Thursday, November 21, 2013

This Just In: Billy breathes, apparently.

Chris Newcomb, M.Div.

I remember hearing a song by the band Phish back in the 1990's called "Billy Breathes".  I found it an odd little song but I caught my toes tapping and hummed along to it.  The lyrics didn't make too much sense to me but apparently Billy breathed.  There you have it.  Pop lyrical goodness without stating the obvious.  Wait.  It's very obvious.  Of course, Billy breathed, otherwise, he'd be dead!  Silly pop star.  You can't fool me!

That was really a fairly meaningless opening to the real point of my article, which is,  you guessed it, about breathing!  Breathing is fundamental.  Without the breathe of life, we would cease to exist.  Just ask a person who suffers with asthma how important breathing is and I guarantee you they can wax philosophic for hours on the virtue of the natural, uninhibited breath for the body and the mind.  

If you'll allow it, I'd like to wax a little philosophic for a few moments on my experience with breathing and how it can help or hurt your life.  You see, when I was in grad school, I had problems breathing.  I won't bore you with details but suffice it to say that I had surgery to help fix the problem.  I can tell you unequivocally that lung surgery is no fun and is no joke.  So, take a moment right now and quiet your mind and focus on your breathing.  What do you notice?  Are you breathing fast or slow?  Deep or shallow?  Long or short breaths?  

All of these questions are important to answer particularly when you are learning about the importance of the breath.  The reality is that most people are 'chest-breathers', that is, they breathe very shallow and usually only through their mouths.  That is the incorrect way to deep breathe.  

The best way to achieve deep breathing is to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.  Try it now.  Go ahead.  No one is watching.  How did it feel?  Try it again and see how deep you can breathe down into your belly.  Now try the same exercise breathing in through your mouth.  Were they the same?  While you might be able to match the depth of breath, through practice, you will find that the best way to breathe is through your nose down deep into your belly without lifting your chest and exhaling through the mouth.

What does this have to do with substance abuse whether from chronic pain or recreational drug use?  I would posit it has everything to do with it.  The connection between our breath and our bodily stress and mental distraction is well-documented.  We all have thoughts racing across the theater of our mind on a daily basis.  In fact, scientists estimate the average person experiences 60,000 thoughts per day. That's a huge potential for distraction!!!

In recovery, paying attention to our bodies and our minds is of utmost importance to prevent relapse.  Where do you carry stress?  Your shoulders?  Your jaw?  Your buttocks (don't laugh, there is a reason people are referred to as 'tight ass' or 'tight wad').  You can use this simple exercise to identify places in your body where you need to relax and release stress.  You can also use it to quiet your mind.  Take 2 minutes and try the following exercise.

Set your alarm on your phone or an alert on your computer for 2 minutes.  Close your eyes.  Sit up straight.  Rest your hands on your knee caps and let you arms hang as far down as is comfortable.  Begin to focus on the tip of the end of your nose.  Breathe in slowly through your nose and exhale through your mouth.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  No joke.  Seriously.  Repeat.  As you are repeating the exercise, you may notice your attention shifting from the tip of your nose to what you'll eat for dinner tonight or from fear that someone will open your office door and bust you doing some sort of weird 'esoteric bodily control exercise' instead of crunching numbers or answering email.  If distracting thoughts occurt, simply acknowledge that your attention has shifted and gently redirect your attention back to the tip of the end of your nose and continue breathing.

How did it feel?  Where you distracted in your thinking?  Was it awkward to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth?  Without judging your experience, take notice of the parts that were easy and the parts that were more difficult.  For example, if you were able to pay attention to the tip of the end of your nose relatively easily but found yourself struggling to breathe in a disciplined way, this may be an indication that you would benefit from more practice in deep breathing so that you can receive more of the benefits of the proper amount of oxygen in your blood stream.  As you may have discovered by now, deep breathing is very easy to do mechanically but not so easy to execute when you are used to being a mouth breather.

If, on the other hand, you noticed that your mind is flying a thousand miles a second thinking about your argument with your significant other this morning, the cup of coffee you need to make, the projects that are due, or anything else besides the tip of the end of your nose, you may benefit from doing this exercise more often as a way to temporarily release your mind from the overcrowding that is occurring in your thought life.  In any event, it is helpful and important to see your doctor on a regular basis to maintain optimum overall health for mind and body.  This exercise, while helpful, does not substitute the advice of a trained medical professional.  Be sure to contact your doctor if you have issues you've been putting off that need addressing today!

In order to stay clean, people must stay balanced.  Stress induces the desire to use, particularly in early recovery.  This exercise is a quick and easy way to get re-centered anytime anyplace.  If you keep it up, eventually, you will be able to re-center yourself in the middle of a conversation without anyone noticing.  I do it all the time.  Oops, I gave away my secret.  Ssssh.  Besides, you should be paying attention to your nose.  Get back to it.  ;)

At The Coleman Institute, we love helping people breathe a sigh of relief from the suffocating burden of addiction, whether from chronic pain or recreational use or both.  If you or someone you love needs to be detoxed as well as could use a breath of fresh air, please do not hesitate to contact Jennifer Pius or Amy Stewart at 1-877-773-3869.  We specialize in detoxing people off of alcohol, opiates, benzos, Methadone, and Suboxone.  Take a deep breath, pick up the phone and call.  You can breathe easy…we're here for you.  

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