Holding Your Breath Is Only Smart Under Water


“Don’t hold your breath” is a common phrase for showing a lack of hope in something happening. “I think she’s going to be on time for once.” Don’t hold your breath. “Starting today, things are going to change.” Don’t hold your breath. “I hope my rates don’t go up.” Don’t hold your breath.

Why would we hold our breath anyway? Is it supposed to be like we are the spoiled child who holds her breath until she gets what she wants? I’ve never understood that ploy. Maybe that’s because I suck at holding my breath. (Pun intended.) I mean, how is that even effective? Can someone actually hold their breath to death?

Even under water, my breath-holding skills are not stellar. The old “toss the coins into the deep end of the pool” game always left me with chump change compared to my deeper lunged friends.

And yet.

And yet I’ve come to realize that I hold my breath all the time. I’ve been practicing yoga for over a year now, and I am amazed at how often the instructor will offer a reminder about inhaling or exhaling and I realize I’m just…haling? Is that even a thing?

Apparently, if I’m concentrating on something else, I forget to breathe properly. Whether it’s yoga, meditation, or even work—too often I realize I’m holding my breath—depriving myself of the very thing I need to function…oxygen.

This is not smart.

Breathing is about as core a function as there is. When a baby is born, it isn’t until that first breath is heard that the full joy washes over the parents. Hearing those lungs work for the first time is…wow…an overwhelmingly beautiful sound. (Any crying after that?…not so much.)

And…you’re pretty much still in the “alive” category as long as you’re breathing. (Unless you’re Wesley in The Princess Bride, then you’re mostly dead, which is slightly alive. Big difference from all dead.)



Inspire…to breathe in…Expire…to breathe out. From beginning to end, it’s all in the breath.

When I recognize that I am holding my breath and start breathing again, it feels so much better. Not surprising, I know.

I wish I knew why I short circuit my breathing. I know that at least part of it is because of my anxiety—it’s like a subconscious way to clench the inside of my body. Anxiety is such a jag.

Whatever the reasons are for holding my breath, the best remedy is something that I strive for every day…and fall short in every day: mindfulness. Being aware that I need to return to the breath…of life.

It seems so…obvious…yet…I’m not there yet.

Do you ever notice this about yourself? That, for whatever reason, you find yourself suspended from breathing? Just here and there, obviously, because we’re still…alive. But just enough to screw with the natural rhythm of life?

And where else are we “holding our breath” and doing the same? Where else are we depriving ourselves of the very things we need? Whether it’s grace, leisure, faith, rest…are we giving ourselves enough “life oxygen” to do more than merely stay upright? Are we making sure that we breathe deeply and fill ourselves up so that we might thrive instead of just survive? Or do we need Billy Crystal to pump the bellows for us, too?

Because just like there is a big difference between mostly dead and all dead, there is an immense difference between mostly alive and all alive, too.

I need more all alive.

Again, I know mindfulness is key. Auto pilot may get you there, but that’s about it. Being mindful, purposeful, and engaged makes everything more. It makes life inspirational.

It’s not easy, though. At least not for me. Auto pilot is simple. It requires less energy…and the very things that provide energy (leisure, rest, etc.) are the things I too often let slide. A frustrating catch-22.

But as I’ve shared before, what matters is how we respond. No matter how many times we fail, we simply need to return to the breath lovingly and kindly.

I was going to end with a reference to Faith Hill’s song “Breathe,” but beyond the chorus, it’s not anywhere close to what we’re talking about here…and then I found this song by Jonny Diaz…who pretty much nails it.

Just breathe, my friends.




8 thoughts on “Holding Your Breath Is Only Smart Under Water

  1. I can relate. When I was in the thick of it in the corporate world, I would forget to breathe. And when I did, it was shallow and rapid. I wondered why I got hiccups so often:). I don’t miss those days!

  2. Reblogged this on cicampbellblog and commented:
    Busy day? Feeling rushed off your feet? Overwhelmed?
    A writer’s life can get like that. There are so many things to do besides just writing.
    Most of us have homes and families to look after, or jobs to hold down. And that’s before we even begin to think about promoting and marketing our work. Writing is what we’d love to do all the time, but that’s rarely possible.
    A blogger friend of mine, Lisa Ancona-Roach, posted this link on her blog, the jugglestruggle.net and it really caught my attention, so I thought I’d share it with you. It’s such good advice.
    Just Breathe!

  3. I’m not sure if I ever hold my breath when I’m focusing on something. I have a feeling I might, but the problem is I’m focusing on something else, so not really paying attention! 🙂

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