Years ago, when I was training to become a coach, I took mind-body classes to learn how to drop into the silence that lies beneath the incessant chatter of the mind.
This is as about as easy as getting a 3 year-old to leave the bouncy-ball pit and lay down for a nap.
Luckily, my class-mates and I were all self-discovery nerds who LOVED the inner realm.
Monkey mind? No problem! We knew all the tricks of meditation to bring ourselves back to a Zen state of mind.
Ah, but that wasn't the purpose of our training.
We quickly found out that we were there to learn how to climb back INTO the body—to fully feel the physical sensations within and to become consciously AWARE of our emotions—which is quite different from letting go of thought in order to connect to the Cosmos.
Our instructor was kind but persistent.
Was there any tightness in our muscles?
Were we tensing against something?
What nervous system was currently active?
Were there hidden pools of emotion that were calling for our attention?
Where were we stopping the flow of internal energy?
Every time we got hooked into a mind-story, she gently (firmly) pulled us back to our breath, teaching us to create space around the areas of emotional or physical discomfort without trying to change or fix anything.
"Just observe what's there," she told us. "Just acknowledge it and keep breathing."
Sitting with our breath was HARD—like, ditch-digging hard. Most of us agreed that we'd rather carry buckets of gravel up and down 8 flights of stairs, because at least we'd be DOING SOMETHING.
It was humbling to discover that we weren't as grounded as we thought—that in fact, many of us lived mostly in our heads, and were disconnected from the language of our bodies.
It turns out we'd been using meditation to transcend the physical realm, intellectualizing our feelings instead of acknowledging (and breathing through) the physical sensations they caused in our bodies.
Any smugness I'd felt about my level of self-awareness disappeared in a snap.
I signed up with a private mind/body coach and doubled my efforts outside the Coach Training, determined to build a relationship with my body so I could hear the wisdom within it.
I began to check in with myself several times throughout the day.
What was I feeling emotionally?
What physical sensations did those emotions cause in my body?
What did the sensations feel like?
Could I allow the sensations?
What were the sensations telling me?
I kept a Mind-Body Journal, and the conversations were mind-blowing (You can see one of the pages from my binder HERE.)
But oh my God! The fucking BREATHING!
Even after a YEAR of practice, the Doer in me fought those exercises like a cat fights a bath.
So I cut back my efforts. Instead of 20 minutes of deep belly breathing, I'd do 5.
I understood the transformative nature of the breath. I knew that it anchored me, that it kept my mind from spinning out of control.
But sweet Jesus! I had THINGS TO DO!
I stuck to my 3 - 5 minute breathing sessions, often worrying that my slacker ways were going to diminish the magic.
Then I lost my brother.
And found out that a 3-minute practice is enough.
Instead of leaving my body, I stayed with it, breathing through the pain and into the parts that were balled up with grief.
I was able to be present for the full experience, attending to my needs in an authentic way instead of shutting down and abandoning myself.
Two months later, my friend discovered that her brother was terminally ill and I was able to share what I'd learned as she supported him right up to the end.
Since I hadn't been able to be with my brother when he died, I listened intently as she told me about the moment when he took his last breath.
"I sat with him, telling him it was okay for him to let go, that I'd take care of Mum and Dad, but I kept watching his breath, and inside I was begging him not to stop breathing. I watched his chest so closely. I watched every movement. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Then nothing."
I got it, then. Like, really got it.
The breath isn't just a tool to help keep us present, or to soothe our anxiety.
It's an ancient, mysterious, powerful Force—the pathway to the truth of who we really are—and it can carry us to the wordless wisdom at our core.
I've come to believe that this inner silence is the soothing balm to all of life's misery, and ultimately, the true voice of God. This doesn't mean that I don't get caught up in painful mind-stories.
But I'm completely supported by my own practice. And when I notice I'm stuck in negativity, I direct my attention away from the voice in my head and pull it down into my belly.
Then I BREATHE. Filling every pocket of flesh with the Life Force that heals.
Nine times out of ten, this gets me right back on track.
But sometimes the story's too big. Too real. Too painful.
A few of my clients experience this on a regular basis.
"What do I do?" they ask. "How do I stop the negative voice when it simply WON'T SHUT UP?
I lead them through practices for dealing with the Pain Body—using some tools that focus on taking action, and others that are based on acceptance.
Recently I've added a technique that I'm really excited about.
I discovered it when my friend gave me The Energy Codes by Dr. Sue Morter.
Dr. Sue created a practice called "The Morter March" which involves a series of movements designed to get you out of your head and into your body.
It's a unique way to calm and reintegrate your nervous system, but what caught my attention was the fact that part of the practice is to HOLD YOUR BREATH.
When I tried it, the bells when off.
If you want to stop the inner critic when it's on a rampage, you simply cut off it's power supply.
Holding your breath is a great way to get the attention of your body's survival system.
As you continue to hold, the nervous system thinks it's got a life-threatening issue to attend to, and will start to direct all your energy and resources toward saving the body.
This gives you a window of opportunity that wasn't available to you before.
When you finally DO take a breath, you can turn it into S L O W deep, belly breathing, which will give out a signal that all is well, putting you in a much calmer state.
I have found this to be incredibly effective and I hope you do too.
The next time you're fully triggered and can't seem to access any of your tools, DON'T breathe! Instead, do the opposite.
HOLD YOUR BREATH.
Let your verbal brain know that you're setting a mental boundary and when you finally do inhale, you can reinforce this boundary by choosing to do something constructive and healthy.
We're in this together, my lovely. And by practicing conscious ways of creating peace in ourselves, we'll all contribute to a more peaceful world.
Sending you so much love,
PS. Please don't hold your breath until you pass out! And if you ever find yourself getting dizzy during any breathing exercise you try, please stop, sit down and take care of yourself.