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Diaphragmatic breathingThis morning in my detox yoga workshop, our homework assignment was: “What makes you hold your breath?”

The idea is to identify stressors as they happen–the kind that literally cause us to stop breathing abruptly and hold, diaphram jammed. Just to note and observe, not to judge. So far I’ve noticed that I held my breath when there was an empty coffee holder–even though there were like five full ones right next to it. Accompanying thought: “Why can’t they keep these things full? What’s wrong with everyone?” And, happily, next thought: “Oh. I just stopped breathing.”

Why even mention this in a detox class, though? Our teacher Sarah said today: “Every time you stop breathing you disrupt digestion.” Which makes SO much sense, but I’ve never thought of it that way before. Our diaphragm shares connective tissue with all our internal organs, and when it stops massaging them with its regular, bellows-like fluctuations, they get a little jolt-and-freeze. This makes it much harder for organs to do their little jobs–gall-bladder squirts bile, liver processes toxins, colon chugs things through its windy passage, kidneys also filter toxins, etc. And when they’re all chronically screeched by stress-induced, Chihuahua-like breathing and corpse-like holding, it would follow that we might not digest so well–causing  problems from headaches to bellyaches to malabsorption.  

And then there are the emotional consequences of constantly halting the diaphragm. For years I’ve been told by healers that I breathe high in my chest, not so much with my belly. They’ve said this can cause of all sorts of nasty blockages. Every time I feel like saying, “But if I breathe with my belly I will actually have to feel! All the time!”

That’s the “problem” with deep, slow breathing. It calms the nervous system–actually all of our systems–but first, it helps us release whatever we’re clutching in our guts. Which means that for a little while, this “calming” breath may cause a rush of gunk through the pipes before the water runs clear. But I suppose the idea is that if we breathe steadily and slowly and deeply regularly, the water can stay clear or clear-ish and flowing. So, I’m giving that a new try. Even though it might mean being in the moment, feeling what I’m feeling and getting more clear and empowered. All lovely, freeing, terrifying–and did I say lovely?–prospects.   

What makes you hold your breath? Try noticing for today.

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