I don’t remember the first time I had an asthma attack. As is often the way with childhood memories, I remember attacks throughout childhood, but not the first one. I was pretty young when I was diagnosed, and seem to have had to think about asthma for as long as I can remember.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t very good at thinking about it. I hated the taste and sensation of the Intal preventative inhaler, and loved the sweetness of the relieving Ventolin. A child with a sweet tooth, I much preferred to have to take Ventolin, and a lifetime habit of reliance on Ventolin was born.

As well as asthma, my breathing was hampered by another problem, one that was to have a deep and lasting impact on me. Unbeknown to my parents and doctor, I had a dust allergy. My nose was constantly blocked, and I couldn’t breathe through it. I couldn’t work out for years how to blow my nose effectively, so could never find relief from this inability to breathe.

My ‘mouth breathing’ impacted on my image of how I looked, and, combined with my protruding front teeth which were remedied in my teens, I felt ugly and as though I looked stupid as I progressed into teens and beyond. Diagnosis of the allergy in my late teens meant that I was able to find relief thanks to antihistamines, but the blocked nose problem was still pretty constant.

Growing up with asthma is fairly strange. You know that you have a condition that can, if not properly managed, kill.

woman with inhaler for asthma

You hear stories of people dying of asthma attack, and you shudder, knowing that could easily be you, able to imagine too well what that must feel like. And yet asthma felt almost normal. It never got me out of P.E. at school no matter how much I wished it would. It was just something that was always there, the monster under the bed that I could never get away from. But as long as I was careful, took my medication, and took care of my lungs, I would be fine.

Well, that was never going to work. The self destructive tendencies I developed as I grew up meant that I would start smoking at 17, occasionally at first, but a fully blown habit by the time I was 20 and really exploring my inner nihilist. I gleefully embraced marijuana and, by the time I was 20, was drinking alcoholically to try to silence the screaming in my mind. My lungs were of little consequence to me. I would smoke until I couldn’t breathe, take a few puffs on my inhaler, then carry on.

This is how I operated throughout my 20s and 30s, with short breaks to grow and feed babies. A chaotic mess of self loathing and self destruction, barely able to breathe, creating endless drama to justify the next drink and smoke.

All that changed in 2013, when, over the space of 6 months, my world collapsed around me. From January to August I received so many knocks and problems to deal with, real problems that weren’t of my own creation, that I had no choice but to break. My old coping strategies weren’t working any longer. I quit my job and looked in bewilderment at the wreckage of my life. What was I going to do now?
Broke, and broken, I sought refuge in one of the few healthy things I had in my life…. Yoga.

I had always been drawn to Yoga but had started attending classes regularly in 2008 following a big asthma attack. Ironically, despite me wanting to learn to breathe to help my asthma (rather than, say, giving up smoking), my blocked nose meant that the breathing practices were almost impossible for me. I came to hate them.

I loved the postures, and the way it made my body feel, and wanted to train to teach.

In my broken state, it seemed like the perfect new career path, one that would require me to be present and help me to relax as I helped others to do the same.

Esther Nagle breathe namaskar mudra relaxation yoga pranayama breathe stress reliefAmong the many other jewels I learned, I had to learn to breathe. My blocked nose was cured within days by giving up dairy products. Without the additional mucus caused by cheese and milk I ate, I could breathe through my nose within days.

Finally able to breathe properly, I threw myself into learning Pranayama, the Yogic art of breath control. As I deepened my breath, learned to control my breathing and to breathe better, things started to change for me. I was able to sleep better, relax my body, and regulate my emotions. I was able to handle difficult situations easier. After years of high stress, I no longer felt so highly strung and ready to fight the world over nothing. I noticed that I was starting to turn to my breath, rather than reach for, or even think about smoking and drinking. This was a revelation for me!

The course progressed, and I embarked on more breath work, and some deep self study. I was finally able to acknowledge the addiction to alcohol I had somehow managed to stay in denial about for 20 years.

In October that year, I made a decision I have made in many hungover moments, ‘I’m never doing this again’. But this time, the decision stuck. I have not drunk or smoked since October 12, 2014. I have not felt the need to. There have been moments of irritation that I don’t have that option anymore. These are either borne out of a sense of ‘FOMO’, or brief moments when I would like to stop feeling things. But they have never moved beyond thoughts.

My breath is my coping strategy now. It keeps me calm when my world is rocking. It helps me sleep, it allows me to relax. In quiet moments sitting with my breath, I find calm and space to just be.

I have far less problems with asthma than I used to have. I can stay calm when wheezy rather than going into full blown panic induced attack. I am able to breathe through discomfort and need to rely far less on my inhaler.

Learning to breathe was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the most healing, transformative thing I have ever done in my life.

I took my first breath when I was born. When I learned to breathe properly as an adult, I was reborn.

My life is far from perfect. There is stress and problems. I am a single mother, a self employed yoga teacher. These things bring many challenges. I have many issues that still need to be dealt with. Addiction doesn’t happen in a bubble. I have had much healing to do to soothe the scars from my past. There is lots still to be done. But I am doing it, one breath at a time.

And you can too. I am on a mission to help as many people as possible learn to breathe better. I truly believe that when you take control of your breath, you can take control of your life. Breathing well improves energy, focus, relaxation, stress management, and your whole wellbeing.

Breathe better for better health!

5 Minutes to Breathe

If you feel that you are on a hamster wheel, lurching from one problem to the next, with barely time to take a breath between each dilemma, then you can gain a lot from taking some time to be with your breath.

See what can happen when you give yourself the gift of just 5 minutes a day to breathe consciously, to sit and be with your breath. The 10 day ‘5 Minute Breath’ challenge could be the start of a whole new journey of connection for you.