Breathing techniques are a cheap (free) and easy (with practice) way to transform your physical, mental and emotional state. For example, deep breaths into the belly is a great way to help you find calm in stressful situations. I’ve written before about how and why this works for your breath to be a “Magic Portal”, but there are a variety of circumstances where the option for deep breathing isn’t easily available. To get back to the place where you can access it, you may need a Respiration Rescue, as I myself recently experienced!
I had to have an MRI a couple of weeks ago for the first time. Before I go any further, let me assure everyone, there is nothing life threatening going on. I have been having back pain for a while, and my medical team and I all suspected it was a disc issue, but wanted to confirm with the MRI. It turns out it is indeed a disc problem, and is already feeling much better thanks to some important recovery strategies I’ll be sharing in a separate blog post in a couple of weeks, so stay tuned!!
Back to the MRI procedure itself - If you’ve ever had one, you know it’s not the worst thing ever, but it is far from pleasant. People who are claustrophobic tend to struggle quite a bit with the procedure, and often have to be sedated to have an MRI to avoid a panic attack.
I wouldn’t say I’m claustrophobic, but I do get very anxious in certain situations - hospital visits and medical procedures ranking pretty highly. Fortunately, with many years of practicing breathing and meditation techniques, I have found simple ways to help myself do a better job of navigating through stress and anxiety. So after asking the radiology tech a million questions about what to expect during the MRI, I was ready to get the thing done.
For the first several minutes, I was ok. I thought, “If all I need to do is lie still and take deep breaths, I can do this.” After another couple of minutes, the tech came on the intercom and said, “You are moving a lot. Try to be still and focus on calm, steady breaths.”
Hmmm… I thought I was doing that, but I said, “ok, I’ll try”.
Another couple of minutes, she came back on the intercom and said in a tone that pushed my buttons, “You need to do better. There is still a lot of movement.”
I already knew that what happens if you move around is a blurry image (you don’t explode or get magnetized - I asked) but I did not want to have to come back and do this again. So despite my initial instinct to tell her she needed “to do better”, slide out the bottom of the contraption and make my escape with my hospital gown flapping in the wind, I said “I’m not sure what you’d like me to do differently than what I am doing…”
She explained again about being still and breathing, and then I realized, she couldn’t see me to know that I wasn’t shifting around and fidgeting. It was my breathing that was causing the movement. I have invested so much into deep breathing practices, that breath for me is a 360 degree, full body experience - especially when I am using breath to stay calm!
I didn’t bother explaining this. I just said, “I think it’s how I’m breathing that is causing this, so I’ll try another way.”
So instead of allowing myself to breathe deeply, I restricted myself to shallow, chest breathing. Almost immediately, I had to fight the urge to panic… I felt like I couldn’t get enough air in and I might suffocate. I could feel muscle tension creeping in to just about every part of me as I was trying to lock myself into total stillness. I was worried that at any moment, the tech would tell me I still wasn’t doing a good enough job and that even the thin wisp of air I was breathing was too much. I was one more shallow breath away from telling her I wanted out when she came on the intercom and said “Ok, we’re done!”
Many years ago I learned the 5 “Ps” of tapping into the Parasympathetic nervous system from my teacher Jill Miller, and I’ve shared them with our Breakthrough members many times. The order isn’t set, but the more of them you can utilize at a time, the better your relaxation response will be:
Perspective - having a mindset (Sankalpa or Intention) that supports your desire to find calm
Pace of Breath - deep diaphragmatic breathing with an emphasis on long exhales
Position - lying down or in a gentle inversion with hips slightly higher than the heart
Place - somewhere quiet and peaceful
Palpation - using gentle self-massage to signal overactive muscles and fascia to let go
Although I did have a sankalpa to help me through the MRI, and I was in a reclined posture, once I lost the pace of breath, my sympathetic nervous system kicked in.
As I was walking back to my car afterwards, I tried to get my deep breathing back, but it was elusive. My muscles were tight, my shoulders were up around my ears, and my jaw was clenched. It was time for a Respiration Rescue!
I had gone straight from the gym to do the MRI, and as I was returning, Coach Chana and Caleb were wrapping up the evening training sessions. I burst through the doors, grabbed a Coregeous ball, and headed to a quiet corner of the back room. It was time to rely on a peaceful place, and the palpation of the therapy balls to help me get back to a deep pace of breath.
While certainly not the most traumatic experience, it’s been interesting to note that the tension from my MRI experience has continued to linger in my body and my mind. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve focused on doing lots of rolling of my belly, chest and upper back with the Coregeous ball to help encourage deep breathing. I’ve also done lots of work with the various sizes of Tune Up balls in the pecs, traps, below the collarbone, neck, temples and jaw.
Our ability to access deep breathing can be negatively affected not just by trauma or stress, but also long ingrained postural patterns, and tension in muscles caused by misuse or underuse. If you’ve ever had a hard time finding deep, calming breaths, or this practice is not as accessible to you as you’d like during times of stress, I’m quite certain you’ll benefit from a regular Respiration Reset self-massage practice!
I put up a few ideas in a video on my social media if you want some ideas… This long weekend coming up is a perfect time to include as many of the 5 “Ps” as you can!
Strength & Love,