Since the dawn of mankind, breath has meant life. So intertwined are the two that in Latin and Greek, breathing and emotions (“breath” and “spirit”) is one word. In Latin, it’s Spiritus, while in Greek it’s Pneuma.
Breathing is so vital to our survival that although we can survive 3 weeks without food and 3 days without water, we can only last 3 minutes without air. But breathing is more than oxygen intake into the body. The way we breathe tells a lot about the way we control our own emotions.
The famous creator of the body-centered psychotherapy Dr. Wilhelm Reich noted that limited and controlled breathing is a necessary “tool” for suppressed feelings, especially anxiety. So, he formulated and applied his principle for the therapeutic purposes – a lower level of oxygen means less energy in the system, and therefore less anxiety to be suppressed. He realized that to restrain feelings and limit emotional expression, it is necessary to control the breathing process.
There are several indicators on the basis of which we can evaluate one’s breathing and emotional expressions. Some of them are:
- The intensity of breathing and exhaling
- Depth of breathing
- Speed of expiration
- Intermittent rhythmic
How do we breathe?
Parts of the body involved in the breathing process are very important. For example, some people breathe by pushing only the upper part of the chest while stretching the diaphragm and the lower part of the chest, while others do the opposite – they move only the diaphragm and the stomach, but not the upper part of the chest. Some people breathe rhythmically, not making breaks between breathing and exhaling, while some not.
Generally, people who are prone to rigid control of feelings breathe shallow and rigidly. They, of course, have no awareness of this, because this pattern of breathing has become chronic and automatic. People who are primarily suppressing fear limit their breath (mainly breathe in the upper part of the breast without the diaphragm and the lower part of the thorax).
Those who suppress the pain primarily, limit both the inhale and exhale equally (blocking the same movements of the chest and diaphragm), while the anger blockers mostly just limit the breath (usually they do not breathe with the upper part of the chest that is immobile in them, while the diaphragm is movable in the presence of muscular tension in the abdomen).
What is your breathing pattern?
Become aware of the moment of your breath. Put one hand on your chest and the other on the stomach. You can close your eyes if it’s easier for you to focus. Breathe in the way you do it normally. Find out if you only move your chest or chest and abdomen while breathing. Is your diaphragm mobile and flexible, or is it hard and immobile? How deep do you inhale and exhale? Do you stress the inhale or the exhale? Is your breathing spontaneous or rigid? Do you make a break between breathing in and breathing out?
Try to breathe now in a natural and spontaneous way. Put one hand on your chest again and the other on your stomach. With your breath, you feel your stomach climbs upwards with oxygen intake, then climbs your chest, and at the breath in, your chest and stomach are spontaneously (unaddressed) at the same time. So, the breathing in starts with your stomach, then chest, and then everything out. Breathe through your nose and breathe through your mouth. Let your mouth open at the time of exhalation. If you feel the need, you can give your breath a spontaneous sound at release.
Establish a rhythm and try to keep it. Concentrate on breathing and body sensation only. This will put your breathing and emotions in balance. If you feel that you have excess oxygen, your hands or some part of your body are pressed, stop briefly or reduce the breathing depth. Breathe in this way for at least ten minutes. How do you feel after this simple breathing exercise? What do you feel in the body? Do you have some pleasant or unpleasant sensations? In which part of the body? Register them.
Find out more about breathing techniques.
How do Therapists connect breathing and emotions?
In physical psychotherapy, the therapist looks at the client’s breathing and other signs of physical expression. When he detects certain breathing blockages, the therapist points the client on them so that the client establishes proper breathing. Proper breathing can lead the client to a state of relaxation, a deepened contact with himself, or to a state in which he/she seeks to express a feeling that spontaneously occurs.
In addition to working with breathing patterns, the therapist works in parallel with the contact with the client. The therapist encourages the client to establish eye contact in order to consciously accept and express the feelings he was afraid of expressing. This way, the client has a perfect balance between breathing and emotions and feels safer and more complete.