Holding Your Breath Can Delay Healing

Holding your breathMany of us are familiar with the image of someone “hyperventilating” (breathing rapidly) as a reaction to stress. However, the opposite is also true from periods of prolonged stress: In times of continued mental, emotional, or physical stress (such as chronic physical pain), our breathing can become shallow and we may even hold our breath without realizing it. People might find themselves taking a big sighing breath after holding their breath without being aware of it. This is the body trying to regulate. Holding our breath can cause the nervous system to go into, or remain in, “fight-flight-freeze” (activated sympathetic nervous system). This can make it difficult to reactivate the parasympathetic nervous system (“rest-digest-repair”), which in turn perpetuates our mental, emotional, or physical stress.

Mindfulness, or awareness, can help you change this pattern and encourage your parasympathetic nervous system to promote restful sleep, nutrient absorption through digestion, and healing.


Ways Breathing and Mindfulness Can Help


Dealing with physical pain

When we are dealing with physical pain, a common reaction is avoidance. We attempt to avoid the pain by disconnecting or distracting our awareness away from it. Holding our breath is the short run, such as when we stub our toe and wince, is an automatic response. But when pain is chronic, doing this long-term can hinder the healing process. Breathing into aches and pains can be beneficial.

  1. First, become aware that you’ve been holding your breath.
  2. Next, take a deep gentle breath in and focus on the breath bringing softness to the body.
  3. As you slowly exhale, imagine your body relaxing even further.

This can be challenging at first, but with some practice, it can encourage relief and healing.


Mental and emotional stress

Getting caught up in ruminating, or repeating negative thought cycles, can cause us to hold our breath. Strong emotions are well known to affect our breathing patterns. When we anticipate something negative about to happen, or witness it, one of the most common automatic responses is to gasp. “Gasping” is a strong inhale followed by held breath. This notifies the nervous system that there is an emergency, a “red alert”. It elicits an unconscious “fight, flight, or freeze” response. We notice after a gasp, if everything is ok, a long exhale (often with puffed out cheeks in consternation). This slow exhale also signals the nervous system that the emergency “red alert” can be deactivated, and everything is ok. If we continue to hold our breath on a regular basis, the emergency according to the nervous system, is still active.

  1. Become aware (mindful) of your breathing when you feel strong emotions or notice negative thought patterns.
  2. Next, take a deep gentle inhale, first filling the belly, then the chest, with air.
  3. Exhale from the chest, and the belly last, drawing the navel in toward the spine.

Repeating this breathing practice for even a few minutes each day, can make a great impact on your nervous system and overall wellbeing.


For more information, join our upcoming “Breathe to Heal” Workshop, or book an appointment with me, Lisa Sabatini – Shamanic Healing Practitioner and Reiki Master for more support.

Meditation, Shamanic Healing


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