In the late 1990s my so-called perfect life was anything but. Typical of those like me who were relatively affluent, married, career-oriented, I had the accouterments of success. Outside I looked fine, stylish in fact… maybe even adorned. I had a designer purse and a nice car and my husband at the time worked in a successful family business.
And we were miserable.
My misery manifest itself in anxiety. Panic attacks. Fear. Times when my body rebelled against me. I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and prescribed medication. But it was also the first time I began to pay attention to the little things that can make life better. Like air.
Breathe in, breathe out. It was good advice then and it remains a go-to-medication now long after I have stopped taking drugs and stopped self-medicating with alcohol.
I realized a long time ago how important deep breathing is for physical and mental health. My journey towards a more healthy well-being started with the introduction of deep breathing. I’d simply start each morning by taking ten long, deep breaths in, followed by a long, slow exhale out. I developed a routine that I continue to this day.
As the stresses in my life increased it became important to introduce other methods that would help alleviate stress. Meditation started to become a leading player in my life. The creation of a space in my home that existed and was free of television and other electronic devices was significant. The space with a comfortable chair and a warm blanket, and included lavender scented candles created an environment that allowed me the ability to live in it for as long as I could spare in any given day. Sometimes that was only five minutes, but it was enough time in that day.
Meditation consisted of me closing myself in that warm, safe environment. With closed eyes, I would begin my deep-breathing and would usually think of one word that was significant to me in that moment. I repeated that word (often times it was the word “peace”) as a way of clearing the space in my brain so that I could focus solely on meditating. This extended the deep-breathing to help relieve my anxiety symptoms.
My deep-breathing techniques have recently been enhanced by my introduction of yoga. I try to practice yoga three times a week for about an hour. Yoga has allowed me to strengthen my body, while also strengthening my mind. Yoga incorporates my deep-breathing and meditation. It has brought these two calming techniques together and taught me how to stay in the moment. It has become a mainstay in my life.
Yoga’s benefits for the mind and body are important for keeping me in control and ensuring that anxiety and stress stay away.
Within these practices of breath, meditation and yoga I have found a greater sense of purpose in prayer. In these times with God I find the root of my anxiety, which grew from the absence of God in my life during those so-called “successful” years. That generalized anxiety was more specific than I ever thought.
First I learned to calm my breath, which helped me calm my mind, which empowered me to calm my body, which infused my soul with the sense of calm that flowed me wholly like a gentle river back into relationship with the God of my youth.
I still struggle with anxiety from time to time. It’s still woven in my DNA and my brain and my biology. I know that’s a part of it. But I also know like all things, there are other parts as well. I don’t worry about a “cure.” Instead I use the anxiety for what it was designed to be, a reminder to stay close to the God who created me.
Whenever I start to lose my way, I can find it again… with that first, long, deep, wonderfully cleansing breath.