The weather in Portland yesterday got to an uncomfortable 98 degrees. That is approximately 370 degrees Celsius for my readers in Canada (and all the other beautiful parts of the world—Dobar Dan, Bonjour, Hallo, etc.)
Nothing speaks to me of blistering heat like the uncomfortable topic of emotional repression.
What I mean by emotional repression is going to tie back into the concept of psychic armor from dear old Dr. Reich. Psychic armor is the stuff that prevents us from feelings or experiencing certain things, mostly emotional things. In the beginning, it was used to protect us from something in the environment, but over time all that armor makes us more and more inflexible to certain experiences, and then we suffer again, but for different reasons. It may be helpful to consider this post as exploring the physical nature of how (see previous posts) emotionally camouflaged behavior can begin.
As with so many things, let us begin with our breath.
How you breathe and what your breathing practice (strange concept perhaps to consider) is like can suggest a number of interesting things about how you experience different emotional states.
If you don’t already know, the next time you can practice breathing, lie down on the floor or bed or wherever—getting comfy, taking off your shoes, making sure you are safe and secure—and take a big deep breath (sometimes it is quite good to rest a hand on your diaphragm) and then fully exhale and do it again five times. It can be quite nice. Most of us don’t breathe that deeply during the day, and particularly when we are experiencing some kind of emotional distress.
Think of a time where you either laughed or cried deeply. The kind that can be painful—whether it was from joy or sadness. Do you remember how much your chest shook? Can you imagine crying or laughing that deeply without using your entire chest? Well, it’s pretty much impossible. Do you remember taking the deep breaths required to laugh that much, or the deep inhalation of breath necessary to allow those painful tears and sobs to release? Both of those experiences of deep feeling of emotion require lots of breath. Lots of deep, full (sometimes staccato or at least intermittent) breath.
Think about exercise. It is impossible to do so without full breath. Or you run the risk of heat exhaustion/passing out/something worse.
Think about the fight, flight or freeze response. When we are in watching a scary movie in a theatre and something terrible happens, what happens to your breath? You lose it. You may be exhaling or holding your breath due to the shock, which further contributes to the freeze reaction. If you aren’t breathing, you can’t run away from the zombies.
So, those are the obvious examples, the times in your life that are easy to notice when you are not breathing deeply.
But how often are you holding your breath, or not taking deep breaths throughout a normal day? Maybe when you have to talk with a certain family member, or your boss, or the person you may have legitimate intense emotional feelings towards? Think about how shallow your breath can get when you are talking to someone you may have a crush on. It affects us. It’s the reason we act so crazy—we are literally not breathing in enough air, so we act and say embarrassing things (hopefully to which your crush finds somewhat charming.)
Is your breath in general deep and full, or shallow and a half measure? When you are told upsetting news, do you hold your breath reflexively? Do you exhale completely and fully, as if you mean to empty out your entire chest? As if your body is aware a powerful emotion cannot be fully experienced without a full breath—without your chest full of air to give it sensation and movement?
Many things to consider.
What events or people cause you to hold your breath? What stops you from breathing in fully? The answer to these questions may illuminate what you struggle with