Over the last five years, I’ve seen a considerable uptick in breathing exercises.
There are more yoga and meditation classes than ever before. We have apps like “Calm” and “Headspace.” Business people are switching from coffee to “30-minutes of breathwork,” followed by a nude cannonball into Lake Michigan.
All of this got me thinking:
How did we go so long without breathing?
I’m being honest here. I don’t think I heard about breathing until I was old enough to vote.
The only thing that ever came close was the occasional hippie substitute teacher who introduced the “Take a deep breath, count to ten,” method or the choir teacher suggesting, “Breathe from the diaphragm.”
Yeah, you lost us at “breathe…“
We had no language for breathing. “Inhale” is what we did to a burger. “Exhale” was only used after a near-death experience.
After the car stopped sliding on the ice, we could finally EXHALE… And get back to INHALING our Big Macs.
I’m struggling to find the exact medical journal, but the dominant belief in the 1990s was our lungs functioned like a bike tire or a bank account; meaning you could legitimately run out of breath. Get the wind knocked out of you. When songwriters wrote things like, “I’ll love you till my final breath,” or “Take My Breath Away” they weren’t being poetic. That was certified medical language.
We exhaled sparingly because who knew how many breaths we had left?
So, back to the earlier question, how did we survive all these years without breathing?
A) Breathing is overrated (I feel like that’s gonna be a hard case to make)
B) We must have developed some sort of adaptation like fish with gills.
I ran in circles trying to figure this out. Couldn’t make any sense of it. But then, right in my moment of peak frustration and exhaustion, I let out a heavy sigh. Even though my lips were still closed, I exhaled enough air to fill a small inner tube.
That’s when it hit me: The most effective breathing exercise ever created is not even a breathing exercise. It’s the heavy sigh.
The heavy sigh sounds like air going out of a bike tire. The duration can last anywhere from three seconds to four days. I think I’ve lost two pounds of air before during the heavy sigh.
There’s a big difference between the sigh and the heavy sigh. A sigh leaks out of the mouth. The heavy sigh forces its way out involving the lips, the chest, the shoulders, the lower back. I’m pretty sure even the kidneys get involved.
The heavy sigh reveals just how much air is stored in my body. It’s a stunning amount. I feel like I’m a couple of shots of helium away from being a hot air balloon.
The heavy sigh is its own language, communicating more effectively than words. It’s versatile! The heavy sigh can mean anything from, “I’m frustrated,” to, “I’m super annoyed right now,” to a cryptic, passive-aggressive message like, “I thought you were going to put the dishes away, but I guess I’ll do it for you.” People can hear a heavy sigh off in the distance and immediately think to themselves, “Crap, I was supposed to do the dishes, wasn’t I?”
I have nothing against all the new-age breathing exercises. Nothing at all. But it seems like the modern goal is to reach a state of work-life balance zen and have this constant equilibrium as a result of the breathwork. I don’t know if that’s realistic…
The heavy sigh, on the other hand, allows us to go, go, go. We can push as hard as humanly possible letting the stress, frustrations, and pet peeves pile up because, whenever we’re about ready to pop, just turn a couple of valves. Let some air out of the tires.
So, next time you’re feeling stressed out, ditch the yoga class. No need for a special app. Or some fancy breathwork regimen. Nope. Just take a deep breath. Keep your lips together. And then force out one big heavy sigh.
There you go. You should be all set on breathing for another 10-12 years.
What is Medium Rare? Well, this post is a pretty good snapshot. I describe it as philosophy and life advice cooked “medium rare.” The goal is more about making you laugh than making up self-help advice.
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