Breath–something we do 20,000 times a day–is one of the body’s most important functions, and one that we can notice in every moment.

I started doing yoga in 2004 and my teacher talked more about breathing than the yoga postures. Honestly, I was annoyed, having joined the class to “work on my body” and not to “learn to breathe.” Didn’t I already know how to breathe?  I had been doing it for 39 years at that point.

It took me another year of practicing yoga and learning how breathe in classes, and then it hit me one day at work that this breathing thing could be helpful. I was in a very stressful situation that I knew was going to last at least an hour. I could not leave or stand up and stretch or close my eyes to distract myself from the situation. That’s when the breath took over. I realized I could focus on my breath. I could use the breath to calm myself and get through the situation. Nobody had to know, and breathing was something that I was already doing anyway.

Since that day, I often return to the breath when I find myself overwhelmed or even frightened. I have learned that the breath can calm my central nervous system and allow me to think and act with calm.

Check out this 6 minute, 53 second video and learn some simple breathing exercises that will help you manage stressful situations. Clinical Psychologist Cynthia Mealer from the Memphis VA Medical Center offers simple instructions for four breathing practices that help you to slow down and calm yourself in stressful situations.

Does smoking affect your breathing?  Often people who smoke find it difficult to practice breathing exercises because their lungs have been affected by years of inhaling smoke and toxins. It is never too late to reclaim your power over your breath though.

More resources

There are many resources available through VA to help you cut down or quit smoking and other tobacco use.  Download a free tobacco cessation workbook here:

VA also offers SmokefreeVET: VA’s quit tobacco text messaging program. Text VET to 47848 or visit to sign up for SmokefreeVET in English. For Spanish, text VETesp to 47848 or visit

The Stay Quit Coach: VA’s interactive quit tobacco app is also available. Visit to download.

Are you interested in learning more about mindfulness?  Check out the VA mindfulness coach app at

Andrea Young is a Field Implementation Team Consultant with the VHA Office of Patient Centered Care & Cultural Transformation

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Published on Jul. 27, 2020

Estimated reading time is 2.3 min.

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