Your first tool for dealing with fear is something you already do constantly, both day and night. It’s called Breathing. What can I possibly tell you about something you already do without even thinking about it? The answer is: PLENTY.
Dr. Andrew Weil, one of America’s most prominent practitioners of Integrative Medicine, in his book, Eight Weeks to Optimum Health, explains the healing power of breath. He says, ” …breath is the link between the body and mind and between the conscious and unconscious mind. It is the master key to the control of emotions and to the operations of the involuntary nervous system. Moreover, breath represents the movement of spirit in matter. Turning your attention to your breath moves you naturally toward relaxation and meditation and puts you in conscious touch with your vital nonphysical essence.”
As he says, breathing is pretty important. I will tell you about some of Dr. Weil’s breathing exercises later, but first I want to explain how and why I became aware of the importance of breath. My husband and I decided on a natural childbirth for our first child and attended the classes at our hospital to prepare us for his birth. One of the most important aspects of this training was what is known as the Lamaze Breathing Method. The point of the Lamaze Method is to help a woman to learn to breathe through the pain of her contractions and childbirth so that she can be in control of herself during the whole process. And why am I telling you this? Because I have used Lamaze breathing in difficult situations throughout my life.
Lamaze teaches three different kinds of breathing for different stages of childbirth. I’ll explain two of those, the third one being too specific to the process of childbirth for our use here. Dr. David Weedmark explains these techniques on eHow.com.
Slow Breathing Technique
1. Take a deep cleansing breath by inhaling deeply through your nose. then exhale slowly through your mouth, while releasing all of the tension in your body. While following these steps, focus on reducing your normal breathing rate by at least half. Do not hold your breath too long, and do not take less than a breath every twenty seconds. This technique is designed to relax the mind and body.
2. Inhale slowly through your nose while counting to four.
3. Hold your breath and count to four. 4. Exhale through your mouth while counting to four.
5. Repeat Steps 2 through 4 several times, then finish the exercise with a deep cleansing breath — inhale deeply through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
Modified Pace Technique
1. Take a deep cleansing breath by inhaling deeply through your nose. Exhale slowly through your mouth, while releasing all of the tension in your body. Through the following steps, focus on breathing faster than normal, but no more than twice your baseline rate. This technique is designed to focus attention and increase oxygen to the body.
2. Inhale through your nose while counting to two.
3. Hold your breath for the count of two.
4. Exhale while counting to two.
5.Take a deep, cleansing breath, inhaling through the nose, then exhaling through the mouth.
My purpose here is to present you with different breathing techniques that you can try out and then choose several among them that work for you. After choosing, you need to practice them until they are second nature to you, until they become tools you can arm yourself with to get you through difficult situations. Keep practicing your breathing, even after it has become second nature to you so that you will always have them ready when you need them so that you will be able to breathe steadily through any pain or fear that you are experiencing.
Dr. Weil’s Breathing Exercises
I said earlier that I would acquaint you with some of Dr. Andrew Weil’s breathing exercises, so here goes. For Dr. Weil, breath work is one of the building blocks of a healthy life. His view of its importance can be found in the quote at the beginning of this chapter. I am talking about using his exercises as a way to deal with fear, first because when you are focusing on your breath, you aren’t focusing on your fear, and secondly because deep breathing will calm you.
The easiest exercise in Dr. Weil’s breath work is to simply observe your breathing, to follow its cycle with your mind, without trying to influence it. This is how to do it:
1. Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight and your eyes closed, wearing fairly loose clothing2. Focus your attention on your breathing, and follow the cycle through inhalation and exhalation, noting, if you can, the point at which one phase changes into the other.
Do this for five minutes a day, keeping your attention on the breath cycle. This is a very calming exercise.
Another of Dr. Weil’s techniques that works well in fighting fear is one he calls “Letting Yourself Be Breathed.” Here is how it goes:
1. Close your eyes, letting your arms rest alongside your body, and focus attention on the breath without trying to influence it.
2. Now imagine that with each inhalation the universe is blowing breath into you and with exhalation withdrawing it. Imagine yourself to be the passive recipient of breath. as the universe breathes into you, let yourself feel the breath penetrating to every part of your body, even to your fingers and toes.
3. Try to hold the perception for ten cycles of exhalation and inhalation. Do this once a day and whenever you need to calm yourself.
There is another breathing technique that I have used often because it is so simple and effective. I learned this technique from my friend, Mary. that’s why I call it:
Mary’s Breathing Box
Mary told me that you can’t be afraid while you are doing this exercise, and she is right! It’s called a box because you repeat the process four times. This is how you do it: First, breathe in for a count of five. Second, hold the breath for a count of five. Third, breathe out to a count of ten (or until you have exhaled all your breath). Finally, don’t do anything for a count of five. Repeat this four times, thus making a box. You can do this exercise anywhere or any time. You can also practice the Breathing Box whenever you’re frustrated or angry. I’ve used it while sitting in traffic or waiting to reach a “customer service representative” on the phone. It sure beats blowing your top!
I opened this section on breathing with a quote from Dr. Andrew Weil who, among other things, said that “… breathing represents the movement of spirit in matter.” The next type of breathing I will talk about I call Spiritual Breathing. This idea came to me when I heard Dr. Depak Chopra say that the breath of life is the Holy Spirit. But, no matter what kind of belief system a person comes from, he probably believes that he is more than his physical being, that he also has an inner essence, a spirit. Spiritual Breathing is a way to connect to that inner spirit.
Eckhert Tolle, in his book, The Importance of Now, talks about breathing in the life-giving energy and imagining it suffusing your body with healing light. He says to visualize light going to each part of your body, from your brain down to your toes, and then let your breath go.
A person of the Christian faith might visualize the Holy Spirit entering his body with each breath and feel that power begin to heal him.
Whatever your belief system, the purpose is to let the breath that you breathe in fill your soul or spirit and give you peace. Practice this exercise, in whatever form is right for you, so that when you find yourself in a situation that frightens you, you will have this tool to bring yourself back to a calm and comfortable place.