I’ve spent the majority of my life holding my breath.
When I was in junior high, I held my breath when I got called out of class to go see my guidance counselor. She told me that some kids had complained that I got too sweaty in gym class and that I needed to wear deodorant. I walked back to class mortified trying to come up with a lie for why she wanted to see me as I knew my friends would ask.
In high school, I held my breath when I made the cheerleading squad. I had forged my parents’ signature saying I was allowed to try out, and I knew that they were going to be both surprised and mad.
In college, I held my breath when I found out that a friend had been making fun of how much I weighed to others.
In my early 20’s, I held my breath when I found out that one of my closest girlfriends had gone missing. And I held my breath when they found her body years later.
In my late 20’s, I held my breath while writing a goodbye, never-to-see-you-again letter to my dear young friend who was dying from pancreatic cancer thousands of miles away.
In my 30’s, I held my breath through more than one performance review from various bosses who were both annoyed and intimidated by my energy and ideas.
When I was 35 I held my breath when the doctor told my husband and me that there was something wrong and that the pregnancy would now be labeled high risk.
In my mid-to-late 30’s, I held my breath on every business trip as the plane would take off, imagining the worst might happen, thinking that my young babies might grow up without their momma.
At 41, I held my breath when I left the comfort of my corporate career for the unknown, knowing that I had no idea how I’d figure things out, but that I would.
And I’ve held my breath a million other times.
Some of those moments were more painful than the ones I just shared. Yet, this is the human experience. Without those negative feelings, we wouldn’t know what positive is.
It’s all part of living a full life – half of it is happiness and half of it is heaviness – for all of us.
But holding my breath never did me any good. And I’ve decided that I’m no longer going to do it. Sure it was mostly unintentional, but now that I’m aware, I can make sure I show up the way I want to. And while I’m at it, I’m also letting go of any judgment that I should have shown up differently as I journeyed to this exact moment in life.
I’ve made the decision that from this point forward, I’m showing up as all of me.
I’m claiming my space, my light, and my right to be who I am without apology. No more saying sorry for being too loud, for having too many ideas, or for wanting to do something that someone else doesn’t approve of. This is me, not more and not less.
So I let go of perfectionism. I let go of pleasing. And I let go of my breath. This new approach feels expansive.
I’m taking deep breaths in. I’m getting out of my chest and feeling my lower ribs expand. I’m allowing my stomach to inflate. And I’m practicing long exhales.
It’s a true gift.
When we exhale longer than we inhale we activate the parasympathetic side of our autonomic nervous systems. Want to know what this feels like? Take in a breath for a count of 4, hold for 7 and then release for 8. Activating the parasympathetic helps us rest, digest, and recover. It’s where rejuvenation is born.
Not only is it good for the body, but breathing helps us slow down. Make better decisions. And pause.
The next time you get a request, before responding, take in a slow deep breath. Buy yourself some time. Do you want more on your plate? Think about what you’re being asked. Will this opportunity help you live into your true light? Will it help you show up the way you want to for your one precious life? Don’t get baited into a conversation you don’t want to have. Don’t give give give until you have nothing left. After exhaling, allow yourself to say no, or not right now, if it feels right.
Breathing allows us to think. It allows us to get clear on what we want. It’s where freedom is born. Breathing moves toxins through our bodies. It helps move out waste products, which can easily stagnate in our bodies and create damage. This movement is instrumental for health. So where in life are you holding your breath? What truth aren’t you speaking?
What can you let go of?
Life starts with an inhale and ends with an exhale. The act of breathing, matters.
“When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace.” – UNKNOWN
About the Author: Heather Aardema is an optimistic build-er-upper, momma of two boys, mountain biker, and fan of homemade and not-perfect. She’s the founder of School of Living Lighter—where she helps women tackle their clutter, un-complicate their lives, and lose weight for good—read more of her essays at SchoolofLivingLighter.com.