Ahhh...RainbowsOkay, it’s been 3 weeks now that we’ve been back in the Caribbean. And it truly changes you.

Often, friends ask me to talk about the differences between life in the US and life in the Caribbean. I have done this in an earlier post, but only hinted at the differences that I’ve experienced at the core of my being.

Here, I can breathe.

And it’s not about the lack of pollution. It goes way deeper than that. There’s something about the energy of a place where everyone sees time and ambition differently. Things naturally slow down. There’s nothing to prove. Tomorrow is actually another day…and it’s okay to continue what you started tomorrow.

There is a comfort here that feels like stepping off the treadmill and resting.

And while you might not realize it, it’s not just your mind that changes…your body changes too. For me, one of the first things that I noticed as I calibrated to this island energy is my breathing.

I found that I was taking deeper, nourishing breaths that seemed to calm me.

Without realizing it, at home in the US, I was taking more shallow breaths and moving along with the energy of producing as quickly as possible. With getting somewhere, albeit undefined.

In the US, even when it wasn’t ambition moving me, it was getting somewhere to another location. Perhaps the grocery store, a 15-minute drive. Perhaps to visit relatives 2 – 4 hours away. Perhaps to run errands, moving from place to place over the course of several hours.

Here, there is nowhere to go. Everything is close, just steps away. If I am going somewhere, it’s on a hike, so really it’s like going in any direction I choose. There’s a sense of attention and adventure, rather than going through the motions to get something done.

There’s nowhere to go, so there’s more time to go INSIDE.

Going inside means that I am noticing if I’m off balance. Instead of having a place to escape, there is only here. My escape becomes the outdoors — my beautiful yard, the garden I am learning to grow, looking out the always-open doors to see shockingly beautiful ocean and terrain. It is a place of sights and sounds so dramatic that here is really all that’s necessary.

On Christmas day, Joel and I exchanged no gifts, as has been our habit throughout our marriage.

Instead, we give to our favorite charities and do something special to commemorate the day. On this past Christmas, it was going scuba diving after a year of being away from Saba. It was on this trip, only 1 week after our arrival, that I learned how to breathe…again.

Underwater, you have to have some kind of trust that everything is going to be okay. Otherwise, you can panic, which increases your chances of possible injury or death. Yes, it’s that serious. So long ago, I learned that to dive meant I was required to be calm, to trust, to BREATHE. Breathing is important in diving because it helps with buoyancy. With good breathing underwater, you can control your upward and downward movement in the water.

With good breathing, you can feel like you are having a lucid, flying dream. You are the master of your movement.

You learn the power of breath because it is part of your survival mechanism underwater.

And yet, isn’t that true of our experience on the ground? Why then, do we forget to breathe deeply? And how does this change our experience of life, if we forget?

My theory is that since we are so used to walking on the ground, it’s easy to cut corners here are there. If we aren’t paying attention, we can cut corners more and more often, getting used to this new habit. Eventually, it becomes our way. The only telling signal is when our health starts to go downhill, first in small ways, then later, getting bigger if we don’t make positive changes.

Underwater, we are novices, especially for those of us new to diving.

Underwater, we notice when we are not breathing well because we begin to lose our balance, moving up or down in ways we’d rather not. Becoming awkward, bulky, subject to some kind of strange gravitational pull that we can’t control. It can get scary and the only way to STOP the scariness is to BREATHE deeply, slowly and calmly.

The funny thing? Once I start forcing myself to breathe deeply and calmly undewater…I BECOME calm. It’s like magic and involves no pills, no potions, just my own breath.

Breathing slowly, fully and with attention can create balance underwater. AND it creates balance above ground.

If you are feeling stressed, experiment with focusing on your breathing. Statistics show that the fight or flight (or freeze!) response of stress causes quickened, shallow breathing and increased heart rate. Eventually, you may feel (as I often did when immersed in stress) like you can’t relax, sit still or slow down. Yet because you are an expert above-ground, you may not realize your breathing has changed until your body signals you with a health concern.

This week, join me in celebrating the life-giving mechanism of breath. Take time to tune into your body and FEEL YOUR BREATH.

Here’s How:

  • Tune into your breath as you wake up in the morning. Is it relaxed and calm? Did your morning alarm clock make it start to race?
  • Take the time first thing in the morning to calm your breath, taking deep breaths and feeling healthy energy come into your body.
  • Notice how you feel after focusing on your breath for between 1 – 5 minutes. You may notice that you feel calm and centered.
  • Now tune into your breath periodically throughout the day.
  • Are there certain times of day or situations that create a chanage in your breathing? Become aware of them and use your breath to carry you through.
  • At night, when you are winding down before bed, tune into your breath again.
  • Consciously breathe deeply and slowly for between 1 – 5 mintues, even more if you’d like. Feel yourself getting calm and ready for sleep.
  • Do this for a week and record what you learn. You may find that this investment of time saves you the cost of doctor’s visits or over the counter medication in the future!

Here are some GREAT resources to help you learn to BREATHE:

  • Breathe to Beat the Blues – This CD by Amy Weintraub, is an amazing guided breathing exercise to help boost your mood. Especially good during winer months, when people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), this CD actually brings a feeling of calm and a subtle sense of joy. Some of the breathing exercises actually stimulate parts of your nervous system that positively affect depression. Kaphalabhati is one of my favorites on this CD and the way that Amy leads these exercises is bar none one of the best I’ve experienced!
  • Wreck of the Day CD – You gotta love Anna Nalick’s song, Breathe (2 AM). While you tune into your breath, it doesn’t hurt to play this song on the way to work. If you have to have a song stuck in your head, it might as well be this one! While the song is a bit melancholy, it reminds you that when the chips are down, just breathe. That advice alone could save us all lots of money in therapy!
  • Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series DVD – I am a certified yoga instructor and of all of the yoga I’ve done, Ashtanga is my favorite. David Swenson is my favorite Ashtanga teacher. His DVD is excellent for beginners and advanced students. What I love about Ashtanga yoga is that the whole practice is like a dance of breath and movement. You use the Ujay breath (David Swenson teaches you how in the CD) for the whole practice and if you don’t know what ujay breath is — GREAT — because learning a new breathing technique is one of the best ways to become aware of the power of breath.
  • Yoga for Depression - Amy Weintraub is the master of using breathing and yoga to create balanced moods. She went from taking anti-depressants to weaning herself off of them through yoga and breathing. This book is a phenomenal resource for anyone who wants to learn to slow down and truly enjoy their lives. She explains why these practices work and you’re sure to feel better with her capable guidance.