Breathing and Emotion

Many of my clients want help for excessive fear, anxiety, and panic. Those who have had other forms of therapy often tell me they were taught about “the breathing.” When I ask them what exactly they were told, they generally say “to breath deeply.” It’s not surprising that these clients did not benefit from the instruction, because it’s simply WRONG!

Breathing is very important. Well obviously- we die if we don’t breathe- but I mean it has a powerful effect on our emotions, not just our physical survival. Breathing patterns are the most powerful link between the mind and body, and the easiest way to control our feelings is through altered breathing. By changing our underlying feelings we change our thought patterns and our memory.

However, it’s not quite as simple as “deep breathing.” There are two ways by which we can alter our breathing. We can breathe faster or slower, and we can breathe deeper or more shallow. So there’s a total of four main breathing patterns we can do. I will now describe each pattern and its effects. Helping my clients to breathe naturally and effortlessly is an important part of enabling them to gain control of their own feelings and reactions.

SLOW AND DEEP. This allows deep relaxation of the mind and body, especially if we focus our attention on each body-part in turn and feel the natural muscle relaxation as we breathe out. Muscle relaxation generally makes that part of us feel heavier at first, later we may feel weightless, or lose awareness of that body part completely.

SLOW AND SHALLOW. We naturally fall into this pattern when we’re asleep. If we use this pattern while still awake, we will fall asleep quite easily.

FAST AND DEEP. This pattern intensifies emotion and can unlock traumatic memories. It is a powerful technique but I don’t advise you doing it on your own as it could cause a panic attack with peculiar physical symptoms that cause further increase in anxiety, setting off a “vicious circle” or feedback loop of increasing anxiety

FAST AND SHALLOW. This pattern holds back emotion- as when we’re trying not to cry- but we should not make a habit of it.

For better control of our emotions, we can learn to breathe out slower than we breathe in. When we breathe in we divert more blood flow to certain areas of the brain that stimulate the “fight-or-flight” response. When we breathe out, the blood is diverted away from those areas. So by spending more time on the out-breath than the in-breath we can turn down the fight-or-flight response and be able to think clearly and rationally in difficult or even dangerous situations. This does not require lengthy exercises or timing yourself with a stop watch! The experience of hypnosis actually feels quite effortless from the client’s point of view.

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