Have you ever come out of an important meeting or some other challenging situation feeling mentally wound up, anxious, and tight in your chest? If you take a minute to check into your body, you will probably notice that your breathing is happening high up in your chest, forcing you to breathe in more rapidly, and giving you a sense of limitation and pressure. Physically and psychically, you’re being cut off from the energy and grounding you could otherwise have from the rest of your body.
I’ve worked with people using somatic (body-energy awareness) healing and now coaching to help them shift from states of high anxiety and performance pressure into more relaxed and productive energy states. I’ve found that when you learn to shift the focus of your breathing from chest-bound to lungs-open, you can shift to ways of working and living that are more energized, grounded, and centered.
In shifting to a more open style of breathing, you also open yourself to higher levels of oxygen and energy, literally, that allow you to take action and engage with others (and your own inner consciousness). As Suzanne Zeman, Somatic Business Coach, notes in her great handbook, Listening to Bodies-- A Somatic Primer: “Keeping the bloodstream oxygenated calms the entire central nervous system, lowering production of the stress hormone cortisol by as much as 50 percent in 10 minutes. So breathing deeply can help with . . . increasing available energy!”
Here’s a practice for expanding the volume of oxygen and spaciousness in your body that only takes a few minutes to explore. Sit or stand comfortably and just notice the way you’re breathing. Where in your body is your breath flowing? Where is it stuck or not present? What feelings and thoughts are you experiencing? How do you feel about being with a group of people right now?
Then let your breathing begin to fill your rib cage where your lungs are protected. Bring the fingertips of each of your hands into the softer, expandable spaces between the ribs on your right and left sides. Breathe into these spaces, filling them up like an accordion. Feel that you are expanding your breathing and energetic container in a way that may be totally unfamiliar to you.
You can also try bringing your hands to the ribcage in your back, and expand your lungs into your back. Isn’t it amazing that there’s so much more room for breathing than you imagined? Now notice what you’re sensing in your whole body. What feelings and thoughts are you experiencing? How do you feel about interacting with others?
This shift-in-breathing practice can help you become more aware of how you constrict yourself in your body by holding back your breath during uncomfortable work and other life situations, rather like continuing to wear a pair of shoes that are too tight. Then you’re able to change your breathing style to reflect a way of living that is more comfortable and expansive. With this change in breathing, you can literally think, plan, create, live in your body, and relate with others more effectively, energetically, and enjoyably!