The following is adapted from Free for Life.
Even a small amount of chronic stress can damage our bodies, eventually manifesting as pain or tension. Many people don’t know how to address the enormous amounts of stress they carry in their bodies every day, and they don’t realize they already have a powerful tool to reduce it: their breath.
By consciously balancing your breathing, you can harness the breath’s stress-reducing power to experience less anxiety in your day and manage the pain it causes.
What Bad Breathing Habits Do to Your Body
About 98 percent of people I work with in my coaching practice are holding their breath or breathing underneath the moment. What I mean is that they are not breathing deeply enough to meet their body’s needs given their current emotional and physical state. They literally stop breathing and immediately begin straining, which is an indication of how disconnected their emotional, feeling body is from their kinesthetic or somatic body.
In my coaching, I try to provide people with an opportunity to be emotionally integrated and present by synthesizing their breath with their movement and the level of sensation they’re experiencing in that present moment. Addressing their stress and dissolving the trapped, unresolved emotions out of the physical body is a must. You have to breathe relative to the true level of sensation that you are experiencing through feeling.
You can tell you aren’t breathing relative to the moment if you feel tension and discomfort in your body. This can be hard to recognize, so I’ll describe how I work with my clients during our breath sessions.
Identifying Breath Imbalances
When I help people reduce their stress through body work, I observe first how they are breathing. After a few minutes I ask them, “What is your level of comfort or discomfort?”
Ninety-eight times out of a hundred, their breath is completely disconnected from the amount of excessive sensation that they are experiencing during the process. Breath is one of the ways the body can discharge the excessive amount of negative emotion that’s trapped in the tissues. When you utilize the breath to synchronize with the discomfort and anxiety felt within the physical body, the excess emotions that haven’t been processed effectively leave the system and immediately bring you back into a greater state of emotional, physical, mental, and energetic balance.
My clients tend to hold their breath when they should be breathing deeply to expel pent up stress from the body. As soon as I identify that their emotions may be unbalanced and causing them stress, I explain we’re going to have a potentially uncomfortable conversation.
First, I ask them a very basic question: “Do you realize your breath is out of sync with the true level of sensation you’re experiencing?” The answer has always been yes.
Many people cope with stress by processing their emotions internally and putting on a good face. If they’re bothered by something, you’ll never know because they hide their feelings. My job is to help them be internally and externally honest about what they’re feeling in each moment. Breathing deeply helps bridge the gap between the internal and external by bringing our awareness to our bodies and simultaneously allows those in our shared field of experience to experience the challenge we are having with the current moment.
Using Breath to Balance Our Emotions
As I’m guiding a person back into their breath, I breathe with them at the level of sensation they’re experiencing. This form of breathing in front of another person can make one feel quite vulnerable. Outside of a sexual context, giving birth, or during some intense athletic event, breathing exercises are generally the one time you might breathe that way with someone else, which is why it’s an effective tool for tapping into unresolved emotions.
I try to match the speed and depth of my breath with theirs. In doing so, I am not only a physical force applying pressure and rhythm, I am an energetic force, an emotional force meeting them in hidden vulnerable places. I’m breathing with them to guide them back into a safe, emotional space, which will allow the tension and stress to dissolve the moment the breath matches the true level of sensation they’re experiencing.
Even if you don’t have a coach to work with one on one, you can practice breathing deeply on your own. Speed up or slow down your breathing until you feel your stress and tension dissipate. Think of it as balancing your breathing with your emotions.
The most exciting aspect of this process is once you get the hang of breathing relative to your current level of sensation, or experience you’ll begin to balance your breath without having to think about it. Practice allowing your breath to match the level of upset you are feeling, and you’ll give yourself a powerful, natural tool for dissolving your daily stress in the moment. Tune in, breathe and let go.
For more advice on self-improvement, you can find Free for Life on Amazon.
Christopher Lee Maher is a former Navy SEAL who endured intense amounts of physical, mental, and emotional stress as a child and during and after his military career. He has taught himself how to free his energy, body, mind and emotions from pain by developing the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of being. Christopher studied Traditional Chinese Medical Practices at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine and at Yo San University, then continued his studies at The Universal Healing Tao System. He is a student of Grand Master Mantak Chia at the Universal Tao Master School in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and is currently pursuing his Master’s and Doctorate degrees in Traditional Chinese Medicine.