Thursday, February 14, 2013

In 'N' Out

Sometimes I notice that I hold my breath when I'm doing something challenging. Pre-stroke I caught myself holding my breath whenever I changed lanes on the freeway. Post-stroke I notice it most often while doing hand exercises.

My occupational therapist used to command me to "BREATHE!"
My retort: "I can pick up this ball or I can breathe, but you can't have both!"

I wasn't the only rehab patient with this problem. I heard other therapists bark the same instruction at other straining patients. 

Here's my new tactic: When I become aware that I haven't exhaled, I stop whatever I'm struggling to do and take a few purposeful breaths. Then I make another attempt while focusing on my breathing. Whenever I do this, I notice my coordination and execution improve. I have become convinced that my recovery will coincide with my ability to breathe easily through my motions. Like golf or yoga, the perfect swing or the perfect pose feels effortless.

Jack Kornfield tells a story about a meditation student who complains to his teacher that focusing on his breath during meditation is boring. The teacher grabs the student by the neck and plunges his head under water. When the teacher finally releases the struggling student, he says: "Do you think your breath is boring now?"


  1. Yes, yes, I do this whenever I concentrate on something, and I have to monitor myself and make myself breathe.

  2. After attending a workshop last month where a 6 minute per day meditation was recommended, I have recently started this daily meditation which consists of sitting quietly with my eyes closed and counting my breaths, in and out, up to 100 counts. Just to sit mindfully for this amount of time is a lovely discipline. When I find myself in a challenging situation, one that requires patience, I stop and begin to silently count my breaths. Your blog just confirms the many ways mindful breathing is helpful!

  3. I hold my breathe during hand exercises too Now before movement begins I take a breath and try to remember to blow it out slowly through pursed lips.

  4. You are so clever and funny and insightful and tenacious and such a wonderful writer. I'm so doggon proud of you!

  5. I love your Uncle Wells' joke. I have never heard that before, and it made me chuckle. :-)