Spinal Cord Injury Community

A Few Simple Steps For Mindful Breathing

Aaron Baker
Spinal Cord Injury Lifestyle Specialist | Shield HealthCare
07/20/21  4:54 PM PST
steps for mindful breathing

“Mindful breathing isn’t difficult, we just need to remember to do it.” – Sharon Salzberg

Six days after my accident, while in ICU, fully paralyzed and strapped to a rotating bed, I was intubated on a ventilator and fed through a tube. I was about to go from bad to worse.

My lungs filled with fluid and pneumonia was setting in. I was unable to speak because of the tubes in my throat, and I remember blinking desperately at my father who stood to the left of my bedside. I tried to convey with my eyes that “I CAN’T BREATHE!”

At that moment, just before the nurse was about to suction my clogged airway, a code blue emergency was called over the loud speaker. The nurse frantically looked up and handed the suction wand to my father and hastily left the room.

Oh no, I thought! There we were, my dad and I, alone, staring at each other, with the medical instrument that could save my life in his hand. I pleaded with him with my blinks, help me, please, help me, I’m suffocating.

I felt trapped and out of breath, drowning in my own body. I could see out of the corner of my left eye, the life support machine and the numbers that held my fate.

My heart rate hastened as adrenaline coursed through my veins. I felt a blinding rage inside as every cell screamed for air. Lying there, paralyzed and dying, it felt like I was fighting against a straight jacket: the more I struggled, the less I could do.

The ominous beeping sound of the machine alarmed the room, but to no avail. No one else was there. I could see my oxygen level drop… 89, 88, 87…

With one last look into my father’s eyes, I let go. I felt my heart stop beating and heard the machine flatline. I exhaled my final breath.

While my experience may be dramatic, the obvious lesson I learned is that we live and die by our breath, and the quality of our health can be greatly affected by the quantity of air we breathe, or don’t breathe.

This is why I always begin my day with a deep mindful breathing.

Today, I still live with a partially paralyzed upper chest and diaphragm which limits my ability to inhale at full capacity. Because of this, I sometimes feel faintness and dizziness and restricted in my activities, and sometimes ill with anxiety. I have to practice mindful breathing throughout my day to regulate my oxygen levels and keep my body full of precious air.

Here are a few steps that help me breathe more mindfully.


Steps for Mindful Breathing:

  1. Sit comfortably, or lay supine (face up).
  2. Gently close your eyes and focus your attention on your breath.
  3. Inhale deeply through the nose and distend your diaphragm (belly).
  4. Slowly exhale through the mouth and retract your diaphragm.
  • Visualize the air filling your entire body from toes, to nose.
    • Fill your feet, legs, torso, hands, arms, neck and head and then,
    • Envision exhaling a warm vapored cloud of breath on a cold winter’s day.
    • Allow your thoughts to drift through your mind like passing clouds in the sky.
    • (If you’re on a ventilator, follow the rhythm of the breathing machine)


Breath Tempo:

  • 3 Seconds Inhale
  • 3 Seconds Exhale

Breath Duration:

  • 30 Repetitions per set
  • 3-5 Sets


In addition to this mindful breathing technique, I also supplement with portable oxygen.

I learned about Boost Portable Oxygen while researching mountaineering. Climbers at high altitudes use small cans of 95% compressed oxygen to prevent altitude sickness, as do athletes when performing or recovering from sport.

I keep the convenient little cans with me wherever I go, and puff a few deep breaths at a time to remind me that I am the air I breathe.

Inhale with awareness, exhale with gratitude.



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