I first started thinking about oxygen back when I started a running program (it was a milestone birthday and I realized, “damn, I’ve got to get in shape!”). I’d been walking about an hour a day for years after hearing that exercise was the most effective treatment for depression. Walking had helped, but when I began running, my mood spiked up in a way that made me realize it hadn’t been enough. I ran my one and only 5K at the completion of the program and then promptly went back to walking. The running since then is sporadic, but the times when I do, my mood seems to match the level of oxygen consumed.
When we breathe, we can feel our feelings, both pleasurable and difficult. In this culture, however, we are taught to do whatever we can to avoid feeling bad. Anything unpleasant, and we are expected to will it away, or dispense of through alcohol, food, or positive thinking. Holding one’s breath is quite effective at stopping feelings. It works.
People often hold their breath when faced with something uncomfortable. It can be as simple as encountering a driver with road rage, to as complex as trauma from a childhood abuse. But habitually stopping one’s feelings can become chronic patterns of which a person is entirely unaware. Chronic holding means that some of us never take a full, deep breath anymore. Tension is locked in the body anywhere that breath will not go.
Leonard Orr’s Rebirthing and Stan Grof’s Holotropic Breathwork are two techniques that involve having the client relax in the presence of a coach or partner and begin to take full deep breaths. This can induce all kinds of effects: recall of traumatic events, muscle tetany, crying and screaming, streaming bliss states. Orr believed that a basic series of ten sessions would be enough to “unlock” the breath and create profound and lasting change.
When emotions are released that were previously stopped with the breath, there is often a corresponding release of vitality. It takes a lot of energy to keep those emotions repressed in the body.
The yogis have left us many breathing techniques for optimum health and wellbeing. Tantrikas, yogis, and energy healers use the breath to process out old stuck emotions and induce higher states of consciousness. In my practice, I often teach my patients how an anxious, unhappy breath is shallow and rapid, filling only the top part of the lungs.
Together we will practice a relaxed breath, deep and slow and full into the belly.
So go ahead, take a nice deep slow inhale, bringing the breath all the way down to your tailbone. Now, let it out slowly, slower still. Who knew feeling blissful was this easy? Or that it is available at every moment, every day of your life.
© 2014 Catherine Auman This article is an excerpt from Catherine’s book Shortcuts to Mindfulness: 100 Ways to Personal and Spiritual Growth