Friday, June 24, 2011

Just Breathe

By the way, Mom, that's a reference to "Breathe (2 a.m.)" by Anna Nalick, a song which Aerie quite likes.

I've had a lifelong struggle with my lungs. It was, of course, complicated by my smoking for more years than I care to remember, but it began, so my mother says, from scar tissue left in my lungs when I had pneumonia at the age of two and was hospitalized, oxygen tent and all. In the intervening years, I've repeatedly tried to get various doctors to help me find a solution to improve my lung function, but each one, each time, either has or has not administered a breathing test and has, in either case, diagnosed me with asthma and prescribed an inhaler. I've tried Primatene, Ventolin, Albuterol, Advair... Maybe more. Never has an inhaler helped. Never has an allergy med or Bronkaid or guaifenesin helped.

After another bout with bronchitis last week and a 2- or 3-week struggle with running because of breathing problems, I thought I'd try again. My primary doc referred me to a pulmonologist. He talked to me about my history, mentioned "bronchi..." something-or-other, which can result from lung infections at a young age, administered a breathing test, and diagnosed me with asthma. I'm not sure how I can have asthma when I never have anything like an asthma "attack;" he explained that the ONLY (and he emphasized "only") lung disease consistent with my breathing test, which was essentially normal, is asthma. Therefore I have asthma. QED. And he prescribed Symbicort, one I haven't tried, but which so far seems to have zero effect, just like all the others.

So in the midst of all this, I got an email from One of the 5K or 10K races that I signed up for used for their online registration, and I've been on their email list ever since.

It was an article entitled "Breathing Tips for New Runners." I certainly never considered myself an "elite" runner, but I didn't think of myself as a "new" runner either. I didn't think it would have much to offer me, but I clicked it anyway because the timing seemed like kismet.

The article suggested that it was possible to breathe slowly, deeply, and regularly, even while running. I scoffed. I disbelieved. I thought, even if it was possible for other runners, it certainly wasn't possible for me and my damaged, weakened, and, despite what the breathing test said, definitely sub-normal lungs. When I run, I huff, and puff, and wheeze, and gasp, and suck, and blow.

Turns out, it is possible. I tried it today. I was amazed. I couldn't believe it. I still ran out of wind and had to walk for 3 or 4 brief stretches through the 5K, but it may have been because I tried a faster pace than I'd done on Monday. But by filling my lungs deeply and pushing the air all the way out on each breath, I breathed slowly. I didn't fall back into rapid, shallow breathing.

I'm choosing to accept that maybe this is a turning point for me, both in my running, which has been declining lately, and my breathing, which has been a constant irritant to me for my entire life. Maybe it's time to accept that my "normal" breathing test may be correct and that my lungs are not as awful as I have believed them, for my entire life, to be. I want this approach to breathing during exertion to be my gateway to actually achieving the improvement that I've expected since I first began running a couple of years ago. Maybe I should finally read that Pranayama book that I bought years ago, too.


Purelight said...

Actually it began earlier than you think--as a newborn you had your own prescription of some kind of elixir that was to help your breathing.After the pneumonia at 2,we had to have a humidifier in your room and in other parts of the house. Then you were tested for cystic fibrosis--negative.So yes, literally all your life. Activity-induced asthma was the best any doctor could ever come up with.
We "woo-woo" folks are totally in favor of breathing deeply and slowly for grounding, centering, calming, connecting, meditating, but who knew about running? I hope this is the breakthrough you're looking for!

I, Rodius said...

Did the elixir work? What was it? I'm trying a return to the neti pot to see if that helps, too.

Purelight said...

We called that first one "R's green stuff" and in those first years there were various colorful bottles of your "stuff" in our refrigerator. I don't think any of them were of much help, but we kept trying.
Neti pot for lungs?--thought that was for sinus. Come to think of it, Pops has a serious sinus drainage problem, maybe you do too. That could clog up your lungs. Keep looking for answers!

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