I still remember the day in high school when I first forgot to breathe. I was in the library, sitting at a table with a couple of friends, and I suddenly realized that I had been holding my breath. I wasn't sure how long I'd sat there, 30 or 45 seconds perhaps? Maybe a minute or two? I inflated my lungs with a deep breath, looked around at all the normal activity, and decided not to say anything.
As the years passed I got accustomed to those all too common realizations that I hadn't been breathing. I figured out they happened when I was either in deep concentration or stressed, and since I perpetually felt criticized and inadequate stressed was pretty much the default mood for me.
Around the same time in high school was when I started having sporadic heart palpitations. The pain was so bad I would stop in my tracks while clutching my chest and panting for breath. "Like my heart was a fish flopping on dry land"--is how I described the problem to the first cardiologist I saw in my mid-20s. Sometimes I would go weeks between episodes. I didn't mention anything to my husband until we'd been married over a year. I was still not completely comfortable with opening up to anyone, but didn't want to chance my heart problem to be serious and end up in a coma or dead.
I went to a cardiologist who noticed a problem, but wasn't sure exactly what it was. He thought it was most likely mitral valve prolapse, but also mentioned that my heart was one of the healthiest he'd ever seen. He decided to hook me to a 24 hour holter monitor. It showed nothing, which wasn't unusual because my heart problem had always been very sporadic in nature. He asked me to come back in a year so he could do a routine check up. The year passed, and that time nothing showed up on the monitor. He was perplexed and made me an appointment for a year later.
I never made it to my third appointment. I was busy with a toddler son and pregnant with my daughter. We also moved three times during our three years in that town. Our fourth move took us to the town where we live now. I found another cardiologist who was also unable to figure out the reason for my heart pain and palpitations. At this point I started to realize that I needed to think outside the box, and examine what was going on in my life that might affect my body.
It was then I made the connection between my unintentional breath holding and my chest pain. I knew that after fifteen years such a bad habit would take a real effort on my part to break. I decided to become conciously aware of my breath as it entered and left my body. I learned to focus on my lungs as they inflated and deflated, and to pay attention to the rise and fall of my chest. As I've done so, my heart palpitations have decreased down to zero. After fifteen years and two cardiologists, I finally figured out that all of my problem was caused by stress. This is a good story to remember if you are ever in need of a holistic doctor. If I had only gone to a holistic doctor years ago, I would have been asked about my stress and emotional state and the tie in between my stress, my breath-holding, and my heart problem would have been found out much sooner.