Don’t Forget to Breathe
I close my eyes. I begin to count slowly as I inhale through my nose, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5.”
I briefly pause and then once again count slowly while exhaling through my mouth, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.”
This exercise has become routine for me. I find myself pausing to repeat this exercise regularly throughout my day. When the waters of daily life work themselves up to a rapid boil, it is this ritual that cools the water to a comfortable temperature.
Breathing was something I took for granted before my soccer career began some 25+ years ago. A couple of years into my young career I had a coach who stressed proper breathing techniques. Like most young kids just starting out in athletics, I would run hard but labor for air while breathing in and out through my mouth. Then, rather quickly and frequently, I would feel compelled to stop and hunch over, with my hands on my knees, while struggling to take in air. It felt like forever and a day before I was able to get enough air in so that I could resume playing…before quickly running out of steam again and repeating the routine. It never occurred to me that I was doing anything wrong. It was all I knew at the time. Thankfully, my coach enlightened me.
After implementing what initially felt like very minor and subtle changes, I quickly noticed an overwhelming change in my physical and mental performance. Instead of the shallow mouth-breathing that I was accustomed to, I learned how to regulate my breathing by inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. Incorporating a rhythmic intake of oxygen allowed my body and brain to function more efficiently. I wasn’t wearing down as quickly and I was playing smarter.
Of course, at some point I’d still hit a wall, only now it took much longer to reach the wall. But when I got there, no longer would I hunch over with my hands on my knees and wonder why it took so long to recover. I now stood up straight and tall, with my hands on top of my head, fingers intertwined, taking in deep breaths of air through my nose and exhaling through my mouth. Standing upright allowed my lungs to open up and fill with oxygen whereas my previously used improper technique did not. No longer did it feel like an eternity before I was able to go on, now I was ready to resume in mere minutes, or even seconds.
Upon reflection, I am amazed and amused that an incredibly simple shift in behavior could be such a game-changer. Then again, the most impactful self-improvement measures are typically the result of a simple, subtle change in behavior. The challenge is recognizing where the shift actually needs to occur. Quite often we need someone to point it out to us, even when the answer was right there under our nose all along.