It’s all about breath, no breath, no voice!
Why Don’t We Breathe
One of the greatest benefits of yoga is the deep breathing it instills. Which leads us to the question, why don’t we breathe deeply in our everyday lives? Babies and small children are natural deep breathers; however, as school begins and the stresses of life accumulate, their breathing begins to change. Children stop breathing deeply, and by the time they are adults, most people have become disconnected from their breath.
All humans beings have two nervous systems: our central nervous system which allows us to exert conscious control over our body, and our autonomic nervous system which is responsible for complex body functions such as our digestion. The autonomic nervous system is responsible for the fight or flight mechanism and body reactions such as shivering when cold or frightened. The autonomic nervous system also controls our breathing when we are not consciously controlling it, which is most of the time. Our autonomic nervous system still has behaviors and reactions similar to any other animal on the planet. In many ways we are not that different from our simian ancestors. We react to pain, fear and external stimuli very similar to the animal kingdom. Holding or bracing our breath serves as a survival mechanism. Imagine a deer in the woods and suddenly, a mountain lion lurks nearby. The deer will freeze and hold its breath to go unnoticed by the lion. We call this body bracing or armoring, and it is something we unconsciously do on a daily basis. Anyone who has ever sat behind the wheel of a car knows what body bracing feels like. We usually experience it in the muscles of our shoulders and neck as we grip the steering wheel to avoid potential threats.
Strong emotional stress will also cause body bracing. The body can experience and react to an emotional trauma as extremely as it can to an actual physical trauma. Our strong survival instincts will armor our body from perceived pain that is emotional, no differently than it might to a physical stimulus. The autonomic nervous system believes that if we don’t breathe, we wont feel. Many people who suffer a strong heart-breaking experience will not breathe into their chests. They will not allow their breath to drop into their body below the collarbone. So, shallow breathing will become their autonomic breath pattern. One of the most obvious effects of breath bracing can be viewed in the voice. We can actually get choked up when we are filled with emotion. Emotion can create a knot in the throat creating tension and weakness in speech.
One of the greatest benefits of voice work is that it requires us to engage our breath with our central nervous system, instilling in us a greater awareness of our breathing potential. This greater breathing awareness can be directed towards watching what the autonomic responses and reactions of our breath are to external stimuli, allowing us the choice to breathe under stress. By choosing to breathe in situations that the autonomic nervous system perceives as threatening, we can switch our body out of unconscious survival behavior, into conscious engagement of the central nervous system, to heal ourselves. Guided deep breathing into braced areas of the body will result in a release of tension that can instantly improve health, and well-being. Less stress will be absorbed into the body and into your life.
Try this simple exercise throughout the day. At any point during the day that you feel uncomfortable, impatient or stressed, take a look at your breathing and, for just a second, watch it, and your body. Are you bracing your breath or any muscles in your body? If you are, then take a deep breath and, on the exhalation, instruct your tense muscles to relax, sighing away any stress and discomfort. Start to watch how your body reacts to all sorts of external stimuli. Shallow breathing and breath holding are survival mechanisms, so if you find yourself not breathing, don’t judge your body for implementing behavior that it thinks will protect you, just give it a little thank you and let it know that you can take over now and breathe and release.