At night, when I was little, I would hold my breath until I could assure myself that I could identify all the noises in my room. I was afraid. I was uncertain and insecure about being alone in my bed in the dark. But I had a stronger desire—I wanted to be a “big girl” and do it on my own.
Sometimes I still feel this same pressure. It is an internal feeling that I have to “do it on my own.” Asking for support can be challenging for “my people,” the folks with some pitta dominance in their constitutions. We are naturally driven and competitive. We like a challenge, and often those challenges come from ourselves. Yet sometimes we need support, and we are not sure how to request it. This is where I use pranayama (breathwork) to help me practice receiving support—in this case, support from prana (life-force energy). I practice pranayama daily so that when my habit of holding my breath is triggered, I have a new “go to.” Daily practice, just five minutes total in the morning, creates a great groove in my brain! When the urge to hold the breath comes, I can access the new habit, now a neural imprint, because I practiced it when calm.
We like a challenge, and often those challenges come from ourselves. Yet sometimes we need support, and we are not sure how to request it.
In ayurvedic medicine, we see the result of this type of tension (the “hold your breath, suck it up, 'I can do it on my own!'” type of tension) in the form of pitta imbalances: acid reflux, rashes, angry outbursts from frustration. Sometimes even our skin stops breathing, and we become red or flush.
Remembering that “the whole system breathes” is key to supporting the proper function of our vata subdoshas. This is the system that circulates prana in our bodies, and that circulation supports our cellular health. As we inhale and exhale, each cell echoes the behavior. Even the subcutaneous cells of our skin breathe, and they pause when we become tense. Imagine your whole system pausing, and then when the fear or concern passes, your whole body begins to breathe again. This imagery can be part of the process we need to address when we start to feel anxious or overwhelmed.
I feel that we sometimes create similar “hold on” pauses in our lives as well. Often, just as we approach new ways of seeing the world or begin to move away from old habits, we seem to pause as if gathering ourselves in preparation to make change. We hold the breath in, and then realize we need to let go—really let go—and move with the whole self in a new direction. In order to change.
Next time you catch yourself holding your breath, be kind to yourself. Understand that it is a sign that you are preparing to embrace a challenge, the fear of the unknown. And then remind yourself that it is okay to let go and breathe. Your very breath will support you. It will offer you the energy to reach out for support, or to embrace a new habit or behavior, or even just to feel calm and relaxed, and perhaps to allow yourself to let go of what's no longer useful. And maybe today is not the “break the habit” day. After all, even “big girls” need to take change one breath at a time!