So, I learned a new technique a few months ago from my son’s therapist. It’s about breathing in while folding my arms around each other and pulling them in against my chest. Something about the breathing in, folding, and exhaling interrupts the body’s stress processes and calms us down. In other words, it takes the “wig” out of “wigging out.”
Well, I thought I’d just be reminding my son of this lovely new tool, but instead, I find myself pretzel breathing in rush hour traffic on the way to karate; while watching my kids painstakingly slowly pack their backpacks up and tie shoes as I hear the bus rolling up; when we are fighting homework battles with one who isn’t big on receiving feedback; when arguments break out between siblings right when I need to get out the door; when the dogs eat the important mail; and when the person in front of me in line is simultaneously on the phone while trying to order bagels and coffee for 30 people who aren’t currently with her.
Yeah, I really just can’t stop pretzel breathing. I’m not sure if it’s counterproductive or not to replace OCD/anxiety symptoms with obsessively using techniques to interrupt them, but I pretzel breathe to the umpteenth power. Cannot get enough of it. It’s a new compulsion, and I’m not even the patient.
I even went so far as to demonstrate my awesome new skill at my moms’ prayer group at the start of our prayer year, and since then, one prayer warrior mom has reported she’s in love with it too. Really, all of the pills* in the world to fix this, that, and the other thing, and all we have to do is twist and breathe? Sign me up!
It works so well that I don’t think I’ll ever stop. I’m pretty sure my gravestone will read: “Faithful wife, mother, friend. Pretzel-breathing advocate to the very end.”
So, I asked myself, is anything close to pretzel breathing in the Bible?
I have no idea.
I think taking Sabbath is along the same lines. [For more on this, kindly refer to: “And on the Seventh Day He Rested….” The kid in the picture is pretty cute!]
What I do know is that prayer, Bible reading, and worship are like that. When we participate, they beautifully interrupt our trudge through the sludge of life and ground us. Praying empties me of my burdens. Yes, sometimes I need to pray the same thing over and over again until I am ready to fully let it go to God and trust Him, but the discipline of running to Him first is what frees me.
When I read the Bible, it always speaks directly into something I am going through. That’s because it is not just a history book. It is the living Word of God. It comes alive in us because it is always relevant and because He sends the Holy Spirit to those Who trust in Him, to help us gain understanding. God’s words are meant to be read back and prayed to Him. That’s what engages them in our lives: believing them, speaking them, talking to our Creator. It’s not something we chant to get our minds or hearts in a better place (although that is a definite result). It’s living dialogue with God, Our Father. Unlike pretzel breathing, it does more than calm the body. It calms the soul. It says: “At rest, my soul. You’ve spoken with and trusted in God.”
And worship is praising Him, singing to Him, acknowledging Him, dancing to Him, honoring Him. We worship even when we tell others about something great He has taught us or has done in our lives. It’s acknowledging His awesomeness, and no matter how rough your day, wouldn’t that turn your perspective around a bit? If we were each focused on His awesomeness?
Pretzel breathing is a fantastic stress tool, that’s for sure, but its effects are simply in the moment. I have to keep performing that task when different scenarios come up that stress me out.
Prayer, Bible reading, and worship are also beneficial, if done repeatedly, but the difference is: They last. They build into our peace like a storage chest of truth, rest, hope, and promise. Practicing them, as well as practicing thankfulness,** eventually leads us to and sustains us at a state of joy, no matter our circumstances.
There’s no harm in wrapping my arms inward and exhaling now and again. I honestly don’t think I even know how to stop, at this point. But, by far, the best way to interrupt the day’s stress is to spend time with God. Eventually, we get to the point where His Word is in our heads and hearts, and He speaks it to us right when we need it.
Psalm 119:10-18, unnamed author
I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
Praise be to you, Lord;
teach me your decrees.
With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.
Be good to your servant while I live,
that I may obey your word.
Open my eyes that I may see
wonderful things in your law [emphasis mine].
*This does not mean I am in any way anti-medication. Our personal journey to making medication decisions can be found in Not Just on Sundays.
**This is a great book for practicing thankfulness:
Voskamp, Ann. One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010.