Just Breathe

I’m not big on high-tech toys. In fact, the more bells and whistles, the more confused I become. However, as technologically challenged as I am last year I decided that I REALLY needed an Apple Watch for the singular use of tracking my triathalon training. True to form, I got mine moments BEFORE the waterproof version came out—so it turned out to not be so useful for swimming, but I’ll worry about that later.

Truth is, I like my watch more than I thought I would. I like that it tells me how many miles I’ve run or biked, how many calories I’ve burned, and what my heart is up to while I’m training. (Okay--the activity app is basically the only feature I use—so it’s really more of a glorified Fitbit). I like the interchangeable bands—reminds me a little of my 80s Swatch Watch phase. And I like that every time I look at the face, I see my kids, my friends, or my husband’s face smiling back at me. In fact, it’s almost perfect—except for one thing: That little icon that pops up with a “ding” every now and then, reminding me to simply “breathe.”

The first time it popped up I was concerned. Was I holding my breath? Was my heart rate elevated to the point that Siri was worried? Does this thing even have Siri? To make things even more confusing, I began to notice that the reminders often coincide with those moments when I feel like I am about to seriously lose my shit! As a 40-something woman dealing with hormonal changes coupled with moderate anxiety, that feeling occurs almost daily, so it could just be coincidence, but it makes me wonder: “Does it know?” This kind of freaks me out a bit, so now the whole thing seems counterproductive. Am I supposed to relax? Then don’t tell me to relax, because thinking about relaxing isn’t relaxing. Honestly, the whole thing feels a bit judgmental coming from an accessory and this is the point where I consider diving in the pool in my non-waterproof watch.

The Apple powers-that-be assure me that my watch is not judging me for being wound a little tight—it’s just gently reminding me to pause in whatever I’m doing and be present in the moment. And then it occurred to me how sad it is that so many of us run around “jacked up” because we are plugged in almost 24/7, not to mention how ironic it is that the very thing we are plugged into has been programmed to remind us to stop and look up every now and then. Be present. Breathe.

Once I was assured that the “breathe” icon wasn’t alerting me to any sort of impending physical or mental breakdown, I started thinking about breathing—and how often we really fail to do it. It’s like when your exercise instructor reminds you to breathe during class and you realize in that moment that you’ve been unconsciously holding your breath for God knows how long. Or how when you are anxious or in pain you tend to breathe in short, shallow bursts when taking long deep breaths would actually make the situation more manageable. Yogis have known this for centuries---breathing, really breathing, focusing on each inhale and exhale, can help you relax, stretch more deeply, calm your mind and center yourself.

I have this habit that when something feels ‘off’ to me or I’m uncomfortable in a situation and I don’t know what to do—I do nothing. When I’m hurt, when I’m anxious, when I’m sad—I pull back. I have to clear some space to decide which of the emotions I’m feeling are mine to own and which ones are simply the result of my anxiety, over thinking, and overactive imagination. And what I’ve learned in the stillness is that my “withdrawal,” while confusing to some, is really not such a bad thing. When you do nothing, and just breathe, you can observe a situation for what it is and watch it unfold the way it is supposed to without your interference. Sometimes it unfolds the way you want---and sometimes it doesn’t. But when you let yourself experience the discomfort and breathe through it, you can actually begin to see the next right thing to do—which sometimes is nothing more than to just keep breathing.