Breathe

Breathe

I think breathing is something we take for granted. It’s something that your brain tells your body to do and we inhale and exhale without thinking much about it unless we are underwater or in some other way deprived of oxygen, and then it becomes something we have to think about consciously.  And so, while I was aware for a long time that I had the symptoms of sleep apnea, I thought I was getting a good night sleep and doing just fine even if I was annoying other people with my horrible snoring.

Two years ago I suddenly began to go downhill.  I could no longer focus on tasks set before me. Multi-tasking was impossible, something I used to do with ease.  Moving around became more difficult and I gained weight.  My feet took on a dusky appearance and I blamed it on my socks and shoes rubbing off dye and staining my feet.  Only the tips of my toes were pink – a straight line across the top of my foot.  My ankles swelled.  And yet none of this alarmed me, I had an excuse for everything.  That is, until my yearly blood test revealed an elevated red blood cell count that had reached into the dangerous levels.  And I remembered the lab technician having trouble drawing the blood which was thick and didn’t flow well into the vial.  In the middle of filling the tube my blood simply stopped flowing.  She ended up having to start a new draw in my opposite arm in order to fill the vial.  What I thought was some error in procedure turned out to be a symptom of my problem.

After my doctor read the results, she began actively searching for reasons my red blood cell count was so high.  The first step was to check for apnea, so she ordered a night pulse oximeter test.  Overnight I wore a device on my finger to check on my oxygen levels as I slept.  The results revealed that my oxygen was dropping into the 70 to 80 percent range at certain points in the night. My pulse was dropping as low as 34 beats per minute.  To clarify that this was apnea, I took part in a sleep study where I slept in a lab at the hospital and was wired up with every possible kind of monitor and also observed by trained specialists as I slept.  The session was recorded.  About half way through the night the technician shook my shoulder and said I had been identified as someone needing continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment.  A mask was fitted on my face and I was hooked up to the CPAP machine and I slept the most refreshing sleep I had had in years.  After a doctor reviewed all the results of the sleep study, it was confirmed that I had apnea up to 40 times per hour, and was never getting to a level of deep sleep even though I wasn’t aware my body was waking me up every minute or less than a minute to remind me to breathe.  I had both obstructive apnea, where the airway becomes blocked, and central apnea, where the brain forgets to tell your body to breathe.  All these years I could have easily died in my sleep and no one would have known why.

Fast forward to now. It’s been a year since I have been using the CPAP machine every single night and I’m doing better in so many ways. My red blood cell count is back in the high normal range, I can enjoy reading again and concentrate on tasks that had been eluding me.  My ability to walk and exercise improved and so did my weight. My feet are normal color again. After two years of being acutely aware of my breathing, I have learned not to take breath and oxygen for granted.  I live in a high altitude area (8,000 feet above sea level).  But even those of you that don’t have environmental or physical challenges to your breathing should pay attention to it.

As we are on the cusp of a new year, make a decision to raise your consciousness by concentrating on every breath you take in and breathe out.  Spend time in non-polluted areas such as the outdoors so that you are breathing in fresh air un-laden with chemicals, heavy metals, poisons from emissions from industry or buildings.  If you smoke, quit.  Don’t let those chemicals you are drawing into your body alter your ability to wholly participate in life.  Don’t let smoking shorten your time on this earth.  When you concentrate on breathing you will increase your overall level of focus, emotional stability, and level of consciousness.

Whatever creative path you follow, you will benefit from increasing your mental focus.  You will have a better understanding of yourself and concepts that once seemed difficult to understand will become knowledge you can easily grasp.  You will have more clarity about yourself and the world around you.  You will improve your life.  Make 2017 the year you start to improve your life, simply by breathing.

 

Compassion

Reynisifjara and Reynisdrangar, Iceland. Photo by Martin Falbisioner

Here are three things you can do now to improve the quality of your own life by consciously improving how you interact with other people.

Set a positive example for others. Maybe you do this without even thinking about it, but what if you were to consciously make the decision to set a positive example?  A lot of parenting advice revolves around setting an example for your children and being a model for how you want them to be as they grow up.  But do we follow this advice in our everyday interactions with others?  It’s been proven that kindness rubs off.  Even a smile can brighten the day for someone who is hurting, wrestling with deep issues or problems, or just absorbed in their own “stuff”.

While you may already treat other people with kindness, do you do the same for yourself? It’s important that you treat yourself with kindness.  Accept and love yourself for who you are.  Your view of the world and your place in it will shift significantly if you realize that in the current moment you are doing the best you know how.  Don’t beat yourself up about yesterday or the future. Tell yourself, “in this moment I am doing okay, I am handling this.”  You may find it hard to accept yourself and love yourself if you are dwelling on the mistakes you’ve made, the situation you find yourself in, when the past looks unforgivable and the future looks bleak.    Count your blessings.  What do you have in your life right now that blesses you?  What are you capable of, what are you good at, what blesses you?  Focus on that.

Act with compassion, always. Shift your mental focus to the other person. Act out of pure love.  This is not easy if you are used to thinking about yourself and how something or someone affects you, but if you practice it every time you are interacting with someone, it will start to come naturally.  Think, “how is this person feeling? How is this person reacting to the situation? What can I do or say to help them through it or feel better about themselves?” Then act accordingly.  Not everything that happens in this life or everything said to you is meant to hurt you.  Sometimes the other person is the one hurting and just needs to be heard.

To become more mindful of yourself and your impact on others, to affect other people in a positive way that shows understanding in a world where you would also like to be heard and understood, step back for a moment and practice these three concepts.  At first people may not be able or willing to see the change in you. They may not trust the “new” you or think it’s just a phase.  But if you are consistent and willful in your desire to change how you interact with other people, you will see a shift in how they interact with you and, like a chain reaction, how they treat the other people in their lives.

Compassion
by Miller Williams

Have compassion for everyone you meet,
even if they don’t want it. What seems conceit,
bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign
of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen.
You do not know what wars are going on
down there where the spirit meets the bone.

From The Ways We Touch: Poems. Copyright 1997 by Miller Williams.
Used with permission of the University of Illinois Press.