Monday, September 7, 2015
Free the Breath, Free the Life
Breath is life for us oxygen breathers. And breathe we must. Some of us are shallow breathers, some of us are deep breathers. Whether we breathe too much or too little has an effect on the quality of our life, especially if it is too little.
Many of us remember our mother's saying, "Stand up straight," or "Tuck your tummy in," or "Put your shoulders back." These commands plus ideas that blossomed out of ubiquitous thoughts of teen aged self-consciousness like, "My butt is too big," or "I don't want anyone looking at my bust," can all result in holding patterns that adversely affect our breath. They rob us of room to breathe and when we pinch our breath, we pinch our lives.
There is a very fancy medical term called, "The Zone of Apposition." (ZOA) Very mysterious sounding isn't it? But the definition of Apposition is "close together" or "side by side." And the zone of apposition in the body is the area just below our diaphragm, the large plate-like muscle below our lungs, that contracts when we suck air into our lungs. As it relaxes, with the exhale, the muscle fibers lengthen and the diaphragm rounds and rises up into the area just below the emptied lungs. When the diaphragm relaxes in the ZOA, it forms a dome.
The ZOA or zone is thus an area inside our bodies where all of our internal organs sitting close, move up and down, with our breath. As we inhale they all drop down with the contraction and shortening of the diaphragm muscle into it's plate-like shape. And when we exhale, they all rise up into the dome area of our lengthened and relaxed diaphragm area, tucking in sweetly, up below our emptied lungs.
Not only is our breath our life, but our movement is our life too. So, when we pinch and push and hold, sticking our butts out or tucking them under, we lessen the amount of area available in our bodies for our organs to move. The is especially true when it comes to holding patterns in our upper bodies, like pinched, cast back or elevated shoulders or a pushed up and out chest. Typically when we do this, we are holding tight. And chronically tight muscles not only restrict the movement of our organs and our life, they also result in chronic pain.
Just getting regular exercise can do a lot to help free all of this. Swimming, dancing and playing tennis all involve lots of different balance and body movement patterns. Really great athletes are often very free to move in their bodies. Many athletic endeavors create lots of freedom of movement. But there are some that might not. Weight lifting, football, and boxing come to mind. Whereas wrestling, skiing and fencing leave us more free to move.
Massage is great for releasing stuck and hyper-vigilant muscle groups. Stretching is good too. When we keep ourselves limber, we keep all the rib muscles moving and we stretch the diaphragm too. Various body work techniques can help us to recognize and then free our holding patterns when we have them. I like the Alexander Technique best of all. It is based in the subtle sensing of which muscles are chronically and unnecessarily tight, and then once they are identified, it teaches us to gently free them and let them go. Yoga is good too, but if you are not aware of where you are holding, you can tear. So becoming aware is a good first step. And we can do this in part by observing the breath to see if it is free.
So I invite you to give this some time. Sit in a chair in front of a mirror. Watch your chest move. Let the breath fill the rib cage. See if it fills as it should, like a balloon, all at once. Do your lungs fill equally in volume? Do they fill simultaneously? There was a time when mine didn't. I had to re-learn how to breathe. Just like blinking our eyes, we can bring this under our conscious control.
To get started, try bending over and let your lungs rise up into your back. Then bend to the right and fill your lungs to the left. Do the same on the other side. Think of the dome, and the ZOA. Relax. It feels good. And then give yourself plenty of room to breathe with a nice big sigh. My love to you and to your next breath, may it help to free your movement and your life.
© Josephine Laing, 2015