We hear this one-word reminder so regularly in the fast-paced society we live in. It is certainly a useful to trigger to help us to remember to slow down. But just because you register the word, and take in- breaths and out-breaths, does not necessarily mean that you are feeding your body with the full, nourishing breath that it needs and deserves.
I have made a realisation about my breathing patterns over the past year or two. I know that when I am taking time out to do some meditation or yoga, and the facilitator prompts the class to breathe, I really do breathe genuinely and deeply. The time, but more importantly for me, the safe space is there for me to allow my body to really release and let go.
In my day to day life, however, I am a holder. I naturally hold my breath. Not obviously, in a cheeks- puffed-out, face-turning-red kind of way like a kid might. But a subtle, prolonged pausing. And then shallow breathing. And why? Because I’m sensitive to energy and the surroundings around me. I become easily overwhelmed by the intense conversations, happenings and energies. I need a safe space to be able to breathe deeply.
I more often than not fall in to the ‘Freeze’ category with the ‘Fight/flight/freeze’ response to stressors. For example, at the height of an intense conversation that I perceive to be negative, I sometimes can become overwhelmed, freeze, stop talking and just pause my breath altogether. It is as if my body just becomes shell-shocked and forgets completely about its natural autopilot function of inhaling and exhaling. It is not dramatic or obvious, so sometimes I’m considered as being rude when I just trail off at the height of a conversation that up to that point had been full of vigour.
People who know me well might remind me at this stage to breathe, but even hearing the word sometimes isn’t enough. It’s as if I have to ‘remember’ how to consciously breathe, and very purposely decide to inhale and exhale slowly and gently. After the first few intentional rhythms, my body tends to register the action again, and takes over instinctively to resume normality again.
If I’m worried or anxious about something in my life, or am generally stressed or burnt out, I tend to hold my breath more too. The worrying thing is, it is only in the past year or two that I’ve realized how much I have ‘held’ in my daily life. I’ve been functioning for 30 years on suspended and intermittent breaths without even knowing it. It was never to the extent that it would cause any serious harm to myself, but it was as if my breath was never firing on all cylinders either. Holding because of a constant niggling anxiety, about nothing and everything, an inherent characteristic. That held breath, and holding of the emotion that coincides with it in the body can lead to toxicity building up in the system, and definitely needs to be counteracted.
Luckily, half the battle is becoming aware of the issue. If you are a holder, the blessing is that once you become aware of the holding, there are ways to address it and encourage a more relaxed and deeper breathing rhythm in your day to day life. It still doesn’t come naturally to me, it is something that I consciously need to work on. I am a firm believer in purposefully using the breath to help to release tension that has built up in the body whether through physical or emotional stress. It works for people in different ways; some people like to use body scan meditations or specific breathing approaches. Other people like to release through movement and breath together such as somatic movement, yoga, dance and other types of physical exercise . The more attention and acknowledgment you give to conscious practice, the more positive breathing patterns will gradually start to creep in to your day by default.
You will also notice yourself ‘catching yourself’ in heightened situations before you get to the stage of your body being shell-shocked and essentially shutting down a little in self-preservation mode. Once the awareness of your pattern is there, you can choose to consciously breathe, or disengage in a polite way before it gets to that overly-intense stage for you. Once you are aware of your breathing, it is almost as if your clever body is giving you a warning sign for your emotions – ‘I’m not breathing well- what is my body trying to tell me about how I feel in this situation?’ When we can connect in this holistic way, using the physical to inform the mental/emotional and vice versa, with a nice sprinkle of spirituality on top for good measure, we are fairly guaranteed to be on to a winner!
So today, my wish for you is to breathe. Without it being forced or contrived. But rather to listen to your body and use the pattern that it genuinely needs today to help it to feel nourished, relaxed and revived.