Take a breath, and then another as you begin reading this. Even a moment of conscious breathing can calm your body, settle your nerves and open your heart.
Breathing animates life. We come alive with our first breath and leave this life with our last. Whatever we have done, are doing, or will do depends on this seemingly simple process. We are always inhaling and exhaling – 12 to 16 times per minute, or 17,280 to 23,040 times a day if you care to count. When you think on those numbers, be relieved that breathing is automatic. Most of the time, the lungs, throat, collar bones, intercostal muscles (between the ribs) and diaphragm naturally work together to bring in oxygen and blow out carbon dioxide.
Our breathing, however, can be affected by physical conditions such as sleep apnea or asthma. Both narrow the throat, impeding airflow to the lungs. Muscular tightness, or emotional tension can constrain movement of the collar bones, intercostal muscles and diaphragm thus limiting lung expansion. Environmental toxins can increase these effects. CPAP machines, inhalers, medications and physical exercise can alleviate these conditions. In addition, support from somatic psychotherapy, clinical hypnosis and nature immersion can bring relief.
Such relief is needed as we live through so much death. Even ventilators cannot keep alive some people who have COVID-19. Even cell phone videos cannot keep alive some Black and brown people who experience excessive force. Grief can take our breath away, and can drop us to our knees. From there, we can rise up for change with others – calling on conscious breathing as a resource. You will find it makes it easier to respond, rather than to react; to reach out, rather than to shut down.
In my work, I’ve seen all sorts of breathing difficulties – including those brought on by racism. Discrimination and micro-aggression hurt not only economics and emotions; they also take a physical toll. I do my best to provide a safe space, a caring witness and steady support for recovery and repair both in the therapy room, and in the larger world. Going forward, I commit to deepening the racial and social justice lens of my work by ongoing training and consultation.
Conscious breathing brings personal healing and builds community resilience. What does it sound like as you take an audible breath? Is it even or rough? What does it feel like as you take another? Do you feel your chest move? How about your belly? This time, touch your chest with one hand. Is there a difference in your connection with the breath?
This is an example of awakening the breath for enhanced emotional and physical comfort and capacity. Singers, dancers and athletes learn how to use their breathing for range, flexibility, endurance and strength. You can too!