People find it surprising to learn that a deep breath is a measurable physical event and not just the sucking in of extra air through those two holes at the bottom of their nose. Just as surprising is whether you breath shallow or deep, 40 percent of the oxygen you inhale is used by your brain. Since every cell in our bodies absorbs oxygen for nourishment, a deep inhalation supplies more nourishment. But that is not all a deep breath does. You actually bring about a measure of calmness when you inhale deeply. Furthermore, you get a tiny moment in time when you come off what I call autopilot so that you can choose how to act or react. The importance of being able to choose cannot be overstated regarding a craving.
A deep breath always accompanies the favorable outcome of a near miss or the realization that the danger has passed by helping to calm your body and helping to bring stress hormones back into balance. Think of a time when you just missed having a car accident or the thought of danger had passed. You took a big deep breath, didn’t you? Unbeknown to you, your incredible body had flooded your bloodstream with stress hormones, on the ready, to assist you through the danger. When danger is over . . . more oxygen is inhaled automatically. Amazing right? Well, yes, and you can bring in more oxygen whenever you want to. Especially in recovery, when we are sometimes blindsided by a craving, developing the habit of taking a deep breath has proven to be very helpful to many recovering addicts.
A deep breath at the moment of a craving acts as an interruption between the craving and the giving into the craving. That small moment in time brings a measure of calmness that can be used to short-circuit the old using habit. There is no meditation practice or relaxation therapy that does not begin with concentration on breathing. You have that small moment to tell yourself that you control you.
Once you develop the habit to breathe deeply several times a day, not only will your body have more nourishment, but you will be able to feel calmer and more relaxed than ever before. Your body comes to expect this benefit. So when a craving hits you, you can hit back.
An added benefit is once you are programmed to take a deep breath before making a decision, especially a using decision, you will find you can make wiser decisions, and those decisions will be based on choice rather than the old habit of crave and then automatically use.
If you continue to breathe deeply for a few moments after the craving hits, you will experience many of your body functions slowing down, like your pulse rate and blood pressure. Your body becomes more relaxed; you become calmer. You have exercised control, and that is empowering. Breathing is not something we think about, but think about this for a second. You can go without food, water, and sleep for a while . . . oxygen—don’t even try it!
If you Google deep breathing, you find an astonishing 8,860,000 entries. Since we breathe about twenty thousand times a day, surely we can find time to breathe deeply a few of those twenty thousand times. The benefits are well documented.
Stress increases your heart rate, ups your blood pressure, and is the major cause of relapse. Since we are in control of our breathing, we can reverse these physical events just by deep breathing. We can tackle a craving before it tackles us. When we control our breathing during the times we feel a craving, we can access calmness when we need it the most. It is true that a craving is a high-anxiety event. It is also true that you have more control than you previously might have thought.
Remember you control you. Practice the exercise whereby you take a few deep inhalations during the day at the same time you are silently saying, “I. Control. Me.”
Form this habit by repetition. Say it with conviction. Mean it. Make it your mantra.