Don't Hold Your Breath: Intentional Breathing As A Self-Nurturing "Therapy"

Don't Hold Your Breath: Intentional Breathing As A Self-Nurturing "Therapy"
Image by Josch13

There is a quiet music within us, a sound that we can tune into anytime, no matter where we are. It is the still voice of our breath. Tuning into your breath is like setting your radio dial to the peace channel that broadcasts day and night. Its message is "come home!" Come home to your simple self, to the place beyond words where all that can be heard is the gentle rhythm of your breathing.

Breathing in and breathing out is the lullaby that has been gently rocking you since the moment you were born. The ebb and flow of your breath is a private ocean touching your intimate shore. Take a vacation there, right now. Pause and listen. In your breath’s rise and fall is the voice of the Great Mother, calling you home again.

Steadying Your Breath and Breathing Fully

When did you stop breathing fully? When did you begin to constrain your breath, tighten your chest, and limit the flow of air? Was it when you started mistrusting the world, unsure about others and their motives? Was there a frightening event -- a close call, a shocking episode, an abuse or abandonment that triggered this constriction? You may think you are putting your arm around your breath as if it were a frightened child in need of support and reassurance. If so, know that it is now safe to let go and surrender to your breath’s natural ebb and flow.

One way to steady your breath without constricting it is by placing the palm of your left hand gently over your breastbone. Place your right hand lightly on your belly. As you do this, feel how your breath becomes calmer and slower, and notice how much safer and peaceful you feel. This gift of light touch is powerful. It brings freedom and new life. You can breathe more deeply now, knowing there is nothing to fear.

When you breathe, you welcome and receive oxygen into your lungs. From there, the oxygen becomes distributed throughout the body by way of the bloodstream. This life-sustaining oxygen is carried by a system of "roadways" that vary in size from major "highways" called arteries to smaller "byways" called arterioles and capillaries. The oxygen that travels along these pathways brings life to all your cells.

Magnifying the Efficiency of Your Oxygen Transport System

Don't Hold Your Breath: Intentional BreathingBy using your imagination, you can magnify the efficiency of this oxygen transport system and play a very powerful role in enhancing your own vitality.

By focusing your attention in a specific way, you can optimize the delivery of oxygen throughout the "bio-region" that is you -- and create a sense of peace, well-being, and balance throughout your body. How? By knowing this secret about yourself: Your lungs are located in your belly, right behind your navel. This is not literally true, of course, but by telling yourself that it is -- by imagining that you have "secret" lungs in your belly that no one else knows about, you will automatically breathe deeper and freer.

Try it right now. Imagine that your lungs are in your belly. They are feeling very much at home there, settled in behind your navel, with plenty of room to expand and contract. Check in with your belly-lungs and make sure that you are breathing into them. Feel the breath of life traveling from there everywhere, carrying life-giving, energy-restoring oxygen to all your cells. Now, the air is going where it needs to go!

Belly Breathing: Helpful in Cases of Depression

Belly breathing is a very helpful technique that I often use in my medical practice with patients who are depressed. Sanford, a patient who came to me for treatment of depression, is a good example. At first, Sanford responded well to a conventional antidepressant medication, however, because of persistent insomnia due to the medication and a desire to phase out pharmacological solutions to his problem, he agreed to try SAMe (S-adenosyl methionine, an amino acid derivative) as an alternative.

Sanford did well with SAMe: His insomnia diminished and his residual depression became mild and manageable. After much deliberation, he found the emotional strength to end a stormy, long-term relationship with a girlfriend in whose home he had lived for ten years as her partner and father figure to her teenage son. But Sanford's adjustment to living on his own was shaky and problematic. He often felt panicky and he couldn’t resist the urge to pick up the phone and call his "ex-," even though she continued to be disdainful of his attempts to re-connect with her.

Sanford reported feeling painfully isolated, unlovable, and worthless, and he had thoughts of suicide. As he seemed dissociated from the feelings in his body (his physical body was tight and tense and his breathing quite shallow), I decided to incorporate some simple breath work into our sessions. I taught him belly-breathing with his hands on his chest and abdomen. Breathing consciously with his hands in that position, he reported feeling safe and protected. "I can feel me loving myself -- and that really feels good," he reported.

Intentional Breathing: Self Nurturing "Therapy"

Sanford responded well to intentional breathing as a self-nurturing "therapy" for his feelings of grief and heartbreak. He practiced conscious breathing with his hands on his chest and belly at various times throughout the day; for example, while sitting at his desk at work or in bed before falling asleep.

Sanford joined a meditation group and began to make new friends. He went on a five-day silent retreat with forty people, most of whom were far more experienced meditators than he was. Though that experience was challenging for him, he found that it helped him to regain perspective and emotional equilibrium.

Sanford began to recognize that the "stories" he'd been telling himself about his ex-girlfriend (the ones that had fueled his yearnings to reunite with her, as well as his negative judgments of her faults) were "only stories" that he could now rewrite in a way that was healthier for him and left him feeling more whole and at peace.

Sanford has continued his breath work and is beginning to explore new intimate relationships. He has reconnected with old friends whom he hasn’t seen for years, his mood is upbeat, and he's feeling optimistic about the future.

Like Sanford, we've all been breathing since the moment we were born. We will only stop breathing when we die. In between, as we breathe our life's quota of breaths, we swim in an ocean of infinite possibilities.

Book by this author:

Putting Out the Fire of Addiction: A Holistic Guide to Recovery
by Barry Sultanoff, MD.

Putting Out the Fire of Addiction

A wonderful, empowering guide to recovery from Addiction * A wonderful guide to changing destructive habits, strengthening your immune system, and harnessing the healing power of ritual prayer and meditation In Putting Out the Fire of Addiction the authors stresses the creation of a healing community, and emphasizes integration of body, mind, and spirit. Discussing psychotherapy, whole-person medicine, and holistic health education, the author presents a powerful guide to recovery.

Info/Order this book.

About The Author

Barry Sultanoff, MD, author of the article: Tango Dancing For The Immune System

Barry Sultanoff, M.D. a Charter Member of the American Holistic Medical Association, practices holistic medicine on Maui, Hawaii. His approach to healing emphasizes the power of the creative spirit and the importance of the environment—both physical and interpersonal—in healing. He is co-author of "Putting Out the Fire of Addiction".  As “Dr. B,” Barry co-hosts a radio program, “The Free Zone,” on Maui’s listener-supported FM 91.5, streamed throughout the world on www.manaoradio.com. Dr. Sultanoff is an international speaker, paddler of Hawaiian canoes, tango dancer, and yogi.

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