Learning to Exhale…A Lesson in Healthy Living

This was one of the tools used to help me learn to breathe better.

Recently I have been dealing with medical issues for the very first time in my life. Prior to October, I had NEVER had any surgery or anesthesia. So, to say that having my first surgery a few weeks ago was a monumental event in my life may be an understatement. But through it all, I have learned lots about myself in this journey.

The thing that will stay with me for a long time is the lesson to learn to breathe properly.

I had just come out of the surgery room and was regaining consciousness after being under the anesthesia. Things were going so well. I thought I could leave in a few minutes.  I was so ready to join my family out of that recovery room in order to get on with my healing and life. But the nurses refused to let me leave due to the fact that they found that my oxygen level was lower than what felt healthy or safe to them.

Befuddled, I asked the nurse why this was happening. She explained that sometimes after surgery or anesthesia, patients have to relearn how to breathe again. This was sort of funny to me as I had always thought that I was not a good breather as that was my excuse for not liking running, or swimming. However to be told that from the nurse was sort of incredulous as I had NOT even felt any pain or any unhealthiness in my breathing even as I laid on that surgery bed.  I really could not tell that I did not have enough oxygen in my lungs. I was so unaware!

The nurse went on to tell me what was wrong with my breathing. She told me that I was taking short breathes, but NOT exhaling it out well. When she told me this, I was shocked. I had no idea that I was doing this. She went on to explain that for some people, we can breathe in an unhealthy manner without even consciously being aware of this. It was like I was just taking or inhaling air without properly exhaling it out. I did not even know it was not safe for me. (That is the culprit of my being in that room for over 2 hours.)

The nurse’s prescription for me was get me to intentionally take deep breathes and exhale purposefully. (You can see the spirometer that I used to help me breathe better.) She told me that I needed to just relearn to breathe in this way and teach myself how to breathe properly and especially to learn to exhale out.

There I was, learning to breathe properly to be healthy.

As I was doing the intentional breathing exercises, the Lord reminded me that this was a metaphor of how I usually live out my life. Many things happen in my life (from many changes at work, or loss of loved ones or the reality of living with a new medical normal, etc) and I just take it all in (inhaling it all in) with my survival tendencies. In fact, it is so ingrained in me that I don’t even realize that it is unhealthy and if left unchecked could harm my vital organs. I go on in life, not knowing how to exhale or not being intentional to get it OUT of me. I just get stuck in inhaling mode, but never exhale or processing it out so that I can breathe in a manner that is better for my body.

Like many survivors, I just tend to absorb life’s horrifying events and hold my breathe and hope that I can just toughen up to match these crises. But in reality, what can be learned from the body is that we were meant to both inhale and exhale. To be healthy, I cannot just hold my breathe and hope the hardships will go away or just hope that everything will be fine if I just work on it by myself. What is disheartening about how I was breathing is that I was so used to breathing in an unhealthy way that it had become subconscious to me that I was holding my breathe. I have gotten so used to living in an unhealthy way, that I was not able to see that it was harming my breathing or life.

So, I had to learn to breathe again. With my life, I am grateful that I have learned that because of my survivor-holding onto my breathe tendencies, that for the rest of my life, I will need to be INTENTIONAL about doing exercises to learn to EXHALE out. After doing the breathe in, breath out exercises, I was able to go home after 2 hours of sorting through this. I too can become healthy through learning to exhale.

This is analogous to how I should live my life and how I ought to process my emotions or grief outward.  I know that I can tend to just survive and that I need friends or spaces like my church grief group where we come for the sole purpose of sharing or feeling our grief and pains with each other.  With intentional space or places to process or exhale life’s most traumatic losses or pains, we are able to exhale outside of ourselves, and find God and each other there. (It is still painful when we share it outside of ourselves, but somehow in doing that, we find that we are NOT alone, but that we can cry and care for one another even as God shows up there in our community of tears.)

I am grateful that I am learning to exhale with God and with others. It is teaching me a new way to do life. But I have to keep on being intentional to find friends and places to safely exhale out life’s many challenges in gracious and safe spaces.  Or else, it will be as if I go on living my life holding on to my breathe! That is very unhealthy and not the way God meant for me to live. I want to breathe or live healthier.

What about you? How do you process life’s curve-balls along your way? What has helped you? Have you set aside intentional efforts to learn to exhale outward? Who are your friends or community that can teach you to learn to exhale?