How to Breathe

I’m not someone who knows a lot of jokes.

I always wished to be one of those ‘always has a joke to tell’ people, but throughout my life I’ve only managed to remember like 6 for any duration of time. (The greatest being a delightful pun involving a bear at a bar, but it’s much better told in-person.)

Another I remember is a blonde joke.

My 5th grade BFF and I LOVED blonde jokes. Until I began getting blonde highlights in my own hair in middle school, I’d look for any and every opportunity to generalize based on hair color and tell a poorly written joke in a poorly delivered manner.

My God did Amanda and I think we were funny. And my God, how obnoxious we were.

The particular one that I still recall goes a little something like this.

A blonde girl wearing large headphones walks into a salon. The hairstylist goes to remove the headphones, but the blonde shouts “NO! You can’t remove these. I have to wear them at all times.”

The hairstylist gives her a strange look and hesitantly begins to cut the girl’s hair, headphones on. 

As the hairstylist makes her way around the girl’s head, she accidentally knocks the headphones to the floor, the girl who’d been wearing them immediately following. To the stylist’s horror, the girl is dead.

But the stylist can’t help her curiosity and just has to know what could’ve possibly been playing in the girl’s ears. She slowly picks up the headphones and cautiously pulls them towards her own ears, and listens for a moment.

She can’t believe what she hears.

“Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.”

OH MY GOD it’s such a bad joke. The punch line of course being that the girl was so dumb, she needed constant instruction to breathe and without it, she fell dead onto the ground.

Hair color has nothing to do with intelligence, obvi. And we all know that intelligence has nothing to do with our body’s ability to perform essential functions, like breathing.

Yet the punchline of this joke is a very real and important sentiment.

Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. 

While our bodies do the basic work for us, it’s enough only to keep us alive. Pardon me for being a lofty-headed yogi, but there’s so much more breathing can do than just keep you alive.

“Take a deep breath and calm down.”

There’s a reason this is what we say and hear in times of anger, sadness, or stress. Slow, mindful abdominal breaths can literally lower your stress.

According to Harvard Medical school – that’s right mom, I’m quoting HARVARD – “deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, it can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure.”

Mindful, abdominal breaths can put your emotions and body at ease.

You’re probably breathing short, shallow breaths, right now, without even realizing it.

Our default is the basic function necessary to keep us alive. When we’re at our desks or we’re driving or we’re having conversations, our minds are consumed with tasks, thoughts on what to make for dinner, and just trying to process whatever so-and-so just said. How we’re breathing is likely the last thing on our mind.

Without even realizing it, your neck and shoulders are probably a little tense, you might be hunched over your keyboard, and your lungs are filling with just enough air to keep you from dying.

Which is great, because not dying is always a good thing.

But pausing every now and then during your busy days of autopilot and consciously taking a few deep breaths can change your entire day.

I dare you to try it, right now.

Let’s talk quickly about how to actually inhale and exhale.

Because let me tell you guys, I’ve been into deep/mindful breathing for a few years now, and I found out yesterday I’ve been doing it wrong this whole time

It’s common to hear from yoga instructors things like: 

“Breathe into your belly.”

“Deep belly breaths.” 

“Feel your naval rise and fall with each breath.” 

It should come as no surprise then that for years, I’ve been breathing into my belly. Just…my belly. With each deep, mindful, intentional inhale and exhale, I’ve been directing all airflow to my belly button. 

Most reading this are probably like, “um, why?”


I’ve even been smug at times about how I must be so enlightened and connected with my body to be so great at breathing. Others are probably impressed when I talk to them about it.

My smugness came to a crashing halt yesterday.

I had a session with my bodyworker, or my healer as I like to call him, which I’ll unpack more at a later date.

He was doing some work on my abdomen and towards the end abruptly said, “we need to work on how you breathe.”

I genuinely had no idea what to say.

Here I thought that this entire time he must be so impressed by how well I breathe, probably even told his other patients about my amazing breathing skills

“I’m surprised he’s never commented on how well I breathe,” is a thought that has crossed my head multiple times. 

I looked at him in disbelief.

“You’re breathing into your stomach,” he said.

“Right…because that’s what I’m supposed to do.”

“Breathing into your stomach is good, but ONLY breathing into your stomach not good.”

I continued to look at him with befuddlement. 

He held his hands just outside of reach of each of my ribs. 

“Breathe into your ribs. Expand enough for them to touch my hands.”

I tried. I couldn’t do it.

“Try again.”

I got closer the second time.

“This is freaking hard. You don’t understand, I’ve been convinced for years I’m supposed to breathe into my belly button. This is going to take a lot of practice.”

I tried a few more times and eventually got it – it was not easy. Physically, or mentally. 

“I want you to start doing this type of breathing for 10 minutes a day.”

“Okay, but it’s going to take a lot of work.”

I’m pretty sure I repeated this 5 times. 

As I walked out of his office I tried a few more times and already began to notice a difference in how…refreshing the breaths felt.

“Why the hell haven’t I been doing this all along?”

Game-changing, fam. Game-changing. 

And btw, my belly DOES still rise, but it’s not the only area circulating air. Diaphragmatic breathing is breathing into your entire abdomen, and damn it feels good.

If you’re still skeptical on this whole mindful breathing thing, and have 15 minutes, check out this TEDx Talk on breath work

Actually, even if you’re not skeptical and you’re already into breath work, I still encourage you to watch and practice the exercises at the end.

If you do these and don’t immediately feel better, come at me and we’ll duke it out.

No matter what, don’t forget to breathe.