Breathing is the greatest low hanging fruit of changing one’s mind-body state. I tend to hyphenate mind-body because that is how I see it, as one entity, one system. Not Decarte’s humunculus in the head puppeting a body.
As a therapist, I teach virtually every adult and adolescent I work with, at least one breathing technique to be used in therapy sessions and in everyday life.
Breathing is always there. And it’s intimately tied to both the entire nervous system and emotional system.
The old school somatic/body oriented and experiential psychotherapy approaches (I’m talking “Gestalt Therapy” and “Reichian” body work from the 1940’s and 50’s) all used to emphasize one major problem observed with clients: Most people do not know how to breathe!
Most modern people breathe shallow, usually into the chest but some into the belly. I also observe that many people use excess effort to breathe out. As if to control the breath and tense against feeling in both the in-breath and out-breath.
As yoga has become popular in recent decades, many every day people are becoming familiar with pranayama or the yoga of breathing. This is great essentially that many everyday people are learning to work with and control breathing.
But I have one major criticism of pranayama techniques compared to the more western approaches to breathwork: Control. Pranayama emphasizes control of breathing to control and manipulate breathing.
Even some popular teachers of breathwork such as this Wim Hof who has become popular in the biohacking community (I still highly respect his work and what he is doing despite this point) us that ‘C’ word too often.
Here’s an important point of which I wish I can proclaim on the hills: The mind-body already knows what to do! It is simply blocked in it’s natural process of growth. What in AEDP terms is called ‘The Transformance Drive.’
Essentially, the highest ‘yoga’ of breathing would be to relax and allow the body to breathe you fully and deeply, moving through the entire body. All the while you’re aware of the breath without manipulating it.
Therapeutically, we begin by specific techniques to calm the overactive nervous system and anxieties of stress and trauma. Quiet powerfully I might add. And such is the breath itself.
But techniques lead to the natural ability to be open to the natural breath.
This occurs almost invariably in moments of great change. There is a natural deep breath and sense of core space, like emotional constrictions in the belly and chest are released and one can breathe deeper and much fuller with great sensations of positive emotion and relaxation.
So, keep in mind during my next post on specific breathing techniques that techniques are a large first step but ultimately, the body knows how to breathe itself.