How to STOP Breathing

STOP! Really. S-T-O-P.

Stop. Take three breaths and smile. Observe, bring awareness into your surroundings and being. Proceed with kindness. This advice from author Rudolph E. Tanzi, Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-Being, just might change your life.

Breathe. Being present. Gratitude. Mindfulness. These buzz words are the answers to happiness according to many thought leaders, mediators and spiritual specialists. Can we possibly breathe our way to feel better? Can we breathe our way through caregiving overwhelm and the grief which accompanies the death of our loved ones?

In the midst of grief and loss breathing is probably the most often stated tip for getting “through.” Who isn’t calmed by the nature scene with a big directive stamped breathe? Although simplistic, “stopping to breathe” has scientific backing from the neuroscience world as brain research becomes mainstream information to improve our lives.

In Five Simple and Powerful Steps You Can Do to Navigate Grief, breathing is number one! Why? Because focused breathing is accessible to everyone. Because anyone can do it.  Anywhere. Anytime. Because it is an important Discover tool to take inventory of what is happening in the moment and allows you to consider what you can or cannot change. When you focus your senses on breathing you stop the internal dialogue that creates anxiety, confusion, reinforced negative thinking, shoulds, and a host of other downward spiraling sentiments that cause you pain in the shallow, quick breathing, increasing blood pressure, and lightheadedness of panic moments and overwhelm. Breathing feeds your entire body with rich life-affirming oxygen as you become grounded, or centered, on what matters most – you. As an active caregiver, what matters most is you, because without you, there is no caregiver. In your grief, what matters most is you, because there is an aloneness only you can travel in your feelings of loss. This process is the work of getting through grief. Breathing is one technique to get you through to the other side.

But know this: breathing can take you beyond the moment of pain and with a bit of sustained practice can actually guide you into a state of better living.

Conscious breathing is the first step on a journey to retrain your brain and provide the space you need to cope well. Through grief. Through caregiving. Through life. It works!

Breathing Leads to Meditation

Meditation could be seen as the so called higher level of breathing. The current cultural shoulds for a better life seem to center around yoga, which integrates mind and body, and meditation, which often conjures images of sitting quietly for hours in a remote location. The common denominator is paying attention to breathing. If your brain places these activities in the “one more thing,” “I can’t,” “I don’t have time” or “’I’ll do it later” categories there is hope for you! You can make effective changes in a very easy and small way. You can breathe or mediate in a few simple minutes, and you don’t even have to make all the thoughts go away to “succeed.” Mediation begins with conscious breathing.

There are many methods offered to begin you breathing regimen. To get started use your favorite internet search engine for “conscious breathing,” “belly breathing” or “breathing techniques” for basic steps in video or step by step instruction. Simply stated, stop and take a slow breath filling your belly (rather than the chest) like a balloon, and release a slow breath out, emptying the belly. Try to maintain focus on breathing rather than thoughts or other distractions. Nonetheless, wandering thoughts are normal, so just bring your mind back to breathing when this happens. You can complete the exercise with three breaths as noted in STOP, or set a timer for three, five or however many minutes! For conscious breathing to turn into longer meditation, it takes practice and commitment. But, what is important is to begin awareness to slow down  and breathe deeply today.

But back to actually “doing” breathing instead of just wanting to – you must find a motivation that drives you to make a change. Consider what Kelly McGonigal, PhD says in The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It says:

Neuroscientists have discovered that when you ask the brain to meditate, it gets better not just at meditating, but at a wide range of self-control skills, including attention, focus, stress management, impulse control, and self-awareness… Meditation is not about getting rid of all your thoughts; it’s learning not to get so lost in them that you forget what your goal is. Don’t worry if your focus isn’t perfect when meditating. Just practice coming back to the breath, again and again.” (page 43)

From the simple act of breath into a more concentrated practice of breathing for meditation, clarity, and focus, it all begins with an awareness that in the moment you are feeling a need to break a cycle of some type of suffering – what you are saying to yourself, the grief that arises from nowhere, a recognition that overwhelm is closing in. Through each breath you can allow the space to feel what is necessary and bring calmness into personal chaos.


STOP! If you have read to this point you can take the one minute to Stop. Take three breaths and smile (The act of smiling is also backed by science!). Has this helped? Do you Observe calmness, focus, tense muscles, unrealistic thoughts, holding your breath (fill in the blank)? What’s going on and what do you want to do (or not do) about it? Now, please, Proceed with kindness. Be as gentle on yourself as you are with others. Proceed with kindness for what you are experiencing.

With each breath, you can be on your way to a “feeling better” life. You will make choices based on clear oxygen enriched thoughts. Breathing makes you more present, and perhaps even thankful for your surroundings and opportunities. It chases away the “stuff” that clutters your mind. Breathe. As you move through grief, there is often a time when you recognize new gratitude for life, for each breath we are given, that is life. Rick Carson shares this view rather poetically:

So there is birth and there is death. Between them is a steady stream of precious moments known as your existence.

Eventually, it will be represented by a dash between two dates. In actuality, it is a series of breaths, each holding within it an opportunity to fully experience your life, or to dampen it, to ignore it, or even to extinguish it.

Staying aware of and responding gracefully to this choice, breath to breath, is the key to a richly satisfying existence.

Enjoying your life is a breath-to-breath activity.

A Master Class in Gremlin-Taming(R) pg 3.

STOP. Take a breath. Your deserve this moment of reflection for you.


1 reply
  1. Gary Roe
    Gary Roe says:

    Hi Joan. Thank you for this article. The discipline of silence is mostly gone in our culture, and stopping, breathing, and listening to our hearts, aware of the world around us is so important for all of us, especially those who are grieving. I’m going to apply some of this today personally, and pass some along to my hospice patients and families. Thank you.


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