Breath of Life

The inside of my abdominal cavity is a war zone. I had my colon removed when I was 12, a bunch of surgeries to try and create a “normal” exit for excrement that led finally to a permanent ileostomy that’s been moved a couple of times. Inside I’m filled with adhesions and on the oust side my belly bears the scares of valiant and successful war fought against Ulcerative Colitis, bowel obstructions and the misdeeds of a lying and arrogant surgeon.

Needless to say the last 30 years have been spent trying to figure out how to live with chronic pain, body wide inflammation and three major kinks in my small intestine. After all of this I’ve come to discover that the most important thing that I can do to increase my ability to enjoy the experience of being alive is how I breathe. In the past I’ve been hostile to those who’ve told me to breathe in order to calm down while I’m balled up on a Emergency room gurney while the sixth attempt at an IV is being made. I’ve found that using breathing techniques in that situation wasn’t 100% effective.  But that is why we have the poppy and the cannabis plant. Any other time I’m not experiencing the panicky pain of my small bowel clamping down or my pancreas digesting itself, I’ve found breathing to be a powerful technique that I can use no matter where I go.

“Breathe Motherfucker” Wim Hof

This morning I didn’t want to get out of bed. I mentally went through the list of all the negatives in my life – from the classic of I’m a loser because I’m not brining in any income at the moment, to the thought that my savings will be depleted in another few months and that  I have no idea how I’m going to pay for insurance plus my bag leaked all over last night, my guts hurt this morning, I’ve got a cold, and I really don’t see a reason to get out of bed…

I’ve been here many times before and these type of thoughts have led to months and months of being miserable. I don’t want to be miserable any more.  One way I’ve found not to be miserable is through berating in specific ways so after a mini-pity party I began my breathing exercises which I really didn’t want to do. I started with a new breathing technique I read about that has helped eliminate the symptoms of social anxiety without drugs or therapy. In fact the control group that just did the breathing exercises twice a day had better results than those using cognitive behavior strategies. The breathing technique is called the CART method. I’ve not found a ton online about it but this is my version.

Breath in and out a short breath and hold it. When you naturally want to take a breath do. Then breath normally for ten seconds then take another short breath in and out and hold. Repeat this at least three times.

This breathing exercise actually raises CO2 levels in the body. The researchers doing the study found that low levels CO2 may be partially responsible for producing the symptoms of social anxiety. Last year I had comprehensive blood testing done and I had abnormally low CO2 levels. I believe I do because of my shallow breathing patterns due to my abdominal scaring both inside and out. Most of the time it hurts to breath and definitely hurts to take a deep breath.

Lower CO2 levels could also be a part of the reason why I feel like shit when I hurt a lot and have abdominal soreness. This is why I have start off my breathing exercises with this one. It helps to eliminate some of the physical symptoms of anxiety so that I’ll continue with the rest of the breathing exercises and not just say “fuck it” and pull the covers over my head.

The next breathing exercise is meant to calm the mind further by first calming the heart. I found this exercise actually first on the Joe Rogan Podcast episode #873 with Steven Kotler and a more in-depth explanation and implementation of the concept came from a talk by Alan Watkins. It’s something I do while I’m driving and any time I feel my mental state drifting negative or after I’ve had a negative experience or received bad news.

The exercise is to simply breathe in for three seconds and breathe out for seven. The breathing is to be a steady in and a steady out with a break of a few seconds after each exhalation. While breathing I focus on my heart. When the heart is calm the mind calms down. I do this for six reps. By the fifth my negative state of mind has dissipated and the negative thoughts seem to melt away.

I finished off my breathing set this morning with a round of the Wim Hof method of breathing. I always feel better when I do this. This year I almost didn’t go on vacation because my guts hurt so bad. But during the trip down for hours I did this and by the time I got to the beach I was feeling much better and was able to enjoy three days fishing with my brother. Without this technique I wouldn’t have made the trip. This morning it helped me as well. Again this technique is simple but I don’t recommend people perform it while driving – a few times I did almost black out.

The Wim Hof method is again dead simple. Take a deep breath in somewhat forcefully and only exhale a small amount air. Repeat this for up to thirty times. Then take a deep breath in and exhale fully two times and then hold your breath. Then breath once your body wants to breathe again. Breathe a few times normally and do it again for a total of thirty times.

This morning  I started with ten, then I did fifteen and finished the round with twenty inhales and exhales. While I was doing the breath hold I imagined my body being healed by a white light. Last year when I was doing the Wim Hof method course I was able to hold my breath up to 2:30 minutes. This morning I only held it for about 30 seconds to a minute. But that is still enough to gain positive effects.

By the time I was done with my morning breathing exercises I was feeling much better. The general anxiety, demotivated state, uncertainty and over all malaise was gone. I got up showered and even tested my blood sugar. I’m not diabetic but I am starting to chart my blood glucose as it relates to breathing. A study was done by the Navy that showed that SEALS in ketosis had better breath holding times and I’ve experienced much longer breath hold times in the mornings versus the evenings when doing the Wim Hof method protocol.

How I breath greatly determines my mental state. Having extensive internal and external scaring in my abdomen makes breathing something I have to be conscious of throughout the day otherwise I’m shallow breathing all day long. So far I’ve found these three exercises helpfully by themselves and recently started trying them in combination.  This is something that I don’t have to get a prescription for, no insurance company has to approve it, it has zero side effects, makes me mentally and physically feel better, has zero cost and it’s something I can take with me no matter where I go. In the past I would lament, no matter where I go there I am. That’s because my body has tormented me for the last 30 years and I could never get away from it. But now I have a way to calm both my body and my brain no matter where I’m at or what I have with me.

I still can’t get away from my body but I can through breathing create a different mental experience that allows me to clear my mind of negative thoughts and calm my body. All it takes is less than fifteen minutes and it’s like I’m a different person, or more accurately I’m me, without the filter of chronic pain.

Brad Miller

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