Breathing for Mental and Bodily Calm

Meditation, sports psychology, emotional intelligence and relationship counselling all give a central role to breathing for mental and bodily calm. Whether taking deep slow breaths, doing patterned breathing (like 4-7-8 breathing) or simply being aware of the breath, this basic bodily function is a gateway to calm.

This is established practical knowledge in all the fields mentioned above and I use it in mindfulness training, executive coaching, doing therapy, cross-fit and occasional disagreements with Vivian. However, the physiology underlying this effect is only now being investigated in detail.

We’ve known that breathing biases the body towards parasympathetic autonomic states but not how that happens. This NYTimes article (I think this might be pay-walled) refers to a couple of recent articles in the journals Nature and most recently Science (this takes you to the abstract) describing the identification of a bundle of about 3000 molecularly differentiated neurons in the brainstem (reptilian-ish brain) which sense and influence each others’ activity and the body’s breathing state which in turn then influences the body’s arousal state which then influences …..

(Complex, recursive feedback systems seem to be the rule in our physiology.)

It is still early days and the articles describe the actions of only (that’s an ironic “only”, folks) two of the cell varieties and their function but I’m sure we’ll be seeing more detail from these folks over the next year or so.

So we’re beginning to get down to physical causation of this marvellous aspect of our embodied selves.  I always like to have practical experience backed up with as much detail on how things work as possible. There’s the definition of a “user” and a “tech” which says that a user only cares THAT things work where the tech cares HOW they work. I’m a hybrid: happy enough when I have a practice which works but even happier when I know, even in a sketchy way, how it works.

If you’re happy just knowing THAT breathing is a great tool for calming or self-soothing, great! Keep using it in confidence. If you’re like me in having your confidence grow as you increase your picture of HOW it works, keep using it and enjoy the articles. I hope they build your confidence in these natural and powerful practices of breathing for mental and bodily calm.

Are You Looking for Help?

If you would like help dealing with difficult emotions or strains in your relationship , then please CALL me to see if we can work together!

Anger and Relationship: Where Anger isn’t the Main Issue

If you are in, or have been in a relationship then you’ve most likely been angry and have had anger directed at you. And we’ve all been in relationships, even if the latest for you is child with parent. However, it may be that anger isn’t the main issue.

Anger is painful, both for the person angered and the person they are angry at. Even witnessing anger, if it’s close to you or the angry person is important to you, can be painful.  And yet anger is a very important emotion: it’s there in its simplest form to energise us, to mobilise body and mind, to defend ourselves, our space or our interests.

When Anger is Unacceptable

Let’s be clear: we are all entitled to feel our emotions when they arise, even anger. However, we are NOT entitled to express them to or at others in ways which threaten, frighten, denigrate or otherwise try to dominate them. This article is NOT about anger that is expressed in those harmful ways but about the normal ranges of anger that occur in almost all relationships.

We, of course, complicate anger; when we are angry we may be in a much more complex state than simple self defence. Our complex brain-body makes inevitable a complex interplay of our basic emotions, social conditioning, moral values, expectations and desires. This can lead us to be angry as an end result of a mass of entangled causes. This is especially true in relationships with those who are important to us.

The Anger Iceberg (Gottman Blog)

Check out the blog The Anger Iceberg on the Gottmans’ web site  which looks in detail at the sub-texts of anger in relationships and gives some techniques to deal with your own anger.

Let’s also look a bit more deeply into the relationship issues the blog hints at. We often become angry when our partner’s deeds or words have stirred other, perhaps more vulnerable, emotions in us. In the example in the blog Dave got angry when his wife, let’s call her Amelie made a request of him.

As the blog explains, Dave was reacting to feelings of helplessness in being unable to meet what he felt as excessive demands from Amelie.

A Deeper Look at the Relational Dynamics

The causes which have their result in Dave’s anger are deeper and more relational than simple anger. If Dave simply does an anger management course, he will still feel helpless and put upon, Amelie will feel perhaps a lack of the involvement from him that she’s looking for, Dave may simply stonewall and the relationship will continue to suffer.

Moving Towards Healthy Relationship

The route to improving the relationship needs at least

  • Dave to be able to talk to Amelie directly about his feelings of helplessness,
  • Amelie to be able to hear and respect his feelings.
  • Amelie to be able to explain what she’s trying to accomplish by her requests (what are her expectations of his help in the relationship and what’s missing).
  • The two of them to discuss respectfully how they each can come closest to meeting the expectations of the other without surrendering their own vital interests.

Very often however, we arrive at adulthood without the knowledge or skills to initiate and continue conversations like this, which are packed with emotion for us, without falling into behaviours which destroy the possibility of reaching or building mutual understanding and which, over time wear away at the fabric of our relationship.

The heart of couples therapy for me is exactly helping couples to learn and build the skills that allow disagreements to become relationship enhancing experiences instead of being the grit that wears away at the love and liking that got them together in the first place. If anger isn’t the main issue, why let it wear away at your relationship?

Are You Looking for Help?

If you would like help dealing with difficult emotions and strains in your relationship , then please CALL me to see if we can work together!

Relationship Glue

This article in Business Insider is a look at a central finding from John Gottman’s research into the relationship glue that keeps relationships working. This research informs the relationship therapy that Vivian and I practice.

Relationship Glue

In our relationships we are always communicating or attempting to communicate with our partner. Critical to relationship health are the minute to minute particulars of this communication.

  • How kind and friendly are we to our partner in those small interactions?
  • What are the messages that we’re sending about our care for him/her and our life together?

The main idea of the article is the impact on our relationship of how we respond to our partner’s attempts to start communication. The Gottmans calls these attempts “bids for attention”. They may be trivial remarks: “Look at that bird!” “What a beautiful looking day.” “It’s still raining.” “I’m glad that day’s over/It’s nice to be home”. Or they may be direct queries: “How was your day?” “What’s your plan for today?

How Strong is Your Glue?

How often those bids get a positive response, what Gottman calls a “turning towards” response, is a very reliable guide to the strength and future of the relationship:

“These bidding interactions had profound effects on marital well-being. Couples who had divorced after a six-year follow up had “turn-toward bids” 33 percent of the time. Only three in ten of their bids for emotional connection were met with intimacy. The couples who were still together after six years had “turn-toward bids” 87 percent of the time. Nine times out of ten, they were meeting their partner’s emotional needs.”

  • How aware are you of your partner’s bids?
  • How aware are you of your usual style of response?
  • Do you affirm him/her or do you shut him/her down by “turning away” responses?
  • Are you building or eroding your relationship?

The article extends this theme to fighting styles and later on breaks bid responses into four styles: “ active destructivepassive destructivepassive constructive, and active constructive“. These four styles have increasing positive effect on the relationship.

Think of the destructive styles as sandpaper with active destructive being very coarse: these wear away at your partner’s sense of security and friendship in the relationship. Even passive constructive fails to convey an actively kind and positive regard: “Yes, that’s nice, Dear. What’s for dinner?”

Keys to Success

  • The first key is awareness: do you know what you are doing?
  • The second is your relationship goal: do you want to improve this relationship or are you (unconsciously?) sabotaging it?

If you want to learn more about becoming a “master of relationship” instead of a “disaster of relationship” please give me a call or contact me here.

Enjoy the article.