Don’t Forget to Breathe

A few weeks ago I ran into an evening  bible study class breathless. I had been on time, but a man was outside of the church asking where he was supposed to go and he didn’t speak English, so I had spent precious time trying to figure out what he needed by using sign language and my very limited Spanish language skills. There are lots of opportunities for people at the church, so I knew he belonged somewhere, but I wasn’t sure where. So I ran into the class and said loudly “does anyone speak Spanish? ”  I was met with silence. I forgot that the pastor starts each class with breathing and meditative exercises that are designed to soothe our spirits that have been ruffled and frayed during our daily activities.  This exercise opens our minds to learning and receiving whatever God has in mind for us from the class.  My active mind was thinking “yes, but someone needs help, this is important!”  But everyone else was experiencing peaceful breathing.  Breathing is also important.

Each Sunday before communion, the pastor always says “take a deep breath.”  Before saying a prayer, the person praying usually says “take a deep breath” or “bow your head and close your eyes.”  This is a reminder to stop. Stop and just be.  Refocus.  Relax.  Become aware of why you are here and what you are doing.  Sometimes I rebel against this.  I go through the motions, but my mind is spinning with thoughts of where I’ve been or where I’m going or who did what to whom.

As I studied and wrote about mindfulness in school, when I took mindfulness training, and as I am currently attending my yoga and meditation classes, I always hear “take a deep breath” or “breathe in slowly, then breathe out slowly.”  But often my mind is screaming “oh come on, just get this exercise over with, I have things to do.”  I was supposed to practice mindfulness every day when taking mindfulness training, but I didn’t. (Please don’t tell on me).  It’s very hard for us to just be still, even for a few minutes. To let our minds and bodies relax and experience peace and harmony.  Even when we pray, our minds are asking: am I asking God for too much, or am I glorifying Him enough, is the balance right, or am I asking for more than I am giving, or will He answer this prayer the way I hope, or is He disappointed in me for something, how can I fix it?????  Too often when we sit down to pray or to calm down, we are not experiencing peace, we are instead processing thoughts that are running through our minds.  We can’t help it. We’re human.  In order for us to really clear our minds and to reach that peaceful place, we have to practice.  It’s like being a good musician or a good speaker, we repeat, repeat, repeat and then we improve.

The last time I heard the phrase “take a deep breath,” I actually stopped and asked myself why am I fighting this? The world will continue for the next 10 minutes if I take time to focus on breathing. On praying.  On practicing gratefulness.  On stopping so my soul can be rejuvenated.  If we don’t sleep, we are never fully awake. The same is true with our souls. If we don’t stop and focus on the simple things, we will not experience life as it should be.

Being mindful, or breathing, does have positive effects on the body, mind and spirit.  It helps us learn to focus, so we become more productive human beings when we are working.  It reminds us to be grateful for just being alive.  When sitting in traffic, we can experience moments of peace instead of moments of frustration.  When someone make us angry, our first instinct will be to just breathe, instead of telling someone what we think of them.  Situation diffused. Focusing on breathing will lower our blood pressure; it will likely ease depression.

No matter how busy we are, no matter how important we are, we can all take at least 5-10 minutes per day (or longer!) to just breathe or focus on God.  Even Jesus went off alone to pray to God, even though He was being constantly pulled in multiple directions. Jesus was on a mission to save the world. He was raising up His disciples to be leaders; He was healing the sick; He was teaching and comforting people.  But He still went off to pray and to experience peace.  He did this to show us how to do it, and to remind us of its importance.  So take the time to experience that gift from God. Breathe…just…breathe.

Here is a mindfulness exercise you can do.  

  1.  Set a timer. If you have to stop and look at the clock, you aren’t focusing. Set it for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or more if you are feeling ambitious.  
  2. Find a quiet place, or as quiet as possible.  You can practice anywhere, even in the grocery store with noise around you.  The trick is to tune it out, or when you hear it, to acknowledge it and let it float away. 
  3. Focus on your breathing. With mindfulness you don’t have to take “deep breaths,” just breathe and focus on it. Listen to the sound of it, feel your stomach or chest rising and falling with each breath.  
  4. If your mind wanders, have compassion on yourself and just gently bring it back. You will find with practice that this will happen less and less. But when it does wander, it’s ok, you are human.  
  5. Remember, you aren’t trying to accomplish anything specific. You are just focusing on your breathing.  Don’t worry about the outcome, focus on the exercise itself.  You won’t go in a trance or anything, but you will begin to feel relaxed. 

This is just a simple exercise.  There are many other types of mindfulness or meditation exercises you can do.  If you are interested, I can recommend some good books or classes for you.

Here is a song that reminds us to do just that: 
Alarm clock screaming bare feet hit the floor
It’s off to the races everybody out the door
I’m feeling like I’m falling behind, it’s a crazy life
Ninety miles an hour going fast as I can
Trying to push a little harder trying to get the upper hand
So much to do in so little time, it’s a crazy life
It’s ready, set, go it’s another wild day
When the stress is on the rise in my heart I feel you say just
Breathe, just breathe
Come and rest at my feet
And be, just be
Chaos calls but all you really need
Is to just breathe
Third cup of joe just to get me through the day
Want to make the most of time but I feel it slip away
I wonder if there’s something more to this crazy life
I’m busy, busy, busy, and it’s no surprise to see
That I only have time for me, me, me
There’s gotta be something more to this crazy life
I’m hanging on tight to another wild day
When it starts to fall apart in my heart I hear you say just
Breathe, just breathe
Come and rest at my feet
And be, just be
Chaos calls but all you really need
Is to take it in, fill your lungs
The peace of God that overcomes
Just breathe (just breathe)
let your weary spirit rest
Lay down what’s good and find what’s best
Just breathe (just breathe)
Just breathe, just breathe
Come and rest at my feet
And be, just be
Chaos calls but all you really need
Is to just breathe
Just breathe
Songwriters: Jonathan Lindley Smith / Jonny Diaz / Tony Wood
Breathe lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC