Holding Your Breath
Waiting for the shoe to drop
So many people are holding their breath, waiting for the next shoe to drop. It seems to us that if we can just keep holding our breath then we won’t feel what is about to happen next. Why is it that we don’t want to feel what will happen next when we don’t even know what will happen? It is because our minds like to create the most potentially devastating stories about what things mean and how something that might occur might threaten us. So we live with this lurking feeling of potential threat and we hold our breath in attempt to not feel it.
This holding of our breath is conscious for some people and unconscious for others, meaning you might be really aware that your breath is not fluid, rhythmic, deep, easeful or full or you may have no idea at all. We often need contrast to become aware of ourselves and our patterns. This applies to our breathing patterns as well. If you’ve had experiences in your life where your breath was labored or challenged it becomes really easy to recognize when that is not the case because there is contrast. However if your breathing has been relatively stable throughout your life you may not yet realize that more expansive or restful breath is possible because you have not yet experienced that something more is indeed possible.
Breathing occurs naturally. Air comes in and out of our lungs without us needing to think about it or make it happen. Yet when this feels like it is not the case, for example if we feel short of breath or the breath feels shallow, there is quite naturally an added survival panic response that results. It is like throwing more fuel on the fire. As our anxiety heightens then our breath feels less and less full, the more resistance builds up in our body and the harder it feels to breathe. Resistance is the primary ingredient that interferes with the natural process of breathing in the first place.
This brings us back to the feeling sensation of waiting for the next shoe to drop. When we clench or grip to protect ourselves from feeling something we put our body in a state of tension aka resistance. Resistance makes everything more challenging including our breath. Many people are not aware of how much they resist or attempt to prepare themselves against the impact of something potentially bad happening to them. In fact it is this preparation or “on guard state of being” that is far more uncomfortable then simply feeling the impact of thing we are attempting to not feel the impact of.
While this all seems rational and we might get it conceptually, particularly if nothing feels super uncertain or turbulent in our life in the moment, allowing ourselves to get it physiologically is another thing entirely. To convince ourselves to feel the thing that everything in our mind is telling us is unsafe to feel or that we don’t want to feel is the perpetual dance we do with our defenses. See for most people their defenses are running the show pretty much all of the time. We tend to not notice this and think that we are in charge and not our defenses if our life seems to be going relatively well and we are in agreement with what is showing up in our reality. However when our life shakes up a little bit and something arrives in our experience that feels unknown or undesirable we get a front row show to just how much our defenses are really in charge.
Story of our Defenses
Bridge from concept to direct physiological experience
So you might be asking what is the story with our defenses. First of all it may be helpful to know we all have them and their job is to protect us from harm. They develop as mechanisms of survival for this body-mind organism. Some of our defenses develop when we are really young and are more primitive. They are more easily recognized as they tend to be more reactionary, emotional or physical in nature. Other defenses develop when we are a little bit older and are more sophisticated, rational and logical. These more sophisticated defenses are much tricker because they are based on socially acceptable rules of engagement. We often think that we are these defenses and it is more challenging to see that our defenses are running the show of our life because we just think it is who we are. These defenses are also more thought based meaning they are activated in response to memories of past experiences and anticipation of future events.
Though the job of our defenses is to protect us from harm this comes with a cost. That cost is fragmentation, separation and disconnection. We have quite normalized living disconnected partly because we haven’t had a ton of contrast as to what it is to live connected, so disconnection seems normal. The long term effects of fragmentation, separation and disconnection are far more reaching then any of us might currently realize.
Bringing this back to our body, physiology and breath we must ask ourselves how we bridge this gap between knowing conceptually about our defenses to being able to move through them and feel the experiences that they are attempting to push away. The result of this being that we open our system, relax and allow breath to breathe in and out of this body in its full, rhythmic, expansive, vital and deeply nurturing ways.
If for a moment you think of breath as life, as what you are, rather than all of the rest of the stuff that you identify with, how would that shift your focus and change your relationship to breath? In seeing that when you create tension patterns based on unconscious and conscious stories created inside of your own mind, that interfere with the movement of breath in and out of your body, what you are really doing is resisting life. Creating resistance to breath is the foundation for resisting life. Life is a myriad of infinite expressions and comes with an entire gamut of sensations, feelings, emotions and experiences. Some of these sensations, feelings, emotions and experiences will feel amazing and others will feel horrible. There is no real way around this unless you completely 100% shift your perspective to seeing only divine perfection in everything making every experience blissful, which for most people at this stage in the game is not impossible but highly improbable. Due to this improbability at this current time/space nexus we must cultivate another strategy that will open us to life rather than close us down to it. That strategy is willingness, self-permission, allowing and inner invitation to feel, sense and experience the entire gamut of whatever experiences show up in our lives no matter how uncomfortable or undesirable they are for us.
This is a tall order I know. Yet the only way to the other side is through. Going through means feeling and experiencing all of it so that none is left out, split or fragmented. This is how we arrive at the experience of connectedness and wholeness. We leave nothing out. We reject nothing. Through that we arrive at wholeness. Breath, life, moves in and out of these bodies, free and unimpeded.
Dr. Amanda Hessel, Chiropractor, Network Spinal Analysis & Somato-Respiratory Integration, Boulder, Colorado