Breathing through her foot

Win Wenger, Ph.D. has been studying and writing about breathing patterns for over 40 years.  He began with observing his own children.  His book, Beyond O.K. – Psychegenic Tools Relating to Health of Body and Mind (1979, Psychegenics Press) has a chapter, Breathing As A Way Of Life, in which he describes a number of breathing patterns and their uses.

Of course breathing techniques and practices have been central to traditions around the world for thousands of years, in particular the various Yoga traditions (especially Pranayama and Hatha Yoga). Win’s observations and techniques surely parallel some of those, but he makes them and their uses very accessible without one having to become immersed in these traditions.

My mother-in-law was with us in October 2009.  My wife drove her to Maryland from North Carolina and we drove her back a month later. She turned 85 in mid-month.

Maureen sings in church and enjoys many types of music. I got us all tickets to a concert on a Sunday, and she was looking forward to it.  But the day before, her right foot swelled up, with the pain going up her ankle and shin. She wasn’t able to get a shoe on, so she had to stay home, disappointed, while my wife and I went to the concert.

The next couple of days she put cold packs on the foot and elevated it, and the swelling started to go down. There was a community sing on Thursday that she wanted to go to, and it looked like she would be able to make it. But Wednesday evening the foot started to hurt and swell up again and it seemed like another disappointment was in the works.  And then I remembered something.

We were sitting in the dining room, waiting for dinner to cook. “Ma,” I said, “could you do this – take a deep breath in through your nose.”

“Ok,” she said, indulging me, and she did. Maureen is a skeptic when it comes to anything related to hypnosis, but this wasn’t that.

“Now,” I continued, “the next time I want you to imagine that the skin of your foot is permeable, filled with thousands of tiny holes, and I want you to imagine  that the air is coming in through that foot, and feel that air moving up through your ankle and shin.”

She took in another breath.

“Can you feel that?” I asked her, and she nodded yes. “Can you feel how cool and soothing that air is, as it travels up your ankle and shin?”

“Yes,” she said, sounding a little surprised at herself.

She kept breathing that way for a bit; then started to smile. “I think it feels better,” she said. Then, after a few more minutes, “I think the swelling’s going down,” the smile turning into a grin.

And it did!  She kept up her foot-breathing, on and off, and by Thursday afternoon, she was able to get her shoe on with no trouble, and the two of us went to the Sing. She kept doing it the rest of the month, and that foot didn’t give her any more trouble.

Each physical state, every emotional, intellectual, aesthetic experience has its own breathing pattern. Not only that, but we pick up, usually subconsciously, on the breathing patterns of others, sometimes even spontaneously synchronizing with them, below the level of awareness. And not only that – by consciously altering our breathing patterns we can affect and change our physical states and states of mind, just as I helped my mother-in-law to do. Win states, “You are how you breathe” – breathing serves as a two-way link between your conscious mind and your autonomic systems that control your physical and mental states.

Here are a few of the breathing patterns Win mentions.  For much more, check out his website.

Relief Breathing

Imagine that you are carrying a pair of heavy sacks of groceries in from the car. You pull out your keys and with difficulty balance the bags while you unlock the door, hoping you don’t drop them. You carry them in the house. One is slipping and the other is about to break. At last! – you get to the kitchen table and finally set them down. You take a deep breath in and heave a sigh of relief!  That is relief-breathing. Right now, breathe that way several times, and notice the change in the way you feel.

Exhilaration Breathing

Breathe in a number of times, each time imagining a different wonderful scent (salt sea air, oven-baking bread, etc) and all its associations. This is a technique which prevents or abolishes depression, grief, or other “down” feelings and de-conditions the stimuli which gave rise to them. Practice frequently.

Mirror Breathing

For self-esteem. Imagine yourself standing in front of a full-length mirror, breathing in delicious breaths, each one more delicious than the last. As you do you, you review your formative events and developments that have helped shape who you are. You examine your goals, and what things you have to do in order to achieve them.

Noise-Removal Breathing

This is a way to get comfortable with any pain, discomfort, or distress, past or present. You breathe calmly and slowly, taking six seconds or more with each inhale and each exhale. Imagine (feel, imagine, hear) the air coming in through the bottoms of your feet.  As it comes it, imagine it swirling piles of dried leaves or other debris out of the tissues and cells, as the air passes through them. And with each calm, slow, deep exhale, see this “noise” blown clean out of your system, flaming into bright sparks as it hits the open air, as you fill the open air around you with what has now become clean, life-enhancing energy.

Yawn Breathing

Continue with noise-removal-breathing, but let the yawns come up as they will.  Enjoy!

Heart Breathing

Breath in through your heart.  Notice how wonderful that feels!

Circular Breathing

Breathe slowly and calmly, inhaling and exhaling in one continuous motion, like the turning of a wheel.

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