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Breathing Techniques to Deploy When Life Gets Tough

Breathing Techniques to Deploy When Life Gets Tough

When I was a little girl I used to throw tea parties with my best friend at the bottom of the local community pool. No props were needed, we’d simply stand on our tippy toes, take the biggest 8-year-old breaths imaginable, then exhale all the air out as we synchronized our way to sitting on the bottom of the pool.

The scene was always the same – legs crossed, eyes protected behind goggles, hair floating over our heads aimlessly, and pinkies raised high as we sipped tea at our very fancy party.

Life was good on the bottom of the pool. The screams from the younger kids were muffled, the reverberations from dads going off the diving board were put on mute, and we often stole a few extra moments of peace and quiet by pretending we didn’t hear our mothers yelling that it was time to get out, dry off, and go home.

While underwater tea parties might sound like child’s play, thirty-some years later, I still use the technique to keep from losing my mind when the going gets tough.

I started embracing the idea of peace and quiet at the bottom of the pool after listening to a guided meditation one morning where the host recommended thinking about your truest self as the deepest part of the ocean—always stoic, always calm—and to imagine the circumstances of your life as the winds that rough up and blow around everything on the surface.

Interesting.

The point is that the winds of life will always blow your way in the form of everything from a micromanaging boss to a forgetful spouse to a child struggling at school. There’s little you can do to prevent these natural disasters from heading your way, but you must know that anything sitting on the surface (like your ego or self-esteem) is going to be battered and tossed around unless you can retreat to the stillness of your true self. 

Because beneath all that hullabaloo, your true nature, the core of your being, is calm, cool, collected, and silent. Always has been, always will be.

Just like the bottom of the pool.

So, here’s how I put this bottom of the pool metaphor to work for me as a grown up.

The other day I received an email that elicited intense feelings of stress, anxiety, and just general annoyedness. Instead of getting knocked around by this storm that showed up out of nowhere, freaking out and firing off a half-baked response, I stood up from my desk, walked outside and prepared for the plunge.

Get ready: Huge inhale to fill my lungs to the max.

Let’s go: Enormous exhale that forced my mind to get beneath the surface.

With my eyes closed, I took five more deep breaths, which was the typical length of a tea party back in the day as we bounced back and forth to the surface. During this time I imagined myself deep beneath the surface, away from all the chaotic splashing, and closer to my truest self.

I reminded myself that my true nature is calm, it’s the only thing that’s real, and that I get to decide whether I get roughed up and tossed around or if I sink down into my own inner calm.

It naturally diffused the situation and prevented me from losing my mind in frantic frustration.

If you’re like most people I know, you won’t have to wait long to give it a whirl. When your daughter freaks out about her upcoming science test, instead of riding with her on the waves of anxiety, you can draw strength from the stability of your core and be the calm in the storm that she’s looking for you to be. And when you and your partner get into a fight, you’re better equipped to know that this too shall pass and that a small argument doesn’t have to send your mind fast-forwarding to an imaginary, fatal divorce.

My guess is you’ll be having a bottom of the pool tea party in no time.

Enjoy the peace and quiet while you’re down there and don’t forget that the bottom of the pool is always yours for the taking. It never disappears or goes away.

It’s up to you to remember it’s there and to have the presence of mind in the heat of the moment to access it.

Party on, people.

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Katherine Wintsch