Take a moment to picture a small infant sleeping peacefully in a safe, soft bed. Observe its belly, gently, fluidly, evenly expanding and contracting. Do you still breathe like that?
I don’t, not without consciously reminding myself to and practicing. But as babies, we all knew how to breathe. Puppies, kittens, foals, baby capybaras, take your pick! All baby mammals are born knowing how to breathe the way nature meant us to. But we unlearned it.
Like the rest of us, I learned how to breathe incorrectly through a combination of exposure to overwhelming events and social training. Everywhere throughout my early education and family life, I was taught ways of moving, holding onto myself, and suppressing vitality and breath.
How to Breathe Wrong
Based on what I learned, here is my best advice for breathing wrong:
- Take weak, shallow breaths to make sure no emotions circulate and you’re always in a state of low-grade anxiety and depression
- Tense your back, shoulders, and abdominal muscles around your core with a permanent, body cast-like rigidity, so nothing gets in or out
- Sit at your desk for 25+ years of schooling followed by decades of office work or until your torso resembles a sack of potatoes
What about you, what’s your best tip for breathing wrong?
Experts in the Wrong Way to Live
Come to think of it, what other wrong ways of living are we experts in? Here are some of my other specialties:
- How to avoid conflict but still hang onto deep resentments
- How to turn rage in on yourself, to create depression that keeps you safe and also miserable
- How to arrest my own development, to keep from growing up, so that I stay frozen and don’t have to process grief about what happened to me and the people I love most
- How to give away my power to tyrannical people and institutions, so that I continue to feel like a victim, even as a privileged adult
The Rule of Living Wrong
I can tell you a lot about how to live wrong. By wrong, I mean, wrong for me. Wrong because it makes me suffer, wrong because I don’t like it, wrong because it doesn’t really feel like a choice, even if it technically is.
I wonder if this is true of you too. If you’re like me, no matter how wrong for you your habits are, at one point you chose them. Perhaps you did it under duress, perhaps you did it to go with the program, to avoid further fuss or danger or whatever. But at some point, at some level of consciousness or another, you decided to adopt, practice, and master misery-creating behaviors as a way of staying alive.
I’m not saying the bad things that happened to you and left deep wounds in your core are in any way your fault. But the entry point into changing life does lie somewhere in the fuzzy area where we can recognize that it was, and still is, some kind of a choice to hold reality-generating beliefs. This is important because of this thought: if that’s so, then maybe I can choose something different now.
Yes, yes you can. So can I. It might take a long time, but habits can be changed in the same exact way they were installed in the first place, through choice and repetition.
Today, my food for thought is: let’s flip the Rules for Living Wrong into their opposites, Rules for Living Right.
Journal Exercise: Rules for Living
Part 1: Start with thinking about some aspect of yourself or your life that you don’t like experiencing anymore. It can be something from your practical realm, like “never earning quite enough money” or it can be an inner thing you grapple with, like “constant self-doubt.”
Now see if you can identify what are the bad Rules for Living that give rise to this result.
Eg, here’s a rule that leads to “never earning quite enough money to feel secure”:
- Always ask for less than you deserve, so that people don’t get mad at you or think you think you’re better than you are
See how that relates? It’s great advice if your goal is to earn less.
Part 2: Once you’ve gotten the “bad” rules out, see if you can flip them on their head. What is the opposite rule? Think about trying these new, different rules on, even if you’re not ready to do it. You can have fun and play around with this, laughing at the ridiculous things you think of. Or maybe they’re tender and serious. See what happens.
An opposite rule for my example might be:
- Always ask for a little bit more than what you technically deserve according to the market, so that people see how much you value yourself and they are impressed and inspired to follow suit in valuing you.
Play around, have fun, it’s just a thought experiment!