Editor’s note: We are pleased to welcome back Fitness Corner writer Pritam Potts.
Personal Transformation Series
Part 1 of 4
One year ago, on the fourth anniversary of my late husband’s death, I huddled in bed to stay warm, utterly alone, defeated and hopeless. It was 20 degrees outside and the furnace was broken, my husband Eric was out of town, and the pain from my foot treatment was opioid-level agony. I knew I had to do something.
I was struggling. Just a few months earlier, we relocated to Dallas for my new husband’s work and the opportunity for the future that it presented. Although exciting, I was devastated to leave Edmonds and the community I had built up after many years, not to mention my business, my loyal client base that had been like family to me, and my training facility. It felt like I had to completely start my life over. Rationally, I knew I could handle it. Emotionally, I was overwhelmed.
Relocation is up there in the list of the biggest life stressors along with death, divorce, job loss, etc. Throw a few other circumstances in the mix, such as a bad flu, a foot issue causing endless pain and limiting my mobility (I could barely walk for weeks at a time), and a new house where every other week it seemed that something else went wrong. Factor in the holidays and the dreaded January — the month that my late husband Dan was born and died — and the feelings of sadness, powerlessness, panic, anxiety and total isolation threatened to defeat me every day, no matter what I attempted to accomplish.
Lying in bed freezing that day, I could think of only one thing that I could and should be doing for myself. One aspect of my life, at least, that I could control.
I resolved to breathe one minute at a time, one to three times a day, using my Apple Watch Breathe app. Breathing — and the app — was not new to me, I even wrote about it previously. Not only that, my watch had been gently reminding me multiple times every day to breathe for just one moment, but the greater my stress level, the more determined I was to ignore it — “I don’t have time, I must get this endless to-do list done RIGHT NOW!” Life has a way of overwhelming our best intentions, and I am no exception.
I began my new routine on Jan. 17, 2018. After only a few days, the panic and anxiety dissipated. Although my circumstances didn’t change, the way I felt did — I was calmer and more empowered, less overwhelmed and more peaceful within my mind and body. After a week or so, I upped my goal to two minutes, three times a day. Then three minutes. After a month, I was at five minutes, three times a day, where I have remained most days in the year since.
It’s not the watch or the app that has made a tremendous difference in my life, it is the consistency of my breathing practice. This can be a part of anyone’s day:
- Start small. One minute is plenty. Aim for multiple times for maximum benefit, preferably no more than three to five times per day. If that doesn’t feel like enough, you can always add more time or frequency. Even just once a day brings results.
- Set a timer or use an app (there are plenty out there) so that you carve out a certain amount of time that you have set aside for yourself. This frees your mind to focus on your breath, so that you don’t start thinking about how long you’ve been doing this in the middle of your breathing.
- Step away from your activities if possible. If for some reason you can’t do that, breathe anyway. I have breathed in doctor waiting rooms, in traffic, in front of the TV, at my desk, on frustrating phone call holds and many, many times on the golf course.
- Know that your mind will probably not stop racing. Those thoughts will fly in and out, no matter what. It’s just the way it is. I try and bring my attention back to my breath as soon as I realize it. I also use visualization to clear those thoughts out, picturing thoughts dissipating into smoke helps sometimes.
- Stay consistent no matter what. I have a weekly goal of 105 minutes (which Apple Watch conveniently summarizes for me every Monday). Although I feel the best when I breathe three times a day for five minutes, sometimes I will breathe for 15 minutes right before bed to reach my daily goal. Or I will add extra one- to five-minute segments the next day if I miss a session the day before.
Committing to a daily breathing practice was life transforming for me, despite nothing in my life miraculously changing. I can’t imagine my days without it now. Try it. You just might find that the smallest amount of breathing makes the biggest difference.
— By Pritam Potts
Coach Pritam Potts is a writer and strength coach. After 16+ years of training athletes and clients of all ages as co-owner of Edmonds-based Advanced Athlete LLC, she now lives in Dallas, Texas. She writes about health and fitness, grief and loss, love and life at www.advancedathlete.com.