CONSTRICTED BREATHING & ANXIETY
In Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality (1951), F. S. Perls, et al. wrote: "Anxiety is the experience of breathing difficulty during any blocked excitement. It is the experience of trying to get more air into lungs immobilized by muscular constriction of the thoracic cage" (p.128). The writers go on to say that we exhibit such excitement "...whenever there is strong concern and strong contact, whether erotic, aggressive, creative or whatever." The dysfunctional individual, however, tries always to control excitement through constriction of breathing. In fact, the word "anxiety' comes from the Latin anxietas that was associated with constriction in the upper torso. A Spanish translation of anxiety is angustia, and the Latin root of that words has to do with "narrowness." Simply put, uninhibited breathing is incompatible with anxiety, and while breathing freely may not solve all of life's problems, it is certainly antithetical to feeling nervous.
Although many forms of breathing exist, Mitama Shizume is simple and relaxing. In fact, this Japanese phrase means "to pacify the soul." The attached recording was generously offered by Rev. Lawrence Koichi Barrish of the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America. He wrote the following explanation of this breathing method:
"The physical posture should be a simple one. Seiza is ideal: Kneeling sitting on the bottoms of the feet with the tips of the big toes crossed behind. If seiza is uncomfortable, cross-legged with a cushion under the hips or seated in a straight back chair will do. The back should be straight and the head upright. The position of the hands and arms varies - the main thing is a relaxed position allowing for a strong downward flow of ki [vital energy, spirit, 'life stuff']. The posture of the body should be in line with the current of energy flowing down from heaven to the center of the earth, allowing it to pass consecutively through the mid-brain and then to the one-point. Then the one-point can be made the center of the body's density (yangized).
At the word 'inhale' we imagine a very thin silver thread being drawn through the nostrils [up to the crown of the head], and flowing down the spinal column [to the perineum and then upwards] to our center or one-point (vital center of the physical and energy body, located 1.5" to 2" below the navel). This inhalation lasts from 15 to 20 seconds.
At the word 'begin' the bell sounds, and we begin to exhale [drawing upward] the silver thread slowly through the mouth making an 'aah' sound with the glottis. The sound enables us to monitor the evenness of our breath. This exhalation lasts for 20 seconds. [This pattern of circulation continues and ] on the last exhalation the bell sounds repeatedly as we exhale strongly and completely.
This is 'iki' (physical act of respiration). 'Kokyu' refers to the life breath of the cosmos and is brought about by breathing with mind and body coordinated. Mentally, when we inhale, we envision the 'ki' of the universe focusing and becoming infinitely small and dense at our one-point. On exhalation, our breath expands and becomes infinitely large, merging our ki with universal ki.
When possible, this breathing technique should be done daily, either in the morning upon awakening or in the evening prior to retiring. When one's kokyu is full and deep, one is in time with the working of the universe."
*NOTE: The practitioner may find that the 20-second intervals in the recording below seem frustratingly long. As you continue with a session, you will l likely discover that you are increasingly able to extend the intervals, and regular practice makes it all easier. Please be patient. In addition, the attached recording is but one way to pace yourself. You might consider purchasing even a small meditation bell that you can strike on your own to accompany yourself at your own tempo.
Sync breathing to the sound of a meditation bell.