Remembering to Breathe
I'm not sure how long it took for me to forget how to breath. Breath and diaphragmatic health is a large part of my personal practice and what I teach. Well, it was. I realized just the other day, two Thursdays ago actually, that the right side of my ribcage was completely bound up and I was breathing at my upper rib cage and clavicles. "Holy shit, I'm panic breathing. But I'm just sitting at the computer...not panicking!"
I tried to breath into my belly and ribcage and sort of couldn't. I laid on the floor and tried again. I couldn't feel my rib cage expanding down to the floor on my right side. This was an unfamiliar feeling and unnerving at best. I started to stress out that repeated stress had completely fucked up my ability to breathe. Basically, over the course of the last six months, there have been multiple aging parental hospitalizations (six in total: four emergent; two scheduled) and then finally, twoish weeks ago, my college-aged son was admitted to Tufts Medical Center in Boston with facial cellulitis…see brief explanation on previous blog…I guess I shouldn't be surprised that I've been panic breathing.
Being able to regulate the breath is really important. I don't mean just breathing, I mean to be conscience of the breath and use it to regulate your reaction to stress. Not just while sitting or doing yoga. Since most of last few months have been spent responding to emergency situations and dealing with the aftermath of said situations. It would seem that I have spent more than half my time in "fight or flight" mode. From this, I can only conclude that my breathing has gotten stuck in that system response. And, on top of that, I got bronchitis...double whammy, because coughing. What to do? Get to the healing sister!
General anatomy: the autonomic nervous system regulates the body's systems: heart beat, digestion, breathing…it is further broken into two branches: the sympathetic and parasympathetic. Simply put, the sympathetic controls the mobilizing systems (fight or flight), the parasympathetic, our down regulating systems (rest and digest). All of these systems operate automatically. However, the one system that we do have control over in this remarkable RubeGoldberg machine called the human body is: respiration. Breathing. There is a reason for this. How we breath in any given situation directly relates to how our body reacts chemically.
Por exemplo, if I belly breath (a sedating breath), with a longer exhalation then inhalation, my heart rate goes down, my musculature softens, my "turn-on" system turns off. Conversely, if I start to breath into my ribcage (thoracic breathing) and higher (clavicular breathing), I can begin to trigger my fight-or-flight system. I'm also recruiting accessory muscles that I don't really need to utilize for breathing. Trapezius, levator scap, etc. So, living in a prolonged state of thoracic/panic breath has created increased muscular tension, reduced my body's ability to recover from stressors (got sick), and now other muscles (abdominals…) are working hard to expel junk from an already overtaxed system. I need to tap back into my "chillax" system, big time! How?
Remedy: My Yoga Tune Up® Coregeous Ball. This small-ish, air-filled, squishy ball is perfect for getting into your squishy places and additionally for creating global shear in superficial tissues so the other YTU massage therapy balls (or your massage therapist) can do their work better. I'm starting every day with abdominal rolling to get some relief to my sore abdominals from coughing. Then I flip over on to my back to work the superficial layers at my upper back and rib cage. I include some thoracic based sit-ups on the ball with specific breathing patterns to work my diaphragm in a non-spastic and explosive manner (read: coughing). Then finally put use the ball on each side, getting into the obliques and side of the ribs. This has gone a long way re-introduce movement into the intercostals and increased the "slide and glide" necessary for efficient rib cage movement.
After about five to seven days, my respiration is pretty much back to normal. I'm breathing deeply (with a little coughing) and the "stuck", "bound up" feeling in my rib cage is completely gone. And honestly, it just feels really, really good to do. You can find these two techniques and many more in my teacher Jill Miller's book, The Roll Model.