The Most Important Thing

At almost exactly this time two days ago I heard about the awful, senseless, horrifying Boston Marathon bombings. My reaction was instantaneous; I didn’t have to think about it. I inhaled sharply and held my breath, tightening my stomach muscles, almost visibly curling forward around my center. My breathing remained shallow as I focused on the unbelievable images on the tv. Only the feeling of being cold, especially in my hands, alerted me to the fact that I had fallen back into my old breathing pattern: fast, shallow, stomach held in.

So what does any of this have to do with headaches? Simply put, I believe slow, effortless belly breathing is the single most important thing headache sufferers can do to decrease the frequency and intensity of their headaches.

Not once in the fifteen years I’ve been treating people with headaches have I met a headache sufferer who has not been what we call an “upper chest breather.” I used to be the queen of upper chest breathing. I was cold almost all the time, especially my hands and feet. I felt like I had rocks in the muscles between my shoulders and my neck. And the place between my lower ribs just above my stomach? Tight, tight, tight. This was my “normal,” and I didn’t think twice about it. I sighed a lot, and yawned a lot, and occasionally noticed that, curiously, I was barely breathing. What I didn’t do was connect it to the headaches that robbed me of several days of my life every few weeks.

I will go into more detail about how to breathe more optimally in the next post. For today, please just do one thing. Check your own breathing. Fast or slow? Upper chest or belly? Does your breathing change when you’re stressed or rushed? Just check it out. No judgment. You don’t even need to try and change it at this point. Just start to become aware of your breathing pattern. Because it’s not the big things that we do once in a while that have the strongest impact. It’s the little things that we do all the time, that we are scarcely even aware of.

~Listen, are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?~ Mary Oliver

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