Who knew, apparently there is something to the term “Take a Deep breath”.
I learned early on to suppress feelings that were too much for me to manage. We all do it through our Breath. I became a shallow breather, so that my emotions would not be felt. A lot of us quit breathing fully because we didn’t want to feel our feelings. We held our breath to hide from a lot of things we were taught not to do – like get angry, cry in public, or through traumatic or anxious situations. The only problem is that while holding our breath and breathing shallowly can effectively shut down our feelings, it can’t get rid of them. They just get locked somewhere in the muscles of our bodies.
I had never really paid attention to this, until a friend who was doing a massage on me asked “Do you even breathe?”. I had no idea what she meant until she said, your breathing is so shallow. Try to inhale a deep breathe, hold it and then release all of it.
Shallow breathing often accompanies fear, however subtly that fear might be felt. Deep, full breathing often accompanies confidence. When a full breather takes shallow breaths over a prolonged period, they begin to feel a hint of panic that a lack of oxygen can induce. The shallow breather can feel that all the time, without being aware of it.
Peter Levine explains that part of our brain is ‘reptilian’ in nature. We are wired the same way as all animals. The cycle is called the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response. Every time that we experience danger, this cycle gets triggered in us. This tool is in place to ensure our survival.
There is one problem, however.
Many of us are experiencing “fight and flight’ on a daily basis. The dangers have changed from previous days, we are not experiencing physical danger such as being pursued by a predator, but the traffic jam making us potentially late for work, an angry boss or spouse, the economic pressures are all real and perceived as danger. These things can all trigger our nervous system into survival mode.
Because these dangers are much more abstract and therefore less tangible, we often don’t even notice that we are in a state of fight and flight because society normalizes it. And through that, it invalidates the need for discharge or emotional release.
“Breath is the link between mind and body.” – Dan Brule
How can breathwork help?
There are many types of breathwork. But the basic premise is that Inhaling is linked to the sympathetic nervous system which controls our Fight,Flight response. Exhaling is linked to the parasympathetic nervous system. It allows the body to relax and calm down.
Yoga, Tai Chi, Chi Gong, Meditation and other healing modalities focus on breath. This is why we can often feel better and more centered after these activities.
One particular type of transformational breathing system called Biodynamic Breath – Trauma Release system has been studied and found to be effective in helping to release trauma in the body. In BBTRS the goal is to trigger the fight and flight response in order to give it an opportunity to complete its cycle.
Breathwork can create a safe space for the cycle of ‘Fight, Flight or Freeze’ to complete itself. Through charging the body with oxygen, and therefore energy, the Fight and Flight kicks in and the body can go through a process of discharging: shaking, tremoring, sweating, shivering, crying, laughing, shouting.
Emotions that had never been acknowledged can finally rise up to the surface, be felt and released. Muscular tension that has been holding the ‘frozen energy’ in place can finally relax and create a feeling of spaciousness inside.
For those of you interested in more information, I recommend reading Feel to Heal: Releasing Trauma through Body Awareness and Breathwork Practice by Giten Tonkov. It provides an in-depth understanding of all the above and hopefully some inspiration and hope on your journey!
Dale Brule has a book called Just Breathe that is helpful for helping with breathwork.
For example, when the participants felt Anxious or afraid, they breathed more quickly and shallowly and when they felt happy, they breathed slowly and fully.
The real key to managing our emotional states through breathwork is to become aware of how we breathe as we go through our day and practice more calming, joyful breathing. We need to practice breathing techniques like the breathing of joy, not just when we’re in the grip of strong feeling, but daily, as a routine, much like brushing our teeth.
I have personally found that being more cognizant of my breathing, particularly when I feel stress or anxiety and just allowing it to pass through me calms me much quicker. With the added benefit of having worked through the fight, flight, freeze cycle so that I don’t become stuck.
I was skeptical about whether old trauma’s could be released through breathing, but have found that it is in fact true. As I focus on my breathing, and being cognizant when I recall something from the past and breath through it, I do feel a release.
Do you have experience with different breathing that you have found helpful?
May we breathe our way to Healing!