You know how if you sense danger, you often breathe more rapidly? It turns out this helps you survive! I just read a research study proving that inhaling through your nose is the only time you can perceive fear. Inhalations activate the amygdala (emotions) and also the hippocampus (memory). When faces were encountered during inhalation, subjects recognized them as fearful more quickly than when faces were encountered during exhalation. This perception does not happen while breathing through the mouth. The findings imply that rapid nose breathing may confer an advantage when someone is in a dangerous situation. When we recall the face and sense the fear, we can react more advantageously. (doi:1523/JNEUROSCI.2586-16.2016)
What does that have to do with anything? Science is proving something Alexander Lowen (creator of Bioenergetic Analysis) said years ago, that your inbreath is for taking in, while your outbreath is for putting out. So inhaling speaks to receptivity, taking in, perceiving, and being alert. Exhaling relates to action, expression, putting something out. Just a note: we breathe differently if we are very active, tired, sick, resting, fearful, full of love or full of anger. But what about our chronic resting breathing state? Is yours more exhale than inhale? Is one more strained than the other?
Want to check your resting breath? Try this: take a few inhales and exhales at a natural rhythm for you. Next, count how long you inhale compared to your exhale. Does your inhale seem longer? Does your exhale seem longer? Is one easy and the other strained? If yours are even and not strained, stop reading this because you, unlike most of us, are perfect. Go on with your perfect life. For the rest of us, we can improve. We can consciously breathe more deeply, take a longer inhale, allow it to fill our being and see what we see. We will see what is fearful, yes and that keeps us safe, but we will also see what is touching and delightful. Walk outside. Breathe slow inhales before exhaling (but do not strain or you can get dizzy). What appears before your eyes in your neighborhood that you may have not noticed? Inhale the vivid colors of that Spring flower. Look around at kids playing. Notice that 2 year old girl turning to help her one year old sister climb the grassy hill.
Are there any practices that help us learn to do this deeper breathing? Yes, so many from various traditions. Two examples are Bioenergetic Analysis (somatic psychotherapy) and meditation. Meditation practices help you be thoughtful, insightful, and peaceful. As you attend just to the breath, you come up against your fears, worries and angers all begging for attention. And as you keep breathing them – like a consoling parent to a cranky child, the rhythm of your steady breath in and out becomes the rhythm of a parent rocking that cranky child, until the child settles and feels calm again. The emotional amygdala is soothed by slow, deeper breaths. Your breath can color your spirit in hues both dark and light - sometimes in muted sepia tones, sometimes in neon glitter rainbow brights. We deserve all the colors, all the feelings, but sometimes we get stuck in a rut and our world is too unhappy. Like Dorothy landing in Oz. She opens the door and the dusty grey dirt of a lonely Kansas farm is gone, replaced by the cheerful music and bright pastel flowers of Oz. Want less dust and more music? Take a deep, long breath. Savor your inhale.