I’m huffing and puffing my way up the steep rocky path toward the gorgeous mountain lakes my companion has promised lie ahead. It is Rocky Mountain National Park, after all. It’s no surprise that the air is thin, but this doesn’t hamper him. He lives a mile high and trains for triathlons in the parks, reservoirs and along the roads nearby.
“I could use a 10 second break,” I plead. He obliges and we step aside to let the nimble and altitude-acclimated bound on by. A few who pass by on their downward trek offer us an encouraging, “You’re doing great!”
As I pause, my friend says sympathetically and so simply, “I find it helps to take deeper breaths.”
At the suggestion, of course, I inhale a deep breath and then draw it deeper. And you know what? It worked! As we continued, when my breath quickened and my heart started to race on the steep parts, instead of huffing and puffing and pressing on so I wouldn’t seem like a wimp, I just expanded my lungs a bit deeper on each breath.
Deeper. Slower. Stronger. I’ve heard they call this combat breathing. I call it respite in the Rockies.
And, me being me, I find myself mind-meandering through my long-ago (and mostly far away) respiratory physiology classroom training. How does that work again? At higher altitude the partial pressure of O2 in the air and my lungs is lower… the sign at Pikes Peak said 60%, I believe, much lower than the 98% I am used to at sea level … which means that there is plenty of room for more O2 saturation in my blood stream. More inhalation means more air available which provides more O2 available to be exchanged. Right? And with lots more blood coursing through that pulmonary circulation thanks to my hardworking heart which was pumping fast and faster, my deeper breaths were DOing something!
Ok OK. Miraculous and scintillating as that science-speak is, what I am captured by as I look back on this trek that, yes, I survived, is the simplicity of “Take a Deeper Breath.” It reminds me…
You have reserves you don’t realize.
You have untapped flexibility and capacity you can call upon.
And BONUS! One good thing leads to another! Deeper breathing activates a whole (parasympathetic) neural reflex that triggers calming.
All this flies in the face of the push harder, exert more, breathe faster-shallower, hyperventilation scenario it seems our world inclines us to visit these days. Sure, quick, shallow breaths may work in a pinch (like in a panic attack) because, by allowing us to blow off extra CO2, they trick our brain into thinking we don’t need to breathe. Underwater divers make use of this at their own peril.
But we, the anxious lot of us, adopt it in error and to our own disadvantage. We need to breathe. And rather than shallow, we need to go deeper. Rather than faster, we need to go slower. Deeper. Slower. By choice.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
How much of my day is spent reacting and responding with faster, faster? How much more capacity would I find if I replaced shallower with deeper? Faster with slower? What if I trusted that My Maker had already provided the means for me to climb the mountain? Any mountain? If only I listened to the voice of my capable companion?
As we ascended and came nearer to the mountain lake, those returning from their trek greeted us with smiles and happy shouts of, “You’re almost there!” How can you not smile at encouragement like that?!
Oh and the vistas did NOT disappoint.
Take a deeper breath. So simple.
I wonder what other resources one might discover in listening and complying with the voice of Wisdom and Experience while we climb this steep, rocky path called life…