BEing Blog 13 – Breath of Life
I am so happy when I learn something new, another piece in the puzzle of life.
Like all of you, I understand the importance of breathing. Without breath, there is no life. Breath is at the very start and ceases at the very end, in between it is a constant. Automatic, unconscious, rise and fall, rise and fall as the lungs fill and empty. Simple huh!??
Dive a little deeper and we learn that breathing should come from the tummy, the diaphragm rising and falling, the belly expanding- not the chest and shoulders. Those of us who practice yoga are familiar with pranayama (1), or breathing practise where we observe our breath in and out, in and out
The breath is also key to many meditative practises. Focus on the breath and the world melts away.
Breath is written about in ancient texts, in spiritual texts, by scientists and by prophets (2).
So, with all this information and knowledge about breathing, which I pay attention to and practise mindfully on a daily basis, why is it that I have suddenly discovered that I routinely, frequently, and with no awareness forget to breathe? The symptoms were screaming for me to pay attention; fuzzy head, fluttery chest, hands and legs tingling. Heck, not things you would think someone would dismiss!
Like all messages from the body, particularly ones signalling new experiences, my brain had a number of ways of explaining how I was feeling based on previous experiences and my stored knowledge base. It cycled through hunger, tiredness, anxiety, stress, too long in front of a screen, neurological issues, and a couple more sinister possibilities. And this went on for months, no closer to what was really going on, until a couple of weeks ago.
One day, standing in front of my computer, focussed on a task, I started to feel once again this feeling of not being well. I paused and scanned for reasons. I realised that this issue never happens when I am outside, walking, running, at the supermarket, driving, cooking. It only happened when I was in front of my screen. A little bit later I thought about it some more and came to the realisation that when I am focussing, I stop breathing!
Doing a quick google search I realised that I am not alone, and there is even a name for what I was experiencing, ‘email apnoea’ or ‘screen apnoea’. Email apnoea is described as involuntarily stopping breathing when concentrating, especially when doing sedentary tasks such as emails. Psychology Today reports that it may affect 80% of office workers (3). The term was first coined in 2008 by Linda Stone, a writer, researcher, and former executive at Apple and Microsoft (4, 5) .
Taking a look at the mechanics of not breathing and the physical implications both long and short term makes for interesting reading; ‘…..breath holding contributes significantly to stress-related diseases. The body becomes acidic, the kidneys begin to re-absorb sodium, and as the oxygen (O2), carbon dioxide (CO2), and nitric oxide (NO) balance is undermined, our biochemistry is thrown off.’
Whoa, that’s pretty serious stuff! And, the vagus nerve also seems to have plenty to say when deprived of quality breath; ‘The activated sympathetic nervous system causes the liver to dump glucose and cholesterol into our blood, our heart rate to increase, our sense of satiety to be compromised, and our bodies to anticipate and resource for the physical activity that, historically, accompanied a physical fight or flight response.’ (5)
Time to get serious about breathing!
Breathing is important, vital, but for some of us we forget, we become so vigilant on the task at hand the brain decides that breathing might affect our focus, so it stops for a time, over and over again. Pay attention next time you are texting- are you breathing? Next time you are sitting or standing at your desk, focussing on an email or document, or searching for something on the net- are you breathing regularly, from your belly; outward NOT UPWARD? Or are there huge pauses when you slip into unconscious vigilant mode and don’t breathe at all?
Our health and BEing-well is such a delicate balance of nutrition, exercise, sleep, community and relationships, and at the centre of all this is the breath.
Stop and take a breath- your health depends upon it!