Breathing is Fundamental

Breathing is something most people take for granted because we’re always doing it. But for anyone who has experienced difficulties with it, that blissful disregard is gone.

It is often involuntary—we don’t have to consciously think about doing it. But because we can control its rhythm and tempo, it can become a powerful element in the healing process.

Yoga, transcendental meditation, and many other disciplines teach the idea of mindful breathing. There are plenty of technical terms in these practices to describe various aspects of breath or types of breathing. But “mindful breathing” can be as simple as concentrating on slowing down, going deeper, and interrupting whatever thoughts, emotions or sensations are spurring us toward stress.

When we are faced with psychological distress, physical pain, fear, or any number of other traumatic experiences, a flood of chemicals gets released in our bodies so we are primed to fight whatever onslaught, real or imagined, is facing us. There’s certainly no doubt that this response has benefits, especially if quick action is needed to protect oneself or another person from harm.

But when the stress is more prolonged, or if it has reached a chronic level, then harnessing the mind and the breath can have powerful results. While there are many things I could enumerate here as examples, I’ll stick to one which is fairly simple.

When faced with pain, the body’s natural tendency is to create tension in order to try and protect itself. Like any other function in response to tension, breathing rates increase and, as a rule, each breath is shallower.

Simply saying to someone, “Breathe slower,” or “Now take three deep breaths” isn’t always helpful. Too often, the defenses against pain have been raised so high for so long that it is as if we are trying to paddle a canoe up a river using a teaspoon.

Each person’s mind is engaged in different ways. For some, the pathway into the mind is auditory, so music or speech is highly effective for encouraging relaxation. For others, it is visual, so imagery, either real or imagined, can be used. Still others are reached via fragrances or textures. It doesn’t matter what key you use to unlock the door as long as you open it.

The most effective healing occurs when the healer removes any specific agenda or quest for power or control and allows the other person to accomplish the healing for him- or herself. I personally don’t need to open the door with the key I’ve found. I give the key to the recipient, either by reading aloud, playing music, or describing visual images that lead them on their own path toward peace.

Whatever path is being followed, my role is simply to accompany them on the journey. In some instances, occasional reminders about breathing can be given. But each situation is unique, and I tend to allow the experience to unfold as it will, trusting that whatever is needed will be provided at the right time.

No matter how things progress, I am always paying attention to the unspoken ways in which people respond to the healing experience. With regard to pain, I have found that once the mind is engaged, a person has tremendous potential to create change within themselves. By taking the focus of the mind off the pain and giving it something else to hold on to, energy can be redirected to other areas that need attention.

Often, the first change is a return to a more natural and relaxed way of breathing. This is followed by a reduction in heart rate and a gradual lessening of muscle tension throughout the body.

All these things are pretty obvious. But we can easily overlook them if we are too worried about having our healing “work”. Any time you have the intent to heal, that is where the intent should begin and end. I don’t approach anyone with the assumption that what I do will help them. That’s arrogant and selfish. Healing isn’t about me. It’s about the other person. A person’s reactions to healing, whether positive or negative, aren’t meant to be taken personally, either. I’m no miracle worker. I’m not an angel. I’m also not a quack, a phony, or just a nobody with no skill. It’s a delicate balance between honoring myself but at the same time staying out of the way so the other person’s full potential and capacity for healing can flourish.

I have witnessed far too many seemingly small things that took on great significance for individuals and families to doubt the power that we unleash when we take the time to stop, listen to the heart of a fellow human being, and respond with compassion.

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2 Comments on “Breathing is Fundamental”

  1. tobeme Says:

    Your thoughts on healing are dead on! You are correct it is all about the person who desires to be healed and often times it is the small things that have the largest impact. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  2. halfnotes Says:

    Tobeme,

    Thanks for visiting. Yes, I think that too often, because our medicine has “advanced” so far, caregivers, whether they’re doctors, nurses, or whatever, get caught up in all the fancy technology and tests they can do now and forget the person in the middle of the situation. We can’t cure everything, but we can care for each and every person we treat. Thanks for visiting again!


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