In times of anxiety or stress (which is often) when my body would be riddled with every physical, emotional, and mental symptom, I had a pill for that.
When sleep would elude me and I would stare at the clock, willing my fatigued mind, to slip me into a slumber, I had a pill for that.
I was tired however of taking these pills on a regular basis, as to me, it wasn't a healthy coping strategy, it seemed to be the easy way out. In my opinion, this had less to do with my bipolar chemical mix-up but more of a coping issue.
I learned about mindful breathing and focusing on the breath in my cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) classes. Hey, it sounded simple enough! I sat there with my eyes closed and breathed right? Haha! Um, no. Mindful breathing actually takes practice in order to filter out the background noises and thoughts and to refocus on my breathing.
The mindfulness of breathing makes you aware that during the process, that your mind will bounce around from thought to thought, to acknowledge that thought, and bring yourself back to the present.
There are 4 progressive stages of mindful breathing; from beginners to advanced. Practicing mindful breathing is set for 1 minute. In stage 1, you count, breath in, breath out, up to 10 and start over. In stage 2, you begin to "notice" your breath while still doing the counting exercise. In stage 3, you no longer count but just follow the breath in through your nose, down your trachea, as it touches your diaphragm, and the reverse process on the out breath (very lovely feeling). Stage 4 involves only noticing where the breath first touches the tip of your nose.
Even though I've been using mindful breathing for 4 years now, I'm still at state 3, but I'm okay with that as I find that stage very relaxing. I CAN however, breathe like this, without judgement, for extended periods of time, and with my eyes open.
Using mindful breathing is how I put myself to sleep at night, every night. It comes in handy when stuck in traffic or in a customer service lineup when I begin to feel stressed or anxious. My family often asks me how I manage to keep my calm when I am stuck in a grid lock on the 401 or patiently waiting 45 minutes at customer service as they messed up my recent BBQ purchase and couldn't locate it! I stand there or sit there and calmly follow my breath. I've greatly reduced my meds just by appreciating my breath.
There are many free apps (type in mindfulness meditation) on your phone or tablet, that you can download for mindful breathing exercises as well as many YouTube videos that you can follow along with. These sources really help when someone is first learning.
Who knew that when I was 43 years old that someone would teach me how to breathe again but I'm sure glad she did!!
Laura Marchildon will blog honest and true posts about her real life experiences.