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The Write Question is a weekly video podcast about writing that I started in 2017 and that ran, more or less weekly, until April 2022. This is a republication of issue #13, discussing how to stop holding breath while writing. The post first ran on April 14/17.
Welcome to The Write Question, the video-podcast designed to answer your questions about writing. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant.
Today I have a question from Hana Vrzakova, a Czech PhD student who is currently based in Finland.
“Hi, Daphne. I have a question about writing. I have noticed that when I’m writing — especially when I cannot express myself precisely — I’m holding my breath unconsciously, and it’s a really unpleasant feeling during writing. So I want to ask you, what are your suggestions and hints for how to relax?”
Thanks, Hana. Your question made me smile because I used to do EXACTLY the same thing. I’ve even developed a name for it. I call it “writing apnea.” Sort of like sleep apnea, a medical condition in which people stop breathing when they’re asleep. Here’s her question:
Why do some of us do the same thing when we’re writing? I think it’s because we’re concentrating so hard. Let me explain why this is a problem.
Brains need a lot of oxygen to work properly so if you breathe better you’ll be able to think better too. Good posture is also essential to good breathing. If you never breathe deeply enough to fully expand your ribcage, then your diaphragm and lungs aren’t doing what they’re meant to.This will only give you hunched-over shoulders and an aching back.
Also, irregular breathing triggers a nervous response in the body that can dump toxins into your system, weaken your immune system, raise your blood pressure and increase stress, tension and anxiety.
And here you thought writing was doing that!
So, the question remains: how to fix it. I recently read a great piece in the New York Times with a suggestion for something called Coherent Breathing. It’s super easy!
- Sit or lie down
- Place your hand on your belly
- Slowly breath in, expanding your belly, to the count of five
- Slowly breathe out to the count of six
That’s it! In case you missed all that, I’ll link to the New York Times article below. The goal is to work your way up to being able to do this exercise for 10 minutes at a time and do it several times during your work day. The ultimate goal is to breathe at a rate of five breaths per minute.
Why does this exercise work? The typical adult breathes erratically, using only about 10% of their diaphragm. Coherent breathing allows us to use more like 40 to 60% and this is calming.
I think if you try it, you’ll find it makes a big difference to your writing, and to your life.
Finally, let me wrap up with a quote from German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen:
“Repetition is based on body rhythms, so we identify with the heartbeat, or with walking, or with breathing.”
Thanks for your question, Hana. Good luck with your breathing.
Thanks so much for watching. If YOU have a question, you can email, tweet, or skype me. You can find the details in the description below along with any resources I’ve mentioned. And don’t forget to like and subscribe to the video.
The benefits of controlled breathing (New York Times)