Anyone with breathing challenges such as COPD or asthma knows the frightening feeling of not being able to catch your breath when out and about. Maybe you needed to get to the grocery store and just the short walk from your car has made you breathless. Do you panic? Do you give up on your errand and just get back to your car before you freak out? Do you berate yourself for your inability to function like a normal person?
Here’s the good news! A gentle meditation practice, along with some pursed lip breathing, can get you out of trouble before breathlessness becomes a problem. Let’s look into it!
If you’ve suffered from COPD for some time, you probably already know all about pursed lip breathing. It’s a way to control the exhalations so that they might be a little longer–or at least as long–as the inhalations. The beauty of pursed lip breathing is that it is a meditation all by itself! When you focus your mind on the exhales, this becomes a focal point for the mind, and really that’s all there is to meditating! You don’t need a mantra (which I talked about in previous blogs), you don’t need any special equipment or clothing. All you need is your own sweet, vital breath for the mind to quiet down and as it does, your feelings of breathlessness will calm down as well.
The trick is–you need to practice it every day, about 15 or 20 minutes, not just when your breathing becomes challenged. When you practice regularly, the relaxed exhales become second nature, you don’t even have to think about it. Then, when you do get in a jam, your practice will kick in. Instead of turning on the stress response, which makes the oxygen in your lungs less effective, the slow exhalations will calm the mind as well as the breath.
The longer exhalations turn on the “relaxation response”, activating a neural receptor in the alvioli that enhances the efficiency of breathing. Think of a cat purring–it’s relaxed but alert.
Try not to be too hard on yourself when you do get out of breath. Notice what judgements come up, with a detached awareness. This is also meditation. Practice self-love, we’re all just doing the best we can. In my next blog, I’ll write about how exercise is also key to improved breathing.
Stay safe! Wear a mask!