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Just Breathe
Debra J. Gawrych

As many of us sat glued to our television sets on September 11 and for many days afterwards, we held our breath. The horror and heartfelt grief overwhelmed us and we forgot to breathe.

How many times do we forget to breathe in our daily lives; when we are anxiously awaiting news, good or bad, an accident occurs, or when someone criticizes us. All at once we are bombarded by stress and over-stimulated to the point that the simple act of breathing is forgotten.

Breathing is essential to life. The oxygen taken in on the breath nourishes each cell in our bodies and is the foundation to our physical functioning, much as sunlight is essential for photosynthesis in plants.

Sally Helgesen writes in her latest book, Thriving in 24/7: Six Strategies for Taming The New World of Work, "�.there is no way that we can breathe consciously when we are multi-tasking. There is no way we can talk on the phone while scanning through e-mail and still maintain an awareness of our breath slowly coming in and going out�when we do several things at once, we cannot be fully aware of any one thing. We are by definition, and by choice, scattered."

Being scattered zaps our energy and leaves us feeling tired, sometimes depressed and can lead to stress-related illnesses. One way to alter this pattern is to become more aware. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk and internationally acclaimed author, offers a solution that whenever we hear a telephone ring, we stop whatever we are doing for a few seconds and take one long deep breath. Then we can go on and answer the phone if we choose. The ringing sound acts as a cue, reminding us to be in the present and disrupts the trance-like pattern of our every-day multi-tasking lifestyle.

Using the telephone in this way is similar to how temple and church bells have been used historically; as an audible reminder to draw awareness to the present moment and turn thoughts to the larger meaning of life.

John W. Travis, MD and Regina Sara Ryan explain how to take a breath in The Wellness Workbook. They explain the mechanics of breath using the blacksmith's bellows as an example. When the handles are lifted, the bellows are open and air comes in. When the handles are depressed the air is forced out. The diaphragm works like bellows, expanding when you inhale and deflating when you exhale.

There are many excellent exercise disciplines that teach breathing along with movement: Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, even running. All of these forms of exercise involve using breath to complete the fluidity of motion. As noted in the book, The Seven Aspects of Sisterhood: Empowering Women Through Self-Discovery, it is easier to clear your mind of stress using breathing and relaxation techniques. Some of these are quiet such as progressive relaxation, some of these are active. Active techniques such as Pilates, Yoga and Flexible Strength have gained in popularity at gyms all across the country. These classes use breathing and work on the stabilizer muscles that are used in every day life, as opposed to only working major muscles groups. They encourage you to work on what you need for normal life rather than for a particular competitive sport.

Gary Strack, a key note speaker and PhD Health Care Researcher, equates "breath of life" to the Latin word spiritus, and further expands that it is a way of being and experiencing that come about through awareness that transcends self. So in this way, breathing helps us to rise above the ordinary problems of our daily existence and makes it easier for us to experience that we are so much more. It helps us to feel connected to others and in turn helps all of us to feel that we are part of a greater community. Breathing leads to inspiration and helps us all to be the better part of who we already are.

So next time you hear the telephone ring, get cut off in traffic or are anxiously awaiting a phone call, stop holding your breath. Remember to just breathe.

� Debbie Gawrych

Common Boundaries, publisher of The Seven Aspects of Sisterhood: Empowering Women Through Self-Discovery. Look for the Gutsy Girls series coming in 2002. Check out commonboundaries.com for programs and keynote speaking engagements. 336-288-8554