Hello Dear One!
How to Find Your “Rest and Digest”
I find now that I am learning to take my superficial understanding about breath to a new, more profound level. I’m hoping that my newfound ability to “let go” will guide me into what we call “rest and digest.” I slowly come to realize that I have spent most of my life in, what is called, a state of “fight and flight.” My anger came quickly. I yelled at my kids (So sorry, Amy and Phil). I reacted; I didn’t respond. Most simply, I wasn’t breathing. But now, I am learning that healing is a bit more complicated than just switching to a slow and steady breath, although that certainly helps.
The Brain is the Boss
I was learning in this core immersion much about how to connect with this usually automatic system called the breath. The breath typically functions automatically under the supervision of the brain, which directs the diaphragm to contract to bring breath in and to relax and let the carbon dioxide flow out. These automatic functions have a “mind of their own.” Jill Miller explains it as follows,
I know, all too well, the experience of a panic attack. Even without a full-blown panic attack, I tend to hold myself in stress. It’s a long-time habit and I very much want to learn how to let go of this stress. So, the challenge for me and for most of my students, I believe, is how to develop a way to enhance the parasympathic response, since it is not under conscious control –how to spend more time in the realm of “rest and digest” than “fight or flight.”
Pranayama and Other Forms of “Trickery”
This crucial “how to” amounts to a sort of “trickery.” We can use our somatic, or voluntary nervous system, which “speaks” to all skeletal muscle. So, since the diaphragm is regulated by both somatic and autonomic nerves, we can engage breathing practices – called pranayama by the yogi’s – to encourage a shift into the healing realm of “rest and digest.”
The simplest breathing pattern is a long inhale and exhale through the nose. Feel your belly expand as you take air in and feel your belly retract as you exhale. Breathing through the nose slows the breath down and warms it up. I hadn’t realized though, that the inhale tends to energize you and the exhale is what relaxes you. Perhaps that’s why we feel so good when we sigh. Sometimes, when I’m really stressed out, I have a hard time filling my chest with breath — it feels so constricted. Then I really have to slow it down, rest on the floor, and imagine that I am sucking my breath in slowly as though through a straw — long and slow. After a while, I can feel my chest relax and the breath start to flow more easily.
It took me a long time to process relationship between my breath and my core and my brain. During the evenings after our core immersion sessions, when I was rolling out the muscles of jaw, temples, and neck, I was not simply undoing the wreckage of my muscles after enduring so much pain. What I was doing was far more complex. As I understand it now, by engaging in long slow belly breaths, I was using my somatic nervous system to “trick” my parasympathetic nervous system into helping to heal the part of my nervous system – the tri-geminal nerve – that was causing me so much pain.
Learning to Let Go
This sort of “re-learning” happened on so many levels. The simple advice to “let go” is accurate but it is not easy. Nor is it magic. I was helped tremendously by understanding the physiological processes that I’ve tried to share with you here. But more important, I have been helped by the experience of using my breath in ways that help to “let go” of stress and let me body come to know the feeling of being calm and supported. This is, indeed, giving myself permission to feel. And then, I’m more likely to melt into “rest and digest.” Some days it doesn’t happen, I have to admit. But I’m getting better at it, little by little.
Until next time!
Love and Gratitude,
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