Breathless to Breathing

When you have those moments when you’re trying to get somewhere fast and all the lights are red, or you feel that sinking sense trying to decide between picking up the upturned living room or hitting the hay after a long, chaotic day, how do you tend to proceed? With sanity or insanity? Those heat-of-the-moment situations have had a tendency to unravel me. These are times when we go into a sympathetic dominant state in which our fight-or-flight reflexes jerk us around as if we had no choice in our actions…

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The beauty is, we always have a choice. It’s by practicing what we’ve been talking about within Whole Women Link for these past years.

It was my turn to put my words to practice today. I’ve been away from posting for a while as I’d been prepping for the birth of our son. Now that he’s here, I’ve been finding myself pulled by even more priorities. This morning I had dedicated my time to working on a project, but when I got to my office, there was my sweet little 9-week old looking up at me. With him awake, it would be impossible for me to get the job done, so I decided to try and get him to sleep with a stroll outside.

As I was walking, I tried to continue to work by getting my project organized in my mind, but it kept dissolving as I was simultaneously trying to give my son sweet glances to reassure him and nudge him to sleep. In my overly-stretched and dual mental state, I realized I couldn’t force sleep on my son nor accomplish anything with work, so I may as well use the moment to pray, meditate, and re-center.

I shifted my mind to my body. What was I feeling? Where was I feeling it? I realized I had been feeling tight. Clenched. It was in my jaw, my chest, and my forehead.

What was causing these sensations? The words began to roll into my mind giving texture and substance to my tightness. Rushed. Confined. Breathless. Like I was running and dodging.

Why was I feeling this way? What was I running from? Discomfort. Disorganization. Dissatisfying others. Experiences began to come to my recollection. I remembered especially feeling rushed, confined, and breathless around 5:30 pm. This is when we’re trying to pack up from the office and get home so dinner can be made so I can ward off my own “hangriness” (hunger+anger) and possibly get lucky with quelling the newborn witching hour of hysteria between 5:30-8 pm. This is one daily confrontation of trying to edge off the discomfort, disarray, and dissatisfaction. I even sensed my clenching as I recalled this daily drama.

By reliving that which I tend to clench to, I was able to see where the confinement is coming from, where I feel I “have to” do something. One was my “hanger”. Can I live with some discomfort or do I have to stop it from coming on? Yeah, I can make it. I won’t die from some hunger. I don’t have to fight against it, but I can let it just be for a few more minutes.

The other was feeling the pull between taking care of dinner and having to soothe my son from tears. Did I have to be in charge of both like I’ve been taking on? No, my husband is more than willing to help with both. A few tears will be just fine and a piece of overcooked chicken isn’t poison. I can let there be room for some dissatisfaction.

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This was my stroll with mindfulness for today. I see it time and again with my patients telling me they want to be able to just let go of their stressor, have their pain taken, or just get their weight off them. We’re always shoving. Always trying to force. But to heal, we must first pause and hold. Just like my little sobbing baby wants to be held for a moment, we all do. Our hurt needs a hug. It’s the way we shift from fight-or-flight-reflexive mode to a state of being able to make choices and be conscious again. The way we do this is through mindfulness. We take an internal stroll surveying ourselves with a nurturing gaze and glide through each question:

  1. What sensation do I feel in my body? Body words might include things such as tight, trembling, clenched, hot, cold, empty, hard.
  2. What are the emotional feelings causing these sensations? These emotional or mind-related words may be tearful, rapid, frenzied, stuck, disgusted.
  3. Why am I feeling these emotions? Here you can consider specific experiences or triggers where you feel your emotions.

As you identify answers to these questions, pause and breathe with them. Hold them and give yourself permission to feel them. This is what I call hugging your hurts. Treat each one like a helpless baby who just needs a moment of mom. By breathing them in, we give our “owies” acknowledgement, and can shift from breathless and reactive to breathing and conscious. As we give ourselves this moment, then we are empowered to transition. I’ve seen it time and again with my patients, loved ones, and myself that as we give ourselves permission and space to feel, only then are we able to heal and let go. I hope this reminder on body-awareness and mindfulness offers you a tool to link you and your loved ones to further wholeness.

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