Fight, Flight, or Breathe



I was sitting at the Jiffy Lube spa the other day in a warm patch of sun reading about breathing — specifically the function of the breath in the martial arts — and realizing, rather humbly, that despite two degrees and at least a modicum of still functioning grey matter, I do not know how to breathe.

In a physical conflict, once you factor out or do the rolls (geek alert!) for skill and strength, the person who is able to assess and process the situation the quickest will win. This is not just one bit of thinking, but a constant, quick series of high-information algorithms, and because we’re not robots, it takes oxygen to power all that brain functioning. If you’re tense and not breathing properly, you deny your brain the fuel it needs to work, and it will just shrug its little synapses and hand your body over to the lower-level “fight or flight” response. Meanwhile, somebody else has probably punched you in the face. The best thing you can do is relax and breathe — which of course is easier said than done. The whole point of training is to get your mind, body, and spirit working together instead of freaking out in a little oxygenless cloud of desperation.

How do you take this out of the dojo and into “real life” where conflicts are likely not physical? Maybe you don’t think you’re fighting, but yeah — you are. In writing, conflict is what happens when two interacting characters or entities don’t want the same thing. And what two souls ever want the same thing at the same time? When are we ever even truly at peace with ourselves?

Every moment is a turning point, a moment of choice where there is a potential right action, or a fight or flight response.

Train. Breathe. Relax.