Breath: The Difference Between Fear and Excitement

Today is moving day! I am moving into my very first apartment by myself for the first time ever and I'm so excited. I wanted this since I was 10.

So I was lying in bed this morning and all I feel is fear and anxiety. Me to me, "But why? I've been excited about my whole life so why don't I feel excited?"

And then I realized, "Oh, I'm not breathing."

Physiologically, excitement and fear release the same chemicals. The only difference between how we experienced the two is breath. If we're not breathing, we feel tight and restricted, sending guard signals up to our brain. When we're happy and we're open and we're excited, we are, well, open. We're not guarded. We're not shut down. We're not crunched and small. We allow ourselves to expand and breathe.

Deep even breaths signal safety and so all of the arousal, chemicals, and nerve firings that are going on are good things. This is eustress, not distress. You're breathing, life's great.

And I had a client once who was really annoyed when I suggested to him to breathwork and to pay attention to his breath to help with his chronic low back pain. In his words, "Who wants to think about breathing?"

Yes, it is an automatic thing that we do, but there is a reason that breathing is one of the, is one of the very few functions in the body that toggles between unconscious and conscious operation: it an apparatus for self regulation.

Pay attention throughout the day, and you'll notice that for most of it you're not breathing fully. This is why you feel anxious, why you feel depressed, why you feel sad, why you feel angry, why you feel unsafe all of the time.

What's more is that lack of breath contributes to you feeling physical pain, especially pelvic pain. Your breath is the thing that moves your pelvic floor. Yes, Kegels are awesome and important, but that activates about only 20% of the muscle fibers in your pelvic floor. Eighty percent of those muscle fibers are under autonomic control, responding to internal conditions i.e. they're responding to your breath, posture, and gait. Paying attention to your breath is going to help open up your pelvic floor and any other part of your body that is experiencing tight and chronic pain.

Take a moment now to pay attention to your breath. Notice where you're not actually taking in air, and where in your body the air does move. Then think about how often you are in this pattern.

Most of the time, our bodies are set to stress and pain. We're running on that default of restricted breath of guard, of acting through fear.

Consciously throughout the day, make sure to take a few deep breaths. Don't stop what you are doing. Actively breathe while you are engaged with your day to day tasks, while you're in the grocery store, while you're dealing with your kids throwing a temper tantrum, while you're under that deadline to get that project in because your boss is breathing down your neck, while you're working through conflict with your partner. Breathe through your pain.

This might actually feel a little scary when you first start to practice it, because it is typical to want to guard in those high stress situations. We think that's guarding and making ourselves as small as possible is going to keep us safe. The act of breathing takes down those walls and opens us up. It is an act of vulnerability. It is also an act of strength.

Breathe through the initial fear, the initial difficulty. Just allow and notice what you're feeling, and then notice how much stronger you actually feel when you're breathing and open. Notice how much safer and more secure in your own body you feel then when you are sitting in the state of unconsciously restrictive, shallow chest breaths.

We think protection and safety come from walls and restrictions. Really protection and safety come from openness and expansion.

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