On Breathing

The Haven’s main claim to being scientific is the research on breathing. This is correct–to a point. Some breathing techniques are helpful. Some are not. Some are even harmful.

Our bodies are intelligent, we regulate our breathing without conscious awareness in ways that best suit the situation. Indeed I have heard counsellors at rehab suggest not breathing in certain situations. This is the body’s natural response to trauma–and it is a wise one. Breathing rapidly or deeply to elicit extreme emotional reactions–that is something that the science does not support.

This is similar to the critique on catharsis and explains the hyper–almost adolescent–energy that often exists at Haven. There is no evidence that hyperarousel does anyone any good, though I am willing to hear any scientific claims to the contrary. I have not found them. Balance is key, and our bodies naturally have evolved to do this for us, just as language has naturally evolved over centuries. To tamper with either is unwise. A Wittgenstein film clip on language does a good job of explaining the language portion. I am sure that I will be told to read Gabor Mate as an argument for breathing. I am unconvinced.

The point, I believe, is to maintain a state of being present that is neither dissociated nor hyperaroused. There is no scientific evidence that feelings are buried within us and must be cast out like an exorcism. I knew the science when I was at Haven but tried to ignore it. Being critical was not met with good reception.

My personal experience also doesn’t support the notion of bringing excessive emotional reactions to the surface. There are other things going on in counselling that are supportive to expression of emotion, but it is not exorcism or catharsis. It is personhood and mainly works when we abandon scripts and analysis.

When we aren’t triggered, we may focus on our breath in meditation–not to change our bodies but to be with them. Breathing a bit deeper just to gain a sense of calm can be useful. That is as far as the science goes on breathing techniques. When we are triggered, we may respect the wisdom of our bodies to shut down a little. Our bodies are smarter than we are.

That is what the science says.


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