When I first learned Anapanasati, a Buddhist “mindfulness breathing” technique, I was in my early twenties. I had been in chronic pain since an accident I’d been involved in as a teen. Painkillers scared me, because I was afraid I’d become addicted. To this day the only thing I will take is ibuprofin at the lowest possible dose, and only when I absolutely cannot find a way to manage without it. Someone told me that meditation could help, along with simple things like taking 10 deep breaths when the pain started to overwhelm me.

Anapanasati, if I had to explain it with sock puppets, boils down to sitting quietly and paying attention to how you feel. If you’re cold, take not that you’re cold. When you’ve got a rock poking you in the backside making it mildly uncomfortable to sit, take note of that. View these things as if you’re detected from them, as if your aches and pains and other physical sensations aren’t part of you.

In my twenties I also got bronchitis and pneumonia for the first of too many times. I ended up with chronic respiratory problems. Anapanasati helped with that, but I began learning other techniques as well. A large part of being able to breathe when you’re severely congested is keeping yourself calm. If you can manage to not panic because you’re not getting enough oxygen, you can avoid passing out and improve your breathing enough to get what you need.

When Things Are Going Sideways, Take 10 Deep Breaths

It would take far too long to cover how and why my anxiety disorders developed, so I’ll cut to the chase. At some point I learned what I’ve been told is a military breathing technique. Allegedly soldiers do this to remain calm, or to calm down in a combat situation. It does work well when I feel a panic attack coming on. Slowly count to 4 as you inhale through your nose. Hold your breathe for a 2 count. Then slowly exhale through your mouth as you count to 6. Then hold for a 2 count, and repeal. 4-2-6-2. In through the nose, hold, out through the mouth, hold.

If you can’t do it the first time because your body’s not cooperating, keep trying. I’ve discovered that while it might take me a couple of minutes, my breathing will eventually conform to my desires and I can calm myself. This style of breathing has helped me to stop a panic attack before it began, and to help me get out of a panic attack once it’s begun.

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