“There is no neurotic individual who is capable of exhaling in one breath, deeply and evenly. The patients have developed all conceivable practices which prevent deep expiration.” ….Wilhelm Reich, Psychiatrist
So you say you can breathe just fine, but did you know that the breathing that the psychiatrist, a student of Freud by the way, is referring to may well in fact be the way that you are breathing right now!
A smack on the buttocks for most at conception and we begin to breathe, and breathe properly unless or more likely until there is trauma. It’s startlingly to think that as adults many of us breathe in a manner that correlates to Reich’s observations above. If that is so then where along the way do we lose that proper breathing, our birthright of proper breathing, and how does that affect our life in the world?
Reich says that not being able to breathe freely dams up a lot of things in our physical body and our psyche. One of his examples, proffered by one of his adherents, Alexander Lowen, is that our breath gets frozen, locked in above our respiratory diaphragm. Not that we’re not breathing, it’s just that we are breathing in a way that is not conducive to good physical or psychological health. We breathe in ways that destabilize ourselves emotionally, hence Reich’s allusions to neuroticism, not that this term or idea is still in common usage.
If you wonder how anyone in this day and age could be so bold as to say something like this then you need look no farther than current research that lists many disorders associated with poor coordination of breathing and the heart leading to many of what integrative medical practitioners consider psychosomatic disorders. With regard to heart rate, breathing and positive emotion, researchers suggest that autonomic nervous system imbalances (things that can be impacted by the breath) are associated with:
- Irritable bowel
- Panic disorder
- Sleep disorder
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
Several of these are notably responsive to self-regulation techniques like breathing and relaxation, e.g. hypertension, anxiety. The usual medical response is drugs and some people must have them, no doubt. The findings of the researchers give credence to what the ancients observed in themselves and relayed to us through the breath awareness skills (mindfulness skills) they cultivated to achieve success in meditation. The Buddha and other yogis were pioneers in integrative medicine!
So the ancients say that if you improve your breathing, you improve your health and well-being, and set the stage for living joyfully. Invest in introducing yourself to your – self! To begin, just simply be aware of some qualities of your breath. Is your breath noisy, do you breath fully, do you stop breathing – while you’re breathing (?), do you inhale for a longer time than you exhale, or vice versa? This is a way for you to begin to do something about what you don’t know, and in this case what you don’t know can harm you.