Waiting to Exhale is a 1995 film that describes the relationship struggles of four female friends. All of them are “holding their breath” until they find a more comfortable place in their lives. In the title song of the film, Whitney Houston sings about these common struggles in life that come and go, often without reason. The refrain of the song describes the deep relief of the long-awaited exhale.
I feel like this is a vivid description of our own lives, in the way we bounce around our schedules, obstacles, and difficulties. In our diligent efforts to complete tasks and make things work out the way we imagined, we put off the “exhale”, telling ourselves we can slow down and breathe later. The problem becomes worse when later never comes, and we find ourselves accustomed to the frantic pace. When that “holding our breath pace” becomes our normal, our bodies begin to slowly suffer. The good news is we suffer needlessly! No matter what obstacle we face, or how busy we think we are, we have the ability to “exhale”. Your breath is always with you!
The “relaxation response” is activated in our bodies through the practice of intentional deep breathing. There are many specific patterns that can be used, but I favor the simple ones. “Equal Breathing” is performed by inhaling through the nose for four counts, and then exhaling through the nose for four counts. As you practice this equalizing pattern, you may feel comfortable increasing the counts to six or eight for both the inhale and exhale. The effects of a five-ten minutes daily practice lowers the heart rate, blood pressure, stress and anxiety. But even better, this practice can be used at any time during the day to calm the nervous system and reduce anxiety and stress. For kids, a very simple and fun way to establish this practice from an early age is termed “Teddy Bear Breathing”. The child uses their favorite stuffed animal across the belly, while lying on their back. As they breathe deeply in and out, they can watch their animal friend rise and fall.
Breathing is vital. Our bodies will perform it without our effort, but the quality of that breathing is affected by stress! We have the gift of being able to control our breathing depth and rate and use it to help our bodies manage stress in a healthier way. We do not have to be victims of life’s stressful events, putting off the “exhale” as the characters in Waiting to Exhale. We do not have to even wait until we are quietly alone! We can begin right now, in the middle of what ever has triggered our awareness of tension, tightness or suffering. Breathe deeply and enjoy the many benefits of literally bringing calm into the current moment. You may be surprised how quickly you notice a difference, not only in yourself but to the people around you.