The Day I Forgot How To Breathe

“Allergy season may be the worst ever. A monster allergy season is in store
for Spring 2010, according to experts. Our alert allergy level is 10.7 out of a
maxium of 12.0.” Providence (R.I.) Examiner.

Fact: an allergen is a substance, often a protein that causes an allergic reaction
from pollen-grasses-trees-dust-mold and some medications. Humans and some animals suffer fits of sneezing, coughing, vision problems and itchy throat during Spring and Fall from allergens.

In NYC (my town) the forecast for Thursday 4.22.10 is 11.1 (out of 12.0). Active pollen: Maple-Cedar-Juniper-Popular-Aspen-Cottonwood. Get out the Kleenex.

Two-Days In Hell

The best allergy medication is Loratadine 10mg – an antihistamine. It is the active
ingredient in Claritin and a dozen brand-name prescriptions. It claims to be
24 hour relief from sneezing; running nose, itchy, watery eyes, itchy throat and nose.

It worked but had with a mild collateral damage – it shut down my lungs and caused my heart to race 24/7 - Mama Mia Spicy Meatballs! Personally, I run away
like Paul Revere on his horse from folks who regale me with their symptoms.

I respectfully request your indulgence because you may discover a SECRET that
one day may save-your-life or win you a vital career promotion. What-In-It-For-You? Stay and find out because I am not selling you anything and what you read
is as real as a stroke after a bad heart …

Monday and Tuesday

It began Monday and continued all day Tuesday. No exaggeration, I could not move
more that ten-feet off the bed without slumping down in a chair in total exhaustion.
One-more-once: my lungs were not inhaling and my heart was racing during the ten-feet I could maneuver from the bed.

Next my voice lowered to a rasp, and an unremitting cough continued awake and asleep. No sleep. I tried to eat and had no appetite. My ears could not sustain the
sound of the TV. I was alone and alienated.

I was ten-feet from the telephone to call 911 for oxygen, but I was saving that as a
last resort. Mental movies showed me permanently wearing miniature oxygen
tank. The phone ran incessantly but I refused to answer it – I couldn’t produce coherent conversation. I hit the switch-off.

You Don’t Think You Replay

Somehow business and making a ton of dinero did not rank high compared to sucking in the next breath through my mouth. My mind drew a list of high priority
tasks: finishing the book they paid me a hefty advance to write, closing on the dream house in Florida by the Oceanside, and returning an urgent call to my son Philip.

I went from a cool legal mind, with things to do and place to go, to signing up with
Dr. Death (Jack Kevorkian) and asking to be at the head of the line. All hope was gone with waiting for my next breath, and all my goals were less than trivial.

You’re smiling and cannot believe 48 hours can be the end of your life. Why Not? A stroke or heart attack can kick-in faster than that taking us to the finish line.
My brain did a replay of my life experiences and dwelled on my failures and lack
of responsibility. My Mom and Pop showed up a lot, wife and kids – I really suck.


In my past life I studied neuroscience – the brain and how Homo sapiens adapt to their environment. Love to write and teach about neuroplasticity (brain changes) and how to get sharper thinking skills and long-term memory. Now – who cares?

I was sucking in air through my mouth (top-breathing) and forced myself to read
an article on how a new meditation program makes folks smarter in just 4 days of 15 minutes each. Guess I’ll take that with me on the long trail to hell. Distraction.

It Says

A new technique called Breath Mindfulness requires a lousy 15 minutes each for four sessions to produce serious improvement in Concentration-Attention-Comprehension-Long Term memory. “It goes to show the mind is, and in fact,
easily changeable and highly influenced, especially by meditation.”

The big deal is that prior to this research it took years of meditation for hours at a
time to produce any measurable, permanent results. The secret is closing their eyes
and relaxing (no big deal) and focusing their entire attention on the air inhaling and
exhaling through the tip of their nose.

The tests on 63 students resulted on a 10x improvement in concentration in meditators compared to the control group. Taking class tests after meditating increases their scores as if they were cheating from the textbook.

Result: focusing on the breath teaches you how to regulate your emotions. How?
It makes you raise your awareness of mental processes that would normally
distract you including your Internal Dialogue – the “still-small voice” that talks
and reads to you. Wow, that normally would get my brain flowing. It reminded
me of another form of Mindfulness called Mantra-Meditation. Instead of focusing
on each breath, you repeat a phrase on each inhale and exhale. Example: But-Mom,
OHM, Mem-Hay-Shin or She-Rim. Google: meditation mantras.

Journal: Consciousness and Cognition. Mindfulness meditation improves cognition.
4.2010. Fadel Zeidan, University of North Carolina, Charlotte.

So What

I could not shut off my left-brain (logic, order and reasoning) from the meditation article and what it really meant. Remember – your right-hemisphere is basically
non-verbal and thinks in pictures and association. Right brain controls our emotions and imagination and Fight-or-Flight reaction.

Who Cares

It was great to turn off Rightie and its hallucinations and negativity, and focus on thinking and memory. I thought about Hypnagogic and Hypnopompic visualizations. Who knows why?

Hypnagogic is a vivid dream-like state between being awake and falling asleep. It occurs five-minutes before we fall under Morpheus the Greek God of dreams and sleep. The alternative is Hypnopompic Effect which is a hallucination (dream) occurring just prior to awakening in the A.M.

In both we get mental movies (pictures and sounds) and hints about our lives. They go amnesic within seconds of awakening. That reminded me of…

About two-years ago I attended a one-day workshop by a New-Age California Guru who claimed Hypnagogic and Hypnapompic effects were the real-deal. You could program your Nonconscious (righie) Mind to answer questions you asked before falling asleep. The alleged answers occurred on waking – if you were a true believer.

I had paid my bucks so I maybe I was eligible to test the principles.

Short and Sweet

Coughing and wheezing I finally fell asleep text-messaging to my Non-Consciousness. “What the hell is going on with me? Is this the end of Rico? Will my
parents be waiting to greet me? Delete that last thing. OK, here goes.

Challenge to Non-Consciousness

Q. What can I do to change my present circumstances of no lungs and a rapid heartbeat? Am I cashing in my chips? Give me a solution – and fast.
If you are tuned in to me – save my ass – what can I do to survive this night?

I slept. Just prior to awakening I saw a short-mental movie. I was sitting on my bed
and deep breathing a/k/a diaphragmatically sucking air on autopilot, while my stomach expanded with each inhalation. My mouth was closed and I was not Top breathing anymore. My racing heart was not in the equation. Wait – maybe I had forgotten how to breathe naturally.

Oh yeah, I was smiling and walking all around the joint.

Get this: breathing is a nervous system automatic process. You don’t breath consciously (volition/will power) from your mouth, but inhale from your diaphragm by your NonConscious mind. It’s your brainstem, immune, nervous system and
cerebellum that inhales and exhales. Not Top-Breathing stupid, Diaphragmatic breathing, smartie-pants.


I jumped off the bed and started diaphragmatic (deep) breathing with my mouth shut. It worked. In a half-minute my full-throated voice was back. I walked three-times around the room – briskly. No racing heart, no slumping in a chair.

Thanks a lot your Honor, I am hanging around. Survive and thrive says I.

copyright 2010 H. Bernard Wechsler

Author's Bio: 

Author of Speed Reading For Professionals, published by Barron's.
Business partner of Evelyn Wood (1907-1995) creator of speed reading,
graduating 2 million, including the White House staffs of four U.S.
Presidents: Kennedy-Johnson-Nixon-Carter.