A great tool that is always overlooked in our quest to heal ourselves and to live healthier, more-conscious lives is our breathing. The quality of our breathing, of our exhalation and inhalation, reveals a great deal about our self-image, our basic stance toward life. We can really increase our knowledge and awareness of ourselves by observing our breathing in the midst of action.
As we study our breathing in the various conditions of our lives, we may observe, for instance, how the extent and comfort of our inhalation reflects the extent of our readiness and ability to embrace life at that moment. We may notice that during fear we restrict the flow and duration of our breathing by contracting various parts of our body in order to reduce the energy available for feeling. We may also notice how the extent and comfort of our exhalation reflects the degree of our readiness and ability to let go, to trust something other than the accouterments of our self-image.
The Emotional Topography of Our Breath
As our ability to sense ourselves grows, we will begin to receive many precise impressions of the interrelationships of our emotions and breath. We may see, for example, how anger is associated with shallow inhalations, strong exhalations, and tension throughout the body–especially in the neck, jaw, chest, and hands. Of course, each of us will discover variations in our own physical and emotional topography.
Our Breathing Is Influenced by Our Emotions
Through awareness of our breathing, through a deep work of self-sensing, we not only learn about the subtle, constantly changing needs of our bodies, but also begin to learn about the ways in which our emotions and our breathing influence each other, our health, and well-being. By listening to the sensation of our body, especially our breathing, not only when we are in quiet circumstances but also when we are in the middle of the difficult situations of our lives, we become aware of connections between parts of ourselves that ordinarily escape our attention. By sensing both the way our breathing changes in relation to changing circumstances and the attitudes, tensions, postures, and emotions that arise in these same conditions, we begin to learn, with exacting detail, about the intimate relationship of our breathing to our overall sense of ourselves. This new, direct knowledge of ourselves in action gives our brain and nervous system the knowledge and perspective it needs to help free us from our habitual psychophysical patterns of action and reaction. Self-sensing helps create new connections between existing neurons in the brain and nervous system. These new connections help increase our overall consciousness, and promote greater sensitivity and flexibility in our perception and behavior.
Restricted Breathing and Self-Image
As we receive more impressions of ourselves through self-sensing, we will see that in general our breathing, like our self-image, is very restricted. Most of us are shallow breathers–that is, our breath is confined mainly to the top of the chest. If we are to live healthy, conscious fives, however, we need to rediscover the inner mental, emotional and physical conditions necessary for free, natural breathing, breathing which involves not only the various spaces of our chest but also the spaces of our belly, back, spine, and solar plexus. Free, natural breathing can have a huge beneficial impact on both our well-being and our spiritual development.
In order for free, natural breathing to become the norm in our lives, we need to learn how to sense ourselves from the inside and to release the unnecessary tensions associated with our self-image–tensions. These tensions are closely linked to our habitual patterns of thinking and feeling, patterns that always consume our energy and undermine our health and well-being. It is through the work of free, natural breathing that we can begin to get in touch with the energy locked into these tensions, and free up this energy for our health and inner growth.