This series is an alphabetical exploration of 26 options for living well, despite everything. It answers the question–
How can a person live well with an unsolvable, unfixable problem?
B is for Breath!
Breath–the inspiration of oxygen and exhalation of toxins–performs marvelous healing work in the body and for the soul. Breathing is natural. Babies do it well. But most adults have unlearned how to breath.
What happened to us? Why do people unlearn how to properly, effortlessly breathe?
I was a tree-climbing, cartwheeling, dancing, bike-jumping, swimming-diving, exuberant child. With all that frolicking, I suffered multiple injuries–whiplash, dislocated shoulder, broken tailbone, torn hamstrings, wrenched knees.
Determined not to be a cry-baby, I under-reported my pain, emotional and physical, and therefore it went under-noticed and sometimes untreated. I gutted it out, metaphorically and physiologically by tightening the muscles surrounding my injuries and I kept on going. This is called “splinting.”
Early in life I instinctively learned that by tensing my muscles–my chest, my abdominals, my back and shoulder–I could hide my weakness and pain. Tightening the muscles is useful for hiding emotional hurts as well as physical. It was an effective strategy to keep myself from crying or screaming.
We adults habitually do what we, in childhood, learned to do to calm ourselves. Instead of weeping and wailing when we feel twinges or jabs of physical or emotional pain, we tighten and contract our muscles.
- In anger we clench jaws, stiffen arms or make fists to keep from exploding.
- In fear we tighten chests and throats so we don’t scream.
- In grief we fold our arms around ourselves to keep from wailing.
- Physical pain causes us to hunch our shoulders. If it’s really intense, we’ll curl into a fetal position.
We don’t want to embarrass ourselves by crying like a baby!
Clenching naturally inhibits the flow of emotion and energy, which increases our sense of self-control. But it also constricts breathing. This is fine for a moment’s worth of coping, but modern life is so stressful that this constriction frequently turns into a persistent habit.
My muscle-tightening response to stress induces greater stress which creates more and more tension in my body until I become perpetually and painfully stressed-out. And then I burn out.
One way to help break a pain/stress/fear-cycle is to relearn how to properly breathe.
Inspiration happens when the breath of life flows into the body.
Inspiration is also the divine influence which moves me to think, speak and act in harmony with the precepts of wisdom.
Both physical and divine inspiration are vital comforts in the face of adversity.