Even Breath

I was on a bike trail with my two sons while visiting in Gainesville. It was a beautiful morning, not a cloud in the sky. I insisted that after breakfast we would go on a trail. I was going back to Miami in a couple of hours and wanted to enjoy one last ride for the weekend before heading back.

The trail was easy, paved, and not far from the house. I figured it was an easy bike ride. When we turned left on the trail, we felt the shade of the trees and the cooler air. I soaked in the goodness and was counting my blessings of being able to enjoy a moment such as this with my grown sons.

About two minutes on the trail, I can hear my son, “Dad!” I heard his voice in slow motion. As I did, I can see myself losing control of my bicycle and flipping over the handlebars. What took a second or two felt like a long time. I knew while flying that the landing was not going to be good.

My right elbow took the brunt of fall. All I could feel was electrifying pain from the arm and blood gushing out of the elbow. The white of the ulnar bone stuck out of my skin. I had no sense of where my arm was in relationship to my body.

Without any thought, I turned on my back and did what I normally do every time I get on my mat, begin to even out my breath. The breathing slowed and evened out. Inhaling and exhaling for a six count. I knew that I could start yelling or screaming but doing so would put my life in greater danger and stress my children even more than they were. I began counting my breath as I could hear my kids call 911.

The next 15-20 minutes of waiting for rescue seemed like forever, but I stayed calm as I practiced my even breathing. The trail became my yoga mat. My practice took over and allowed me to move from a potential dorsal vagal (freeze) response toward social engagement (ventral vagal) where I could remain alert and connected to those who were helping me.

This next breath practice is what I practiced that day of my accident. It has many names. In yoga it’s called Sama Vritti Pranayama. In the world of science, it is often called resonance frequency breathing.

This practice works best when done everyday for about 10 or 20 minutes. You can do this lying down, with legs against a wall, in a chair, or in a comfortable sitting position on the ground. It works when it has become a habit. This is important. Trying to breathe this way when stressed does not work unless one has incorporated the practice and made it a daily habit.

The Practice

  • Find a comfortable position on your back or sitting down. Putting your legs up on a wall adds another element of rest to this practice.
  • Allow your breath to come to it’s natural rate. Practice your freedom breath for a little bit before starting. When inhaling and exhaling, do so through your nose.
  • Begin by inhaling for four seconds and exhaling for six. Do so until you feel comfortable.
  • Practice inhaling for five and exhaling for five.
  • When you feel comfortable, inhale for six and exhale for six. Keep this count for the remainder of the practice. Keep it between 10 and 20 minutes.

Tech Assistance

If you are interested in a guided even breath practice, download the free Breath App created by respected yoga teacher, Eddie Stern. The page provides a good description of this breath practice and it’s many benefits.