Why Are We Terrible at Breathing?

I’m sincerely asking: why are we terrible at breathing?  Why don’t we spend time practicing?

There are endless free resources about techniques and health benefits of breathing.  This post aims to posit questions about why we are terrible at it.  Terrible meaning not paying attention to it, and therefore not practicing it.  We meaning the collective we.

There may be a lot of reasons, but here are a few ideas to get the conversation rolling.

The primary reason we might be terrible at breathing is because the thought of having poor skills or awareness about something our bodies do automatically sounds ludicrous.

The ego will judge the above question seriously flawed and dismiss it before we even realize what’s happened.

Truth: our bodies breathe for us.

At night while we sleep.
After we’ve passed out.
All day long without a conscious thought involved.
Breathing happens.

Truth: the body is very good at breathing.  It is just how we do.

You can see how the concept of “getting better at breathing” can be shot down instantaneously by the ego, right?

Is this why we basically ignore breathing?

Do we ignore breathing because our minds won’t allow us to experience things that are “too simple,” or “too easy” or “automatic?”

“Why pay attention to breathing when I don’t have to?” says the ego. So, it doesn’t.

What Happens if We Start Paying Attention to the Breath?

In order to get better at breathing, we must begin at the beginning.  Albeit breathing is controlled by the autonomic nervous system, it can also be directed.  It is both automatic and controllable.

Based on that fact, there are two ways to pay attention to breathing:  1) shift into “observer mode” and watch the body breathe, and 2) consciously direct the breath.  There are psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits to both processes.

This brings up a second reason we might be terrible at breathing.  We haven’t experienced it directly.  Much.

The ego first shoots down the idea of being “terrible at breathing,” then turns a blind eye to the act of breathing.  After all, breathing is a given.  Why practice something so utterly fundamental, right?

The benefits of observing or directing the breath are not possible unless we participate in breathing.

Please note, this conversation does not exclude the obvious.  The benefit of automatically breathing is living.

So, what does happen if we start paying attention to breathing?
Can we use it as a tool?

From only 10+ years of consciously working on breathing, I still don’t feel like I have great insight to offer on the subject.  Every time I do concerted breath work or share breathing strategies with clients, I realize how very much I don’t know.  Breathing (technique, function, spiritual implications of, health benefits, etc.) is like a deep, vast ocean with no shore.

Fortunately, breathing continues to gain traction in research, popular media, and all ova’ the interwebs.  If the ego needs evidence in order to start practicing, there is plenty.  Here is a 2016 New York Times primer on why and how just in case you’re interested:

BREATH. EXHALE. REPEAT: The Benefits of Controlled Breathing,
by Leslie Alderman



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