Oh my, Breath, where do I even start? I think of everything I do and teach and share… when I talk about you, Breath, I get the most kick back. People are very attached to controlling you. Did you know that? Very attached.
Let me tell you, I hold no judgement there. In fact, I am the least judgey of the judgey judges when it comes to all the stuff with controlling the breath and people’s attachment to it. Why? Well, for years I was kind of a pro at understanding you- or so I thought.
And I don’t mean a self-proclaimed pro with a big TikTok following. I mean, I studied you, was given qualifications in you. I spent a chunk of my day (every day!) manipulating and contorting you. I could hold you, release you. I would separate you so you came out one nostril and in the other. You went along with it, you’re very gracious like that.
I would segment you (or so I told myself) so you were either in my chest or in my belly. I would try to make you bigger or smaller depending on what it is I wanted to do, how it is I wanted to control you, how it is I wanted to control myself.
And it’s funny, Breath, as I write this, I think, what exactly what I trying to do? And I think at the base of it, my motivation for working with you in the way that I did was not so much to feel something but to NOT feel something else.
It was to not feel anxious. To not feel fearful. To not feel like I didn’t have everything under control.
So, success, then, Breath, felt like the absence of all those things. The absence of them as thoughts in my mind, and the absence of them as feelings and sensations in my body.
I’m not sure if we use you, Breath, to move towards something as much as we do to move away from something, but I’m pretty sure it’s the latter.
Anyway, I don’t know if you read my letter to my Head, but if you did, it would save us some leg time here. If was to summarise, I would say that when I started learning about the nervous system, I started to understand the body- my body- working as a team. And when I thought of all the different parts of my body working as a team under the head coach Brain, I realized that so much of how I approached things previously had been to segment things… like I could choose a part, go in with my tweezers, pluck it out and isolate it. Because I knew best. But you all needed each other. You relied on each other as a team, to really work best.
But that’s what I did with you, Breath. I isolated you not recognizing that the brain, your coach, and you had chosen how you worked together. When I think back now, I feel foolish. And maybe a little arrogant. I assumed that I knew best, that I could bend you to my will, when you and Brain actually knew so much more.
You had checked on all the systems. You looked at all the tubes of my body, and the pressure in my veins and the alignment of my bones and the information from all my senses… you clocked it noticed it and adjusted my breath in the best interest of it. I see this now and I think, that’s magical. How amazing that you do that.
And along with thanking you, there are three other parts that I want to thank as well- Heart, Lungs and Deep Front Line of Fascia. Honestly, while I’m here tipping my hat, I just want to say…
Deep Front Line (and fascia generally)…. I had NO IDEA about you when people taught me about the breath. It’s not like you were given a fleeting mention. It’s like you didn’t exist as part of the conversation which now seems wild to me. And was no doubt very frustrating for you.
To think that all this time you were INTEGRAL to the function of how my body was breathed and no-one even cared to give you a mention. It’s a travesty. But I understand you now and I want to make amends.
So, as part of my overall letter of apology to you, Breath, I want will tie in all of your friends that I mentioned above and say this:
I understand now that how I breathe; how fast, how deep, how much is chosen for me by my brain. It’s chosen based on understanding, parameters and co-ordinates that sit far outside my conscious awareness.
And if I override this, you and Brain freak out a little bit. You are like, why is she doing that? We have chosen this for her, but she’s pressing the override button? We better lock things down!
And so you kick me into my survival nervous system not because you are at war with me. Because you really want to look after me.
I understand now that my conscious brain can set my intention for what I want things to be but it’s the role of my unconscious brain to decide how that happens. I’ve tried to do it all consciously, Breath, and you got caught up in that. I’ve decided not only how I want things to be, but I’ve also tried to control how you do it and it’s got us into a bit of a pickle.
I won’t do that anymore.
Thanks for being so understanding, and for taking care of things even when I wasn’t thinking about you. I appreciate you.
Of all the things we are taught about when it comes to body and mind control, on most occasions, the breath is right up at the top of the list. If we zoom out from the breath for a moment and consider the brain, the unconscious brain is always making choices regarding how the body functions based on sensory input and it adjusts everything from internal pressure to flow to breath rate based on that information.
Our conscious brain is not privy to such a vast well pool of information so when we make choices about HOW the body functions- which includes controlling the breath- we are overriding the choice that our unconscious brain has chosen for us. We are overriding a choice that is much more informed.
Every time we override the choice of the unconscious brain to influence how the body works, we activate our survival nervous system. Why? If the actions of the conscious brain sit differently to what the unconscious brain is perceiving, the sympathetic system is activated as a “just in case” policy. A “just in case we missed something” move to keep us safe.
But let’s talk about fascia for a moment. The Deep Front Line is a fascial train that extends from your big toe all the way up to your head. It also wraps around the heart and the lungs; the pericardium itself is part of the Deep Front Line (DFL). When the DFL is sliding and active (which occurs when we are functioning in the parasympathetic system), it controls breath rate and respiration in coordination with the movement of the body. In this way, our breath rate and capacity are always in harmony with our physical output and needs.
Respiration in the parasympathetic system is not confined to ordinary respiration as we know it; respiration occurs as a system. There’s cellular respiration, digestive respiration, organ respiration, the list goes on. All working together, all supporting each other.
Controlling our breath stems from thought patterns of conscious control; we are wanting to control our response, control our feelings, control our reactions, control our body, control our behavior. A conscious idea of what or how we should be in response to life situations.
Our conscious brain is not designed to control our body or our breath. It is designed to support our unconscious processes. Your current breath rate is the perfect rate for you based on the internal pressure systems of your body, how hydrated your fascia is and where your bones sit. It has been chosen for you based on the stream of information provided to your unconscious about the current state of play in your system.
In the parasympathetic system, breathing is barely perceptible. Nor should it be. Our body is breathing itself all the time; it should not be a novel experience that captures our conscious brain’s attention.
When you override or control the breath in some way, why do you do so? And how do you know if you’ve been successful?