The heavy sigh

The heavy sigh

Over the last five years, I’ve seen a considerable uptick in breathing exercises.

There are more yoga and meditation classes than ever before. We have apps like “Calm” and “Headspace.” Business people are switching from coffee to “30-minutes of breathwork,” followed by a nude cannonball into Lake Michigan.

All of this got me thinking:

How did we go so long without breathing?

I’m being honest here. I don’t think I heard about breathing until I was old enough to vote.

The only thing that ever came close was the occasional hippie substitute teacher who introduced the “Take a deep breath, count to ten,” method or the choir teacher suggesting, “Breathe from the diaphragm.”

Yeah, you lost us at “breathe…

We had no language for breathing. “Inhale” is what we did to a burger. “Exhale” was only used after a near-death experience.

For example:

After the car stopped sliding on the ice, we could finally EXHALE… And get back to INHALING our Big Macs.

I’m struggling to find the exact medical journal, but the dominant belief in the 1990s was our lungs functioned like a bike tire or a bank account; meaning you could legitimately run out of breath. Get the wind knocked out of you. When songwriters wrote things like, “I’ll love you till my final breath,” or“Take My Breath Away” they weren’t being poetic. That was certified medical language.

We exhaled sparingly because who knew how many breaths we had left?

So, back to the earlier question, how did we survive all these years without breathing?


A) Breathing is overrated (I feel like that’s gonna be a hard case to make)


B) We must have developed some sort of adaptation like fish with gills.

I ran in circles trying to figure this out. Couldn’t make any sense of it. But then, right in my moment of peak frustration and exhaustion, I let out a heavy sigh. Even though my lips were still closed, I exhaled enough air to fill a small inner tube.

That’s when it hit me: The most effective breathing exercise ever created is not even a breathing exercise. It’s the heavy sigh.

The heavy sigh sounds like air going out of a bike tire. The duration can last anywhere from three seconds to four days. I think I’ve lost two pounds of air before during the heavy sigh.

There’s a big difference between the sigh and the heavy sigh. A sigh leaks out of the mouth. The heavy sigh forces its way out involving the lips, the chest, the shoulders, the lower back. I’m pretty sure even the kidneys get involved.

The heavy sigh reveals just how much air is stored in my body. It’s a stunning amount. I feel like I’m a couple of shots of helium away from being a hot air balloon.

The heavy sigh is its own language, communicating more effectively than words. It’s versatile! The heavy sigh can mean anything from, “I’m frustrated,” to, “I’m super annoyed right now,” to a cryptic, passive-aggressive message like, “I thought you were going to put the dishes away, but I guess I’ll do it for you.” People can hear a heavy sigh off in the distance and immediately think to themselves, “Crap, I was supposed to do the dishes, wasn’t I?”

I have nothing against all the new-age breathing exercises. Nothing at all. But it seems like the modern goal is to reach a state of work-life balance zen and have this constant equilibrium as a result of the breathwork. I don’t know if that’s realistic…

The heavy sigh, on the other hand, allows us to go, go, go. We can push as hard as humanly possible letting the stress, frustrations, and pet peeves pile up because, whenever we’re about ready to pop, just turn a couple of valves. Let some air out of the tires.

So, next time you’re feeling stressed out, ditch the yoga class. No need for a special app. Or some fancy breathwork regimen. Nope. Just take a deep breath. Keep your lips together. And then force out one big heavy sigh.

There you go. You should be all set on breathing for another 10-12 years.

What is Medium Rare? Well, this post is a pretty good snapshot. I describe it as philosophy and life advice cooked “medium rare.” The goal is more about making you laugh than making up self-help advice.

To subscribe to the blog, send me an email at And for more of my writing, check out Long Overdue Books. Long Overdue Books is also a place for developing your own ideas/blog posts/rough drafts into a finished book.

Appreciate you stopping by the blog! Shoud have a new post up in 2-3 weeks (or whenever our 7-month-old baby’s sleep schedule allows).


Welcome to ChicagoNow.

our bloggers,

post comments, or

pitch your blog idea.

Meet The Blogger

Chris O’Brien

I was born and raised in Midland, Michigan and moved here to Chicago a couple years ago after graduating from Hope College. I live in the city with my beautiful wife Ashley.
A little bit about me – I go to bed early, I enjoy greasy food and would wear sweatpants everyday if I were allowed to. I just signed up for a year-long Divvy membership, but could very well be the slowest bicyclist in Chicago.
I write the Medium Rare blog and will have a new post up every Monday.

Subscribe by Email

Completely spam free, opt out any time.

Latest on ChicagoNow

The heavy sigh

from Medium Rare by Chris O’Brien
posted today at 6:39 am

When it comes to youth sports, I thought I had seen it all

from I’ve Got The Hippy Shakes by Howard Moore
posted today at 6:11 am

Local Beer Review: MyGrain Stateville Stout

from The Beeronaut by Mark McDermott
posted Tuesday at 11:44 pm

Creating a More Comfortable Home Office: 6 Tips

from Small Business Blog by Martin Banks
posted Tuesday at 9:37 am

I blame Facebook for my obsession with the number 70

from I’ve Got The Hippy Shakes by Howard Moore
posted Tuesday at 9:23 am

Read these ChicagoNow blogs

Cubs Den

Chicago Cubs news and comprehensive blog, featuring old school baseball writing combined with the latest statistical trends

Pets in need of homes

Pets available for adoption in the Chicago area


It’s like the couch potato version of Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

About ChicagoNow



Recent posts RSS

Privacy policy (Updated)

Comment policy

Terms of service

Chicago Tribune Archives

Do not sell my personal info

©2022 CTMG – A Chicago Tribune website –
Crafted by the News Apps team

Read More

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.