Breath Holding, an Inquiry

Tofino, BC

I was having a discussion with a client this week about the breath and how we breathe. We were talking about the relationship between our body, our breath and how breath moves in relationship to gravity. The forces of gravity, the loads we feel.

Breath awareness is often a focus in yoga. Both in yoga classes and also in a more therapeutic practice of yoga. We spend a lot of time noticing breath, feeling the breath as it moves. Noticing the length of breath, the inhales, the exhales. Where we feel the breath move, in our body.

Taking a different path, perhaps we can explore how breath might not always be moving, or moving so well. As in when you’re holding your breath. Which you might not readily notice throughout the day, unless you pay attention to it.

The basis of this inquiry is from Donna Farhi’s The Breathing Book (highly recommend the book). She states the purpose of the inquiry being:

To identify the situations and activities in which you most commonly engage in breath holding. We don’t usually recognize how much tension we invest in simple activities such as talking or cooking because we don’t recognize the situation as terribly stressful. You may be surprised and disconcerted to discover that you hold your breath in almost every conceivable situation.

Let’s check this out.

Starting today and for the rest of this week, take notice of when you hold your breath. What you’re doing when you hold your breath. Where you are, who you’re with. Make a mental note, or actually write it down so you don’t forget.

You may notice it when you’re speaking on the phone with someone. Perhaps your boss. Or you may notice it when you’re leaning over to make your bed. Or you may notice you hold your breath when your attention is really focused on something, like when driving down busy streets.

Then, you might want to see if you can change it in some way. Just breathe a little more freely if you can. Try not to judge anything, just notice.

I’ve noticed this pattern of breath holding in myself, particularly, in these days. Before I started wearing a mask I would sometimes catch myself holding my breath as I walked by someone. Or when I felt they were standing too near to me. I suspect there was some fear involved in my response. It’s like I didn’t want to take breath in, at that moment.

We’ll do more specific explorations, next week. And maybe get a little curious about how this might affect or influence pain.

Check back with me on Monday (June 29th) for more. In the meantime, keep noticing.

It might feel good to move it!

Anxiety. Worry. Stress. Fear.

These are uncertain times and so many are feeling vulnerable, whether it’s about health, financial security or so many other concerns.

And yes, there are times when it’s helpful to quiet the mind, tame the thoughts, seek some silence, stillness and perhaps peace in all the chaos.

However, that isn’t always helpful. Doesn’t always work.

I know myself when I am stressed what helps me most is to move. Yes, I start cleaning my house when wound up, upset, feeling anxious, or stressed. There is something about burning off energy that might help to bring some space for quiet, relaxation, peace when you’re done. It might help you sleep. Maybe calm your nervous system. After all, when we are in crisis or feel threatened the nervous system is all about getting your attention, mobilization, preparing for action that might be required.

What might be helpful for you? Below are a few ideas, you might like to try:

  • Put on some loud, upbeat music and move in some way.
  • Dance.
  • Clean. Get at those windows and at the same time get some fresh air when you’re opening them or stepping outside.
  • Practice yoga, tai chi, whatever floats your boat.
  • Lift some weights.
  • Get on that ‘dust collector’ piece of exercise equipment sitting in your house and expend some of that nervous energy.
  • If you’ve got a few extra pantry items that you seemingly stocked up with, bake.
  • Cook.

Let me know how it goes. I know after working at my desk today, I am feeling the need to get up and move it!

Take good care of yourself (and others).

**If you’re feeling distressed, please be sure to reach out to a local resource. For those in Ottawa, call the Ottawa Distress Line

613-238-3311