I recently returned from Aruba where I enjoyed sun, wind, and adventures in the crystal clear blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. It was wonderful, especially the afternoon that my husband Byron and I spent on a pleasure dive with Palm Beach Divers.
The current slogan of Aruba is “One Happy Island” – so aptly named because the island is situated in a protected zone, away from all hurricane risk. This is particularly important given the devastation brought on by Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas. My heart goes out to all the families who have been and will be negatively impacted by the latest hurricane.
I really wanted to unwind so I did not bring my laptop and made myself a promise not to take on the role of team photographer. I was successful in the first goal, but succumbed to my love of capturing the moment – snapping 143 photos in 7 days.
This is one of the few photos that I appear in front of the I Love Aruba street sculpture that you can find several places around the island.
What’s The First Rule of Diving?
I remember the moment when the light bulb went off for me as a blogger. It was in the boat when our dive instructor Robin (pictured above in the orange/black wet suit) asked us the following question: What’s the first rule of diving?
Mind you, I was paying very close attention to every word Robin said given my anxiety about breathing under water and about swimming around with potentially large, hungry sea creatures that might want to eat me. The 1975 release of the film Jaws still haunts me when I swim in water (any body of water!). Robin’s answer was not “don’t get eaten by a shark,” but rather “Don’t hold your breath.” I found that rule to be very logical and comforting, and perhaps even something that I could control.
Rule #1: Never Hold Your Breath*
According to the Scuba Diver Life article called “Ten Rules for Safe Scuba Diving” there is good reason why keeping the flow of breath is mission critical to divers. Below is an excerpt from that article. I’m kind of glad that I didn’t read it before my dive, as I might not have signed up for the adventure.
“As every good entry-level dive student knows, this is the most important rule* of scuba. And for good reason — breath holding under water can result in serious injury and even death. In accordance with Boyle’s law, the air in a diver’s lungs expands during ascent and contracts during descent. As long as the diver breathes continuously, this is not a problem because excess air can escape. But when a diver holds his breath, the air can no longer escape as it expands, and eventually, the alveoli that make up the lung walls will rupture, causing serious damage to the organ.
Injury to the lungs due to over-pressurization is known as pulmonary barotrauma. In the most extreme cases, it can cause air bubbles to escape into the chest cavity and bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, these air bubbles can lead to an arterial gas embolism, which is often fatal. Depth changes of just a few feet are enough to cause lung-over expansion injuries. This makes holding one’s breath dangerous at all times while diving, not only when ascending. Avoiding pulmonary barotrauma is easy; simply continue to breathe at all times.”
Simply Continue to Breathe At All Times
It seems so obvious that we need to continue to breathe at all times. But when you are in new, uncertain or stressful situations, like scuba diving, we are more likely to hold our breath. This must be linked with some sort of deep primitive response to fear and threat to survival (real or imagined).
Interesting that, during my recent dive experience, I noticed that I had to remember to exhale, to expel the air and empty my lungs. Inhaling seemed more natural and automatic for me, but I seemed to be holding on to that air unnaturally long. I suppose that’s what happens when you hold your breath.
Are You Unconsciously Holding Your Breath?
I’ve read some articles that suggest that there are benefits and reasons why we might want to learn to hold our breath, but most of the research suggests otherwise. I have concluded that holding one’s breath only compounds the stress one is trying to deal with. This applies not only underwater, but at work and at home. Here are three additional insights that I found online:
- According to a website called Seeker.com holding your breath can have negative impact on your body, especial for children. “For children of a certain age, holding your breath can be both a recreational activity and a form of protest. But it’s really not good for you. The body basically panics when you hold your breath, and recent studies suggest that making a habit of the practice can cause brain damage.”
- Google Search: “When we hold our breath, the diaphragm is restricted, the breath is shallow and confined to the chest. This overstimulates the sympathetic nervous system and results in the physiological symptoms of stress and feelings of anxiety. It also tends to keep us locked into our worries and anxious thoughts.”
- Brian Sabin, a former content manager at LiveStrong, suggests that many office workers are subconsciously holding their breath while they work. “Intense concentration at the office can lead to something called ’email apnea,’ where you actually stop breathing as you work.” Mr. Sabin’s article – Are You Subconsciously Holding Your Breath – offers insight and easy solutions to recognize this situation and to remedy it in the moment.
Focus On Your Breath
I, for one, am increasing my awareness of the quality, regularity, and value of my breath. I have learned a lot over the past 15 years about of the power of breath in yoga, and also through my vocal awareness training with Arthur Samuel Joseph. Read Arthur’s article on breath with the central idea that breath has strategic value.
And I have also seen the impact of breath and breathing on the communication impact and performance of my clients when they share their ideas and solutions during formal presentations. I’ve seen clients literally run out of air, turning shades of red in the face and neck, and nearly passing out when speaking in public. It’s a painful moment to observe. And no one is immune from it.
No matter how “good” someone is at speaking in public, there is always a little anxiety or nervous energy. And no matter how confident someone is, there is always the risk that they will hold their breath or breathe more shallowly when they are in front of an audience. The quality and regularity of the breath directly impacts the quality of the voice project and the body language. If you hold or shorten your breath when speaking in public, your performance will be compromised.
The solution is mindfulness. It starts with in-the-moment awareness and re-connection with what’s going on inside your body (not just your head). And of course, to keep calm and carry on breathing!
So, the next time you find yourself getting anxious, speaking faster than normal, or feeling light-headed when you speak at meetings or in presentations, focus on your breath. In fact, I suggest that you take 2-3 seconds to reset your breathing. Start by exhaling all of the residual air you are holding on to, slowly and silently through your nose. Pause for a split second, and then allow slow, silent, deep, conscious loving breath into your body. This is exactly what your body needs at this very moment. In fact, breathing is what you need to be doing in every moment. Perhaps the first rule of living should be don’t hold your breath.