Most of us have had experiences that have taken our breath away.
“You took my breath away” is a common expression to mean holding one’s breath in a moment of intensity when there is too much to take in all at once.
Somehow holding one’s breath pauses the reality updating our identity and sense of safety with our belonging and allows staged receptivity of an experience. Our senses are shut down and on hold while we continue to take in the data out of awareness. The hippocampus supporting us to have a memory that we can reference is literally taken offline. All we have then to make our intimate and life decisions with are forecasting executive parts of the mind without collaboration with our team of senses to help inform these decisions.
The emotions that didn’t get felt and understood in the breath-holding then become like underwater currents that can swish through us and over us flooding our minds with either erotic intensity and spiralling dizziness or with fog and confusion and distress, disabling our executive structures from making attuned decisions. A bit like a mother in a supermarket attempting to floor her shopping list with screaming toddlers demanding things that are not on her list! We are all managing our identities to collaborate in attunement with each other in win-win harmony and also with our inner parts with each of the needs for expression and satiation and safety.
Many of us have had experiences where having one’s breath taken away is in overwhelm with something too intense to take in that is terrifying. Holding one’s breath to pause an experience can become chronic with the impossibility of doing this without dying, the nearest we can achieve this pause in receptivity is with breathing shallow and little from the upper parts of our chests.
This is not a deliberate way of breathing, it is governed by our autonomic nervous system that is activated from biochemical responses created by neural networks in the brain called the emotional command systems. These are unconscious drivers that interact with each other and the upper cortical structures of the mind that govern our decision making in service of win-win harmony with ourselves, each other and the planet.
One of the primary drivers is the PANIC system that is activated when we are experiencing loss and grief when there is a failure in duty of care when our belonging is in jeopardy. This is so painful because it means we might die if we are on our own. It reads like terrifying danger. Human beings will go to extreme lengths in adaption out of naturalness in service of belonging. Some of these adaptations require holding one’s breath because the pain of it, the pain of the sacrifice is too great. The pain of not making that sacrifice and aligning with authenticity can also be fraught with the terror of the potential loss of belonging. These are foundational drivers affecting our relationship choices and sexual expression that require us to hold our breaths because if we breathe deeply into our authenticity there is immense grief and sadness to feeling with potential fears we might lose our belonging.
So when we invite our clients to breath a little more deeply, when we invite our clients to engage with feeling more of themselves, this invariably is going to start the movie playing again from its sometimes years of freeze or pause. All the past frames of experience come into view with the emotional soundtracks flooding the senses. This is why breathing more deeply is a big deal that requires a Prawn / Turtle approach.
Sometimes a person needs to be invisible in the sea as coming onto the beach is too exposing like a prawn. Prawns can make friends with jellyfish and learn to expand their lungs in harmony with the tides and currents but stay merged with the sea. If we can join our clients being with them as they feel themselves out of sight with acceptance acknowledging their needs to be hidden without pressure to come ashore, Prawn can begin the metamorphosis into Turtle.
The jellyfish breathing underwater is a metaphor I love as it allows breathing to be seen visually in beauty and harmony to emanate and can be a beautiful focus of attention when learning to explore expanding the lungs again. Then there is the journey into becoming a Turtle learning to swim with grace with emotions with each jellyfish in and out-breath, learning to feel the visceral sensations of the diaphragm expanding and relaxing in timeless acceptance without any goal.
We can invite coming out of the waves of feelings onto the beach a little at a time to update identity and learn through repeated experiences that it is safe to be witnessed. Trust that it is safe to breathe more deeply, to feel more of ourselves, to start the movie again and be in the movie knowing that we can press pause at any time is learnt and earn from repeated experiences of acceptance and accurate witnessing.