If you have been following my blog, you may know that last May I began a breathing practice. I have continued my breathing practice* all year, and I have been blogging about it each month. You can read about month one here. (And there are links to the other months, too.)
I knew that good things would happened if I practiced deep breathing regularly, but I didn’t realize what a significant impact it would have on my life.
This is month twelve of my breathing practice: I have now been officially doing it the whole year. So to celebrate, I thought I would write about twelve cool and surprising things that happened because of my breathing practice this year.
One: My nervous system calmed down.
I have always been a HSP (a highly sensitive person). As such, I get overstimulated easily by bright light, loud noises, sharp smells, or any other really intense sensory stimuli. Breathing deeply this year didn’t change my nature as a highly sensitive person, but it did calm my nervous system down a bit so that I can handle strong stimuli better.
This has brought a lot of good things into my life. For example…
Two: I began walking all the time.
Almost immediately after I began my breathing practice, I began walking outside a lot. One of the things I have realized over the year is that our body and mind crave to move and crave to be outside. When my nervous system was overstimulated, it was hard for me to hear internal messages to move and get outside more.
Once I calmed my nervous system down, I started hearing these internal messages. So, I started walking daily outside. At first it was just a couple of miles, but then it turned into six, eight, ten, and (once) fourteen miles. My walking has slowed down during the winter months a bit, but I am excited to walk in the summer again.
Three: I began craving nature.
When I began walking outside, I fell in love with trees and flowers and butterflies. I realized that I felt calmer, more alive, and more connected. I wanted more natural places. I began hiking more, and I also sought out more natural places around my house. I discovered a beautiful nature sanctuary called Veteran’s Park, and I also rediscovered the Lexington Cemetery, which has beautiful trees and a big pond with geese.
Four: I got rid of some stuff.
Spending time outside made me fall in love with external space. As a result, I began craving more space in internal areas like my house. One day, I realize that my couch was making me feel cramped and claustrophobic, so I got rid of it. I was amazed at how much better it made our house and living room feel. I also got rid of some books and book shelves, which created more space.
Don’t get me wrong. I like couches, and I am sure we will get another one some day, but right now I deeply appreciate all the space I have in our living room.
Five: My muscular strength improved.
Breathing deeply makes my muscles stronger. All parts of our body need oxygen to function well, and breathing well certainly helped me feel stronger. But, in addition, the more I walked the stronger all my muscles were, and now that I don’t have a couch, I constantly have to get up from the floor using a lot of muscles I haven’t for a while. As a result, I am much stronger now than I was a year ago.
Six: My anxiety calmed down.
I am fortunate in that I have never dealt with extreme anxiety, but I definitely run a little anxious on average, and in times of significant stress and change, I get really anxious.
When I started my breathing practice last May, I had just finished a graduate program and changed jobs, and my stress level was high. I was regularly suffering minor anxiety attacks in which I became hyper-vigilant and felt like the walls were closing in. When I began my breathing practice, I noticed that these attacks abated dramatically. I still have them once in a while but experience them much less frequently.
Seven: I got much better at listening to myself.
As I have practiced breathing every day for the last year, I have become much more aware of what is going on in my mind and body, and I pay more careful attention to the signals I get from myself. Because of this, I took a couple of important breaks this year that helped me a lot. For example…
Eight: I built a fort.
This may seem trivial, but it is not. Last fall, I was really tired, and in listening to myself, I realized that I needed a mini-vacation. However, even though I wanted a vacation, I also wanted to stay at home and rest.
Solution: I built myself a fort in my office with twinkly lights and blankets and pillows. I stocked it with some seashells for decoration and some interesting books I was currently reading. It was a beautiful oasis for several months.
I am in my mid-forties, but I don’t care. Grown ups need forts sometimes, too.
Nine: I went on an inner-exploration adventure during Christmas Break.
Over Christmas break this year, I discovered the Enneagram, an ancient personality system that contemporary folks have worked out in some really cool and interesting ways.
The Enneagram is an interesting test because it shows you not only the strengths of your character (like many personality systems), it also shows you some of your most common vices, personality weaknesses, and underlying drives. This can be enlightening, but it can also feel at first like all of your darkest secrets are being exposed, which can be depressing.
I certain felt discouraged when I discovered my Enneagram number (I am a 2). But discovering my type also helped me understand warning signs that my personality is becoming unhealthy, and I also figured out specific self-care strategies I can use to make sure I am a healthy and flourishing 2. Taking this break has given me tools to continue my own self-growth and to cultivate health in my personality.
Ten: I took a social media break.
All of this introspection over Christmas break led me to take a social media break in February to process what I was learning. I love social media, and is generally a good thing in my life. Taking a month’s break from it helped me figure out some ways I was using it that were not healthy.
The result of all of this is that I asked my friend AnneMarie if I could report to her periodically about my social media use and whether I am using it in a healthy or unhealthy way. This has been really good for me, and I am currently working on developing a more defined philosophy of how I use social media.
Eleven: I discovered the power of small practices.
Through my breathing practice, I have realized that any positive practice we do consistently can make a profound difference in our life. My breathing practice is so simple that it was easy to do it every day this year. But doing it every day really added up over time. Change does not have to be drastic to be significantly impactful.
I intend to keep up with my breathing practice this year, and I am also planning a new practice I want to begin and blog about. Stay tuned…
Twelve: I started dancing again.
It may seem that I am exaggerating this item for the sake of ending this post with a bang. But I am serious.
I used to go to dance class (aerobics) all the time when I was younger, and I loved it. Slowly, over the years, it began to be really stressful and anxiety-producing for me. It wasn’t that it was hard. It was that it just felt like “too much” in a way I couldn’t articulate. So, I stopped going.
This month, I found myself craving dance class again, and so I went back, and it has been amazing. Building my muscular strength and endurance this last year certainly helped, but I noticed another change.
I feel so free. When I was younger, my main thoughts during dance class were, “Am I burning enough calories? What are people thinking? Do I look thin enough in my exercise outfit?”
Now my main thoughts are, “Wow, this feels good. I feel like adding an extra pirouette to this song, so I will. I am a dancing Queen. And that girl over there is a Rock Star. I want to try her dance moves.
I think breathing has helped me make friends with myself, and now I love pursuing things that make me feel free, joyful, and alive–not worrying much about what other people think about it.
I’ve definitely embraced dancing again, and I love it.
The older I get, the more I believe that my mind, body, and spirit love me and want me to thrive. The more I want to listen to myself to build trust and partnership. The more I think my mind, body, and spirit and I can do beautiful things together.
I believe this about you, too, Friend.
*My breathing practice is really simple: I just lie or sit down and take ten, slow deep breaths through my nose and exhale out my nose or mouth. I do this three times a day–usually when I am waking up in the morning, going to sleep at night, and sometime during the day.
If you begin a breathing practice, you may or may not experience the same results I did. If you don’t experience the same results, don’t let that discourage you. I believe that breathing provides the particular benefits we need for the time in life in which we find ourselves. Those benefits are unique and particular to each of our lives.
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