Why does a variety of health professionals ask their patients and themselves to keep breathing or breathe deeply or breathe normally? Obviously, they know that holding the breath or not breathing normally disturbs the normal working of the heart, the eyes, the muscles of the mouth, and the mind.
I was lying on the exam table prior to my surgery for an EKG, to make sure I had no heart problems. The EKG technician attached the electrodes to my chest. Before switching on the machine, she said “Keep breathing”.
My ophthalmologist treating me for glaucoma was about to touch my eyeball with the probe to measure the pressure of the fluid inside my eyes. He said ‘Keep breathing’ and then carried out the test.
I was reclining in the general dentist’s chair waiting for him to come in. My eyes were on the ceiling. I saw a letter-size poster taped to the ceiling, staring at me. It had only one word in giant letters “Breathe”. Every time I visit my endodontist for root canal surgery, he gives me a numbing shot. Before touching the needle to my gum, his routine instruction has been “Take a deep breath and then a normal breath. First a prick and then pressure”. Then he pushes the tip of the needle into my gum.
Here is a brief account of what Dr. Travis Stork the Emmy-nominated co-host of the award-winning talk show ‘The Doctors’ wrote on breathing, in his article, in the Oct 2013 issue of the Prevention Magazine.
“As I get older, I realize that it’s not always about pushing yourself to go harder or faster—sometimes what you really need to get through a stressful situation is to slow down for a minute and take a deep breath. Now when we’re facing those moments at work where the rubber meets the road, I take a deep breath. I’ve also found that taking this quick time-out helps me manage my stress response to more mundane things, like when I’m dealing with a delayed flight or a traffic jam. It’s so easy to let that stuff get us riled up, but that’s the kind of thing that leads to chronic stress, and it can really take a toll on our health over time’”
In the same article, he cited his first night experience as an attending physician in the ER of a rural southern hospital. A father frantically ran into the ER carrying a young boy who was unresponsive and barely breathing. His lips started turning blue. Dr. Stork had to act quickly. He was technically prepared but was also a little bit scared. He said he did not take any heroic action. He took a deep breath. That deep breath turned any fear into focus, and he did what he was taught to do: he doctored. He said that a single breath helped him save the child.
A palliative care physician
“I learned to show compassion for my patients without being distant or letting myself suffer. I know that none of these experiences would have been possible had I not learned to breathe. (1)
The Buddha asked his disciples
“How long is your life?”
They gave a variety of answers – “Maybe fifty years?” “Months?” “Days?” “Weeks?”.
He said “Wrong, wrong. Our life is only one breath”.
I understand from his statement that we should unwaveringly focus on each and every breath, noticing its continuous change in speed, depth, and accompanying body sensations like coolness and warmth, as though we are enjoying our last breath in this birth.
A pastor said
“When I wake up in the morning and find myself breathing, I think I am living today to serve some people.”
(1) A palliative care physician explains how breathing helped him cope with a difficult conversation.
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