By Nick Sidwell, OTR/L 

Just because you’re breathing doesn’t mean you are alive”- Unknown

We occupational therapy professionals take such a simple occupation and do an activity analysis with it.. and we find out it is profoundly deeper than it seems. Like breathing for example- everyone knows it is just two parts, inhale and exhale, right?

Recently, there is a lot being said about exercising your breathing through yoga, breathing exercises for mindfulness, meditation, etc. We know that breathing deeply is a mindfulness activity that physiologically helps people to focus in the moment as their body returns to homeostasis through the triggering of parasympathetic responses. Breathing is tied to many language idioms as we stop and “catch a breath”, I find a moment that “took my breath away”, or if a new, inviting occurrence is a “breath of fresh air”. All the time, we do this metaphoric and literal activity unconsciously as we go through life and we don’t have to pay attention to it… unless we do.

The reality is, breathing is such a simple occupation yet it is a matter of life or death if you disrupt it. Without this Activity of Daily Living, you don’t last very long on this earth! Yet we take it for granted.

Consider with me the act of breathing through activity analysis… There are actually three parts: inhale, exchange, and exhale. There are many modified ways to accomplish each part. You can do the whole task with just your mouth, just your nose, a combination of the two, or even through adapted means (i.e. through a tracheotomy or a breathing machine). This occupation can be engaged in just to continue life or it may be something done to promote success and facilitate the efficacy of other occupational activities.

I would like to submit that the act of breathing can teach us a great deal about occupational therapy, and life in general. Life is about accepting what comes into our lives (inhale) and being able to process it (exchange), and releasing it and moving on (exhale). So often in the life of our clients and in own lives, we get hung up on some part of this basic breathing cycle. Occupational therapy professionals, are taught to be and practice to be masters the occupational process and the corresponding therapeutic value in activity. We help identify any disruption to the flow of life and occupation, we evaluate and assess their problems, barriers, and client factors, and then we intervene. Essentially, we inhale or take in the information we need, we process the information and make and exchange the info. for therapy plans, and the we exhale an intervention and start the process over again. Our clients have to accept a new breath in life, they often struggle with processing through it, and then they learn pass your education, training, and interventions through and exhale towards the next breath of life. Life goes by unconsciously and we don’t have to pay attention to it… until we have to.

Breathing is such a simple occupation with many parallels to life. Its three parts teach us that we have a process to follow. The better that we are with this three-part process, the more alive we feel and are. Stop today and smell the roses, process the experience, and let it uplift every occupation thereafter!

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