Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
— Thich Nhat Hanh
I sat with a client awhile back. While she spoke about the family estrangement that so preoccupied her attention both mentally and emotionally, I could see her body begin to close in on itself. Her shoulders rounded, her chin dropped toward her chest. Her voice got quieter – she quite literally began to collapse herself into her pain, frustration and despair. “Well, what can I do?” she whispered.
It doesn’t always go this way when I am working with clients, or listening to people discuss their family issues. Sometimes people go the other way, their jaws clench, their voices raise, their bodies tense. These mostly unconscious, physical responses are interesting as I am a great believer that our bodies hold our stories, and sometimes even tell our stories when we have lost the words.
There are many things about family issues and estrangement that we cannot control. We cannot control the thoughts, feelings and behaviours of others. Sometimes it may feel like we're not even able to control our own thoughts, feelings and behaviour! We can’t make people treat us well, or want to be a part of our lives. We can’t command compassion or remorse. The sense that there is no way to control the often turbulent fallout of estrangement, can be one of the biggest stressors for people who are estranged.
It's very powerful to stop and take stock of the things we can control. Whether we are in the midst of an active family crisis, or struggling to deal with the longer term fall out of estrangement (or any other problem really) there is always one thing we can control - our breath.
Rx - Breathe
There's so much excellent research to evidence the many benefits of conscious breathing. When we learn simple breathing practices, we harmonize the rhythms of body, breath, mind and emotion. Our breathing centers our awareness and attention. We reclaim our focus and at the same time, let go of stress, physical tension, emotional reactivity and mental gymnastics.
Although you obviously don't need anything to assist you to deep breathe, there are heaps of tools or apps you can try. Youtube has free, guided, deep breathing videos (just do a search) and you can also get a number of good mobile apps. I recommend the Pacifica app for my clients and have it installed on my mobile phone too. Deep breathing doesn't need to be a big time sink - for instance, the Pacifica app has an 8 breath, visually cued, deep breathing exercise that I use regularly with clients - you can check out what it feels like to use HERE. You don't need to use the Pacifica app, but you can take a page from their book - 8 deep breaths. That's all.
Taking time for regular, conscious breathing is a commitment we make to ourselves to become still, to connect with ourselves in a conscious way. You don’t need to make it complicated.
Let your breath lead the way.
If you find yourself feeling tense, stressed, or overwhelmed, check in with your breath. If your breathing is even, calm, and rhythmic, then you’re good to go. If it’s choppy, short, and strained, then take a break, create a moment of relaxation, and breathe your way back to peace. 8 breaths, friends, that's all it takes.
So lets not complicate this. Lets not call this practice anything other than breathing. Lets keep it very simple.