often see myself falling into this pattern. I have to remind myself what’s important and to be grateful. This can be extra hard when we get tired and don’t feel like trying.

I suggested to my husband on the days we go to work, when we come home we write one thing we are grateful for about our day.  It can’t be something easy either. If we have something especially trying during the day, we try to squeeze the positive out of it and write that.

The picture is of our first one this week. Our second one went like this:

I am grateful for:

the sound of voice

and

the ability to laugh.

This is already helping us keep a healthier perspective during the week. How do you keep perspective and stay grateful?

Take Back Your Power

I’ve been playing a lot with energy lately. Mostly my own. Watching it wax and wane and learning what environments, situations, or activities boost it and noticing the subtle process of it waning, often like a slow leak from a tire.

There is a lot of information about this, and the process I’m finding helpful is visualization. If you haven’t tried it, give it a whirl. Although I’ve used this process in meditation and non-stressful situations, I recently used it in a somewhat stressful situation.

My work environment is often a room filled with people telling their stories. These stories are usually of violence, and the energy surrounding the people talking and the topics themselves can be extremely heavy. This week we are dealing with a particularly heavy room, story, and energy for multiple days in a row.

I’ve noticed in the past there seems to be no way around watching my energy get taken away from me the longer I’m in this space. So this week I tried something new.

While in the room at work, I visualized my body and immediate space enclosed in a bubble. I filled the bubble with yellow light and energy from my inside out. I kept the visual steady for hours (kind of as a backdrop from which I worked) and when I felt the energy in the room get especially tense, I pumped up my yellow light. I did not let my bubble shrink or leak.

Interestingly, after doing this I did not feel the drain I might normally feel at work.

This is one small example of how I’m taking my power back from an environment that usually takes it from me.

There are many environments out there that will try to take our power, our energy, and our joy. There is a time to submit to the process of life and there is a time to stand steady and strong.

Take a look at your life and see if there are areas where you can seal up places your energy might be leaking, ways you can stand steady in your own power, and activities that can keep you healthy and balanced internally.

When we are alive and vital on the inside, we can live fuller lives on the outside and will be able to connect more seamlessly with ourselves and whoever we are privileged to meet.

Grateful

Grateful for the gentle breeze that blows through the palm fronds outside my window
and for my eyes that can see it

Grateful for the sound of the gurgling water fountain that I awake to every morning
and for my ears that can hear it

Grateful for my husband’s smile
and my dog’s beating heart
for my parents that are a phone call away
and for my grandmothers who passed on their strength and passions to me

Grateful for the questions that keep me searching
and the answers I have not found
the challenges that make me stronger
and the struggles through which I emerge transformed to the other side

Grateful to be doing the things I love daily
and for each new day I am gifted

Grateful for the sun that rises like a miracle
and sets as slow as a prayer
for the birds that speak their mind
and remind me to do so also

Grateful for these hands that write, reach out, and embrace
and for all the hands that have reached out and helped me up when I was down,
teaching me the power of love.

Mindful Monday No. 9

I’ve been on the receiving end of beautiful conversations lately.

Here’s some memorable words I was privileged to hear that remind me of how being human is at once challenging and incredible.

  • Listening to a friend tell me how her three dogs had escaped and only two had returned. One had a broken back and the third is still missing. Through her tears she said, “I didn’t know how much I cared for those dogs. I always say, They’re just dogs. It doesn’t matter. But it does.”
  • My beautiful 54-year-old friend shared how she didn’t notice much difference from aging in her 40s, but in her 50s she’s noticing many more physical limitations. The line that touched me was, “I used to have the most beautiful legs.”
  • Catching up with a dear friend in her 30s. Discussing some difficult transitions she’s about to enter she said, “I talked to my best friend, who’s 71…” Her best friend is 71. What a wonderful testament to friendship and to honoring the wisdom that comes with age.

What humanity have you been privileged to engage with lately? Step into it fully. The beauty, the sadness, the pain, the aging, the heartbreak. The unfiltered, unedited, transparent moments of life hold wisdom and beauty. Stepping into these fragile, raw moments is not always easy, sometimes painful, and often heartbreaking. Step into them bravely, with open arms and open hearts. Let’s embrace, support, and connect with each other and with ourselves.

Prescribed Burns

On a bike ride through a State park, I saw this sign.  I read it twice because something just grabbed me about it.

There was a huge swath of clear area that emerged unusually amid forest areas thick with trees.  Looking at the clear meadow, my husband and I tried to guess at why no trees grew there and who had cleared it and why.  Then we read this sign.Prescribed Fire

Fascinating.  The very thing that seems destructive can heal. Can this be true in life as well? Can this be true in my life?

We’ve all had experiences in life that cleared us out, that leveled us, that destroyed us. Sometimes emotionally, sometimes physically, sometimes mentally.

We feel desolate afterwards. Sometimes we look desolate. The world feels bad for us. We feel bad for ourselves. People try to fill us up to make us whole again. We try to fill ourselves up to get whole faster.

This is not necessary. Our desolation is acceptable. Our being cleared out is needed. So we don’t look like the rest of the world around us. So when we start to heal and regrow, we are seemingly behind lives that have not been burned or detoured. So what. We are fine as we are. We don’t need to be made whole quicker. We don’t need to grow quicker. We don’t need to imitate or catch up or pretend we are somewhere we’re not.

Sometimes we are the meadow that has been burned; cleared out and restructuring for growth.

Sometimes we are the trees around it; tall and thriving and surrounded by support.

It is a beautiful cycle, the rise and the fall. Let us respect our own process and the process of others. Let us allow people to heal, let us allow them be. Let us honor our experiences and those of others. Let us remove the pressure to get somewhere. Here is where the growing happens. Here is where the healing happens. Here is where the truth is planted, roots, sprouts, and extends heavenward, branching out wildly and providing shelter and vision for all.

Mindful Monday No. 8

Taking a moment today to celebrate:

everyone who has made it through their past to their Now
everyone who has fought their way through depression
everyone who finds joy in the smallest living thing
everyone who breaks through their own barriers
everyone who crawls their way to the light
everyone who meets themself at their own door
everyone who bends but does not break
everyone who shines without shame
everyone who abandons guilt for goals
everyone who sets their own standard
everyone who stands up for themselves
everyone who dares to dream
everyone who loves whole-heartedly
everyone who believes in themselves.

Celebrate where you are, celebrate who you are. There’s no better time than now.

Autumn

It’s very subtle, this transition that is upon us. It happens whether we notice it or not. It pulls us along willingly or not.
Such is change. Sometimes.

The sweet change that dusts off, that reminds, that ressurects what has been dormant.

Embrace it, this difference.
Invite it in, this question.
Go with it, this transition.

Try it on, this layer of life that warms, that soothes, that allows us to explore our world with support, with comfort, with protection from the elements we are not meant to brave alone.

Transition mindfully, consciously, gracefully, wherever you may be.

Thought for Thursday

Walking my dog this morning on the path behind our place, I saw a family of five.  I’ve seen them before and it always has the same effect.

Awe.

Two kids under ten are riding their bikes in front of the mom and the dad who are running side by side, with the dad pushing a stroller that holds another little one.

You just don’t see that much these days.
Whole families.  Outside.  Together.

Doesn’t it start here, with the family?  The families that make up communities that make up cities that make up states that make up countries that make up the world.

Our world.
It starts with us.