Am I too lazy to breathe? Apparently.
The pandemic has accelerated the so-called “breathwork” wellness trend, and recently I happened upon an article extolling the stunning benefits of slow, deep, controlled breathing. The technique has been shown to reduce stress, increase alertness, boost your immune system — and it’s free (or so I initially thought, but more on this later). I vowed to do it every day.
No, not vowed. That makes it sound like breathing was something I didn’t really want to do, but would do because it would be good for me, like reading a daily poem.
But in fact, by the time I had completed a single round of controlled breathing I was so sure it was going to change my life — in a way that a celebrity-endorsed hair dryer had failed to — that I thought of how the Buddha, the legendary breath influencer, would handle things, and I didn’t even post a breathing selfie.
I breathed in. I let air fill my belly. I held it. I exhaled to the count of five. I repeated it four times. Then, because my family motto is “anything worth doing is worth overdoing,” I repeated it 10 more times.
I was feeling lightheaded, so I wolfed down some dark chocolate, chastised myself for eating candy before noon, then returned to my breath studies.
The breathing thing has been building for a couple of years, but with the nation focused on respiratory health, it’s safe to say breathing is having a moment.
I’m embarrassed to admit I hadn’t realized how much is going on in the breath world, or even that there was a breath world, and that Gwyneth Paltrow was (of course) part of it.
There are breath quacks. Breath tycoons. Breath controversies.
“The market is flooded with books and classes claiming ‘breathwork’ can help with mental health, sleep and even Covid-19,” a headline in the Guardian read. “But are experts convinced?”
I wasn’t going to do anything potentially dangerous, like “mouth taping” while I sleep in hopes that being forced to breathe through my nose would ease asthma or snoring (OK, admittedly, those are issues I don’t even have).
I certainly wasn’t going to do anything that involved discomfort, like plunging myself in an ice bath and alternating between short periods of hyperventilation and long periods of holding my breath. That method, advocated by the Paltrow darling Wim Hof, is so advanced that Paltrow’s Goop website carries a warning:
“These [techniques] should not be performed without the okay from your doctor and proper training.”
But extreme breathing aside, I was sold on dramatically improving my life through breathing. I wanted to have an “unshakable inner game” as one breathing book promised. But it was starting to seem like a real commitment.
I was more interested in armchair breathing. I scrolled Twitter for a breath-empowerment tweet to “like.”
Imagine my delight when I found a quiz online that could measure my “breathing IQ.”
“Are you breathing intelligently?” asked the website.
OMG! Was I?
The breathing test is the genius of celebrity breather Belisa Vranich, a psychologist, an author, most recently of “Breathing for Warriors,” and a woman with 18.4k followers on Instagram. I figured she knows her stuff.
The assessment began with a self-determination of whether I am a vertical, horizontal, or hybrid breather. I checked “hybrid” just to be safe, then, as instructed, breathed in, measured a section of my torso, breathed out and measured again.
Usually I try to game self-assessments. I want to appear admirable or super healthy — even if only to myself. But what was this test looking for? What should I feign? Uncharacteristically, I put in real numbers.
Big mistake. “Results,” it read, “D.”
I was about to give up on this whole breathing thing, but then I read on. “Don’t worry, 80% of people score a D or below. It’s a good thing you are here, we can get you to an A in no time.”
Needless to say, it would cost me. A 90-minute, online, session was $550, albeit with Dr. Vranich herself, but it didn’t seem like the kind of thing that my insurance would cover.
When I told my husband about my grade he came to my defense. “What kind of curve is that,” he asked. “If most people score a D or worse?”
“Yeah!” I said. But then I thought back a few years to a tense drive to drop off one of my sons at high school. I sat behind the wheel inhaling deeply, pausing, and then — rookie mistake — whooshing the air out of my belly very loudly, thereby adding to his annoyance, and in turn, increasing my need to repeat the exercise.
“Why are you breathing like that?” he asked.
Me (like the D breather that I was and still am): “Like what?”
So where am I now? I wish I could report that my initial enthusiasm had turned me into such a breathing personality that my agent was taking meetings with Netflix. But I’m not holding my breath.