I used to dream about sand storms. I’d be in the desert, alone, when I’d see a billowing yellow-brown mass creeping across the landscape in great whirls, like a tornado. I could see it from miles away… and had long enough to panic. I’d turn to run but found my legs wouldn’t move… and then, of course, I couldn’t breathe. Then I’d wake up… deep in the throes of an asthma attack.
When I was a child, there were no rescue inhalers. Not from the doctor, anyway. They gave me Bronitin Mist, which was an over the counter aerosol that contained Epinephrine. My heart would race and I would cough up great gobs of mucus. (Sorry for the graphic description.) Then I’d usually feel better.
My mother had this herbal tea she’d boil in a big pot. I would take a towel, put it over the steam and breathe… it always made me feel better, too. I didn’t know until much later that it’s a laxative. I didn’t drink it… but the scent and medicinal properties calmed me, which in turn made my breathing better. It was called Swiss Kriss, if you’re interested.
Some attacks were worse than others and nothing would make them stop. After super bad one’s, my lungs would ache for days afterward. I would bend over to breathe, hands on my knees, which made me dizzy.
This went on until I was in my late 20’s. During a particularly bad attack, I went to the hospital. I was given a prescription asthma spray. Step one of changing my life.
Breathing Free by Teresa Hale is credited with teaching me how to breathe again. Now, true, most people don’t need to be taught how to breathe. Most people do it naturally. I did, too, obviously, being human and all. But the notion of breathing “naturally” changed when my asthma kicked up. I would get scared, then panic, then hyperventilate. I would end up gulping for air, which fueled the panic and anxiety I already had. This, in turn, set off a cascade that culminated in a fear that I would die. And no wonder! In a way, it all makes sense, doesn’t it? Of course I would be afraid! I wish I would have realized it sooner because I pushed myself in dangerous situations, like during exertion (riding a bike or running).
Before I got the book, I had been introduced to some of the concepts it touted — but had forgotten. My grandfather was a doctor/ chiropractor… and a very open-minded practitioner of natural health… even before it was all the rage. He researched about my asthma and gave me a list of vitamins and breathing exercises to help myself. I adored him but I also kinda, well, ignored him. I had normalized my experience. To me, it was just one of those things I’d have to live with.
Years after his death, this book mapped out (almost) identical exercises. Smart man, my grandfather.
Of course, medicines have changed and now I take the singularly most helpful (preventative) inhaled steroid I’ve ever used: Advair. I rarely have attacks but when I do, the very first thing I do is something I learned in the book: I breathe through my nose. Why? Because asthma + anxiety = a toxic mess… fueled by hyperventilation, or what the book calls, “Overbreathing”. What I remember is this: you CAN’T hyperventilate when you’re breathing through your nose. They even suggest you tape your mouth shut. That’s how seriously serious they are about this!
I won’t say anything else because I want you to buy this book if you have asthma, emphysema or other breathing problems. It’s THAT good. (It also has diagrams of the exercises for those of us who need to see what they mean.)
Breathe on, fellow sufferers. This one’s a keeper!