Everything goes black. Tricia Kennedy thinks she is dead. It feels peaceful until the pain sets in. Then it is excruciating. The noise is deafening. The light is blinding. She realizes that she has been shot in the head.
Kennedy was in a shooting competition when a bullet accidentally hit her. Luckily, a nurse was nearby and ran to her aid. Kennedy’s heart rate was dangerously high and the nurse told her, “You must breathe. You are going into shock, and we’re going to lose you.”
The word “breathe” stuck in Kennedy’s frazzled mind. A year and a half earlier, she took a class on pistols. Her teacher taught her a 4-step technique called “combat breathing.”
Breathe in through your nose for a count of four.
Hold your breath for a count of four.
Exhale through your mouth for a count of four.
And then hold your breath again for a count of four.
With her life on the line, her training took over. Slowing her breathing down increased the oxygen in her body and saved her life.
Breath has been linked to well-being for a very long time, and not just because we need oxygen to survive. Pranayama, for example, is a Hindu breathing technique used to increase the vital energy of the body and mind. The benefits of this ancient practice have long been known, but Western science is just now catching up.
Scientists at Northwestern University recently found that the rhythm of your breath enhances emotional judgment and memory recall. Interestingly, these effects only happened when inhaling through the nose. Exhaling and breathing through the mouth did not have the same effect. In other words, how we breathe is important.
Breathing techniques have also helped people deal with past trauma. Soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are usually treated with medication, but the recovery rates are low. One study on the effects of yoga and breathing practices in veterans had impressive results. PTSD, anxiety, and insomnia decreased significantly in just one week! These improvements were still present a year later, leading some to believe that the change would be permanent.
Breathing is a wonderful thing. It keeps us alive and we do it without practice, thinking or effort. But when we apply focus and attention to the breath, we shine a light on the mind-body connection and tap into our body’s natural ability to heal.