I was in a barre3 class a few months ago and the instructor had us holding a pose that, for me, was a grind. I knew it wouldn’t last forever so I was willing myself to stay put. Then the instructor asked the class, “are you bracing right now or are you breathing?” Normally in these moments, the instructor’s voice sounds like every adult in a Peanuts cartoon: wah wah wah wah wah.

But this time her words penetrated my will power force field and I realized I was holding on for dear life. Holding my breath, clenching my muscles, bribing myself with a promise to stop at a cafe on the way home.

I was afraid to breathe because I was sure I would lose focus and fall apart. But lo and behold, I exhaled the stale air I was holding in, took a fresh breath, and damn if the instructor didn’t know what she was talking about. Within seconds I felt stronger, steadier, and lighter.

I started asking myself that question whenever I was doing something difficult or scary. Am I bracing or am I breathing?

When we breathe we open up physically and mentally. We can allow the hard stuff to be there. We don’t have to be in a rush to change it or get through to the other side.

It feels counter-intuitive at first. But it’s worth a try.

Next time you have an urge to drink or numb out in some way ask yourself, “am I bracing or am I breathing?” Trade your white-knuckling and will power in for allowing your urge to come and go.