“I Just Learned How to Breathe” Club

I just learned how to breathe. Isn’t that ridiculous? Fellow members should be newborns only, but alas there are many of us who apparently don’t know this primal how-to.

Learning to breathe has been on my long list of things to do, right between “order cat food” and “finish that pregnancy novel” (my daughter is 5 years old). I’ve been told it will “CHANGE MY LIFE” and meanwhile, I’ve somehow managed for 4 decades on the meager breaths I’ve inhaled.

My husband has been lecturing me about my lack of breathing for a ten years, ever since he witnessed my first panic attack. He stood there dumb-founded, with this look on his face, as if the remedy was right there in front of me saying ,“Drink Me” – except it was the air and it was silently chanting “Breathe me” – and I was ignoring it. But I only knew how to breathe with my lungs and this is not the “deep breathing” needed to soothe a panic attack or calm me down. Or even get me adequate oxygen to make rational decisions.

I inhale deeply and audibly and then just as forcefully exhale – and I do it again, over and over. “See, I’m breathing. Can’t you see I’m breathing so deeply?”

“No,” he always explains, so calmly, because clearly he knows how to breathe. My husband’s standard rant is that he spent four years studying acting, directing & playwriting at NYU, and in actuality he just spent a hundred thousand dollars learning how to breathe. (He even wrote a song about it.)

“You have to breathe into your gut. That’s where all your emotions live. When you exhale, breathe out through your butt hole.” He is demonstrating this: He inhales deeply and his belly protrudes forward so big that he looks like Santa Clause. I yell at him to stop because clearly he is being sarcastic to illustrate a point. But he is not. He exhales and his belly is back to his normal size. He does it again. “Like bellowing,” he clarifies as if that explanation will help.

I try again. This time, I take a deeper breath, and still my stomach remains still and my lungs are the ones heaving up and down. How do I get the air to expand my tummy?

Apparently we’re all born knowing how to breathe, but somewhere in adolescence, we get self-conscious about our bellies sticking out when we take deep breaths, so we shorten them; they become more shallow. Yoga-goers learn this belly breathing, but surprise! I don’t do yoga; I do stress retention and lots of cursing.

Recently, I was searching for new tips for soothing panic attacks, and still after so many years, the best-known treatment is breathing. Deep breathing. You know you’re doing it right because you’re supposed to contract the diaphragm, and as air enters the lungs, the belly expands. Placing one hand on my chest and one on my tummy was helping me detect if I was doing correctly. I practiced for days determined that it was time to learn to breathe once and for all. While driving, walking, typing, I took deep breaths and try to get my belly to swell (without ice cream).

Ironically it finally clicked while I was on the toilet; here I was free to practice the breathing out the asshole bit. I was relaxed and noticed the difference as my belly swelled with a deep breath. Then I memorized what it felt like so I can do it again. Breathing. I’m deep breathing.

It makes me feel light-headed, which is a little scary for someone with panic attacks. “Am I getting enough air?” But I’m assured this is very normal; this is how the rest of the world feels fully oxygenated.

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