On October 23rd, in their “Live Smarter” section, Mental Floss published an article titled “Need to Calm Yourself Down? Try This Military-Approved Breathing Technique”.
The article — a small, friendly, 150-word thing — is addressed to an audience that work in an office setting, and encounter stress there. It offers the advice: “Take a cue from real-life soldiers and try a technique called tactical breathing […] to lower your heart rate and regain control of your breath.” Somehow it seems the troops are fighting America’s senseless wars to protect its employees’ freedom to relax.
The video accompanying the article starts with a cartoon-man in jean shorts and a green shirt, standing against a blue background; he is rendered in a flat graphic style, like a paper cutout. The features of his face consist of just his nose, and his toothy smile, a white semicircle pasted happily where his mouth goes. No eyes accompany this eerie grin. This happy eyeless man sways gently, in pace with the slow animation.
Overtop this scene, in the voiceover, clinical-psychologist-slash-breathing-instructor Belisa Vranich describes the breathing technique: “One of my favorite breath counts is called tactical breath. It’s from the military —” (a new background suddenly drops into the frame: a “military backdrop” (in this day and age this means a desert), complete with sandbags and a tank that casually crawls off screen) “— it’s one you can use when things are blowing up around you —” (a small, fiery explosion shakes the scene as the man smiles and sways on) “— and you need to be able to stay calm,” Vranich explains.
She then appears on screen, against the original blue background (relaxing music starts to play), and coaches the viewer through the steps: a four-count inhale, four-count hold, six-count exhale and two-count hold. Repeat.
From canned food and tampons to GPS and the Internet, many of the technologies we encounter and depend on daily were originally invented for military use. This is a fact that is easy to understand, easy to accept. The past has been shaped by so much war, it is only a natural consequence that we inherit and adapt to our use some inventions from the military.
But it’s time to think deeply about whether we should be so casually inheriting our relaxation practices from the military, and about how the normalization of this military-civilian intimacy and exchange affects our daily relationships to war in general. Further, it is important that we examine the flippant [violent] comparison of “things blowing up around you” to the everyday stress we face in our workplaces.
It’s a blessing to have coping strategies for everyday life. Breathing techniques have helped veterans cope with the PTSD they bring back home with them. But would focused breathing offer any long-term benefit to a child whose family has been stolen from them forever by an act of profit-driven violence? And for those of us who are “unaffected” by the wars waged in faraway places: how long can we combat-breathe our way into coping with (or ignoring) the geopolitical realities of the day?