A great many well-meaning teachers, psychotherapists, gurus, and friends have suggested to me or to others that when we’re under stress we need to take a deep breath.
I don’t agree.
Let’s say you’ve received a vexing email. You want to get your response off your chest immediately. It’s the way of the 21st century: demands fly at us ever more rapidly and on-the-spot decisions are expected. So you passionately write back and click “send”… to your immediate mortification.
Over-breathing is like over-eating
But let’s say that instead you remember the counsel to “take a deep breath.” If taking a breath means to make a gap between your reaction and the click, then that’s excellent advice. The word “breath” signifies a period of time
But suppose you take the advice literally. When you do that, you bring a huge amount of oxygen into the bloodstream, more than you actually need. The big inhalation is followed by a big exhalation that releases too much CO2.
Carbon Dioxide is an essential regulator of blood chemistry. When we exhale excessive CO2, we disrupt the acid/alkaline balance of the blood. Persisting in this way of breathing is called “chronic hyperventilation.” It leads to a host of symptoms—one of which is not thinking clearly. In which case you’d probably end up clicking “send” anyway. (For more about chronic hyperventilation please see Chapter 4 of The New Rules of Posture.)
Marriage of Posture and Breathing
What does breathing have to do with posture? The answer is in our bodies. The steady inflow/outflow of breath helps keep us both lifted and grounded. When we exhale, there’s a moment of surrender, which leads automatically to the lifting and opening response of inhalation. Both phases of respiration, when unimpeded, contribute to the decompression of our spines and extremities. How exquisite it is that our perceptual orientation to ground and space mirrors the most essential function of our being, the oxygenation of our cells.