What I Learned From Doing Breathing Exercises
How I Learned to Breathe (Again)
In a world full of noise, expectations, and anxiety, a growing community is turning attention back to the first thing: breathing. “Learn to breathe with breathing exercises”: it sounded compelling, so I decided to give it a try. Here’s an account of my experience.
I have a ‘free-time to-do list’ that’s permanently filled. When Singapore’s circuit breaker was first announced, the project manager persona in me was roused and stirred, and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to get stuff done.
Compiling my “success” bucket list. Time to get it done.
Truth be told, after a few weeks of trying to be “productive” with my free time, I was left feeling drained and had lost motivation to complete said task list. All I wanted to do after a stressful workday-from-home was lay on my bed and spend hours scrolling through my phone till I fell asleep.
It was during one of these scroll-to-sleep sessions that I came across breathing.
In my YouTube recommended feed (the wonders of algorithms), I learned about Wim Hof’s 10-minute breathing exercises.
Wim performs various superhuman feats, from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in just shorts, running a half marathon above the Arctic Circle barefoot, to holding the world record for the longest swim under ice.
On top of his physical training, Wim practices conscious breathing exercises. These two things come together and enable Wim’s 60-year old body to withstand the extreme conditions in the cold.
Just a day in the life of Wim Hof.
Various forms of breathing exercises exist. It is referred to as Pranayama in Yoga, Tummo in Buddhism, Qigong in Chinese culture, to name a few.
Practitioners simply believe that from conscious breathing and regulating your oxygen intake, you gain control of your own physiology.
This leads to countless physical and mental benefits: a boosted immune system, improved concentration and mental well-being, increased energy and willpower, and improved sleep.
So I figured: why not give it a shot?
Just. Breathe. Hmm, okay.
I committed to doing 3 sets of 3-minute breathing exercises, first thing in the morning and last thing before bed.
Trying it for the first time while lying in bed, I noticed I was actually a lot calmer, less anxious and my mind was clearer. I fell into a good sleep straight after, and decided to practice it for the remainder of the circuit breaker period.
Whether it was due to physiological or psychological reasons, I can say for sure that I felt healthier and more in control of my body, thoughts, and emotions.
Let’s try decluttering (again).
A few days into my breathing exercises, I revisited my ‘free-time to-do list’, but this time with a certain clarity of mind.
Questioning my own motivations, I realised that I was burnt out from being a completionist. In the pursuit of self-improvement, I was dragging myself to complete things. In doing so, I was not giving myself enough space to enjoy the process.
I should clarify at this point: doing breathing exercises did not mean I was now accomplishing superhuman feats like Wim Hof.
Unfortunately, as the days went by and life continued its relentless barrage, I lost the rhythm to practice it daily. You might turn up their nose because I’ve turned this into another item on my ‘free-time to-do list’.
But I still believe that my starting journey with conscious breathing was an incredibly insightful experience.
Reflecting on life where I’m caught up with busyness, often filled with anxiety and doubt, learning to breathe consciously taught me to live in the moment, and accept it as it was.
It gave a newfound reminder of the humbling fact: breathing, a mostly unconscious activity, enables your body to take care of its own physical wellness. In the same way, I can try allowing time and space for something to take care of itself.
Now that I think about it, I can probably find some time this week to do my breathing exercises.
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