I have lived most of my life thinking that deep breathing (and all its cousins) were something people had, collectively agreed to B.S. about. Not because they were being malicious, but due to some sort of worldwide agreed-upon fiction.
Matching your breath to your yoga flow? Nonsense. Box breathing? Absolute malarkey. Exhaling during the exertion part of an exercise? As if.
And much like special breathing techniques, I didn’t really “get” mind-body connection, particularly in the context of fitness. “Engaging your core” continually eluded me, I legitimately had no clue what people were going on about.
In truth, I would even periodically reattempt to join in on this weird charade with no success. I knew what the words meant, that it was supposed to be technically possible, but just not for me.
Then one day that changed. First, though I’d like to share a little about why I had this problem in the first place.
Last year I had a minor but painful/annoying physical injury, and I found it triggered me a lot. My nervous system went into overdrive, and this was making my life very unpleasant. I came to the conclusion that I was going to need to figure out some of this mind-body stuff even though I’d been actively avoiding it for decades.
It’s important to know that I am also a person who experienced past trauma and has a subsequent diagnosis of C-PTSD. Due to this disorder, this disconnect occurs (in my opinion) in connection to how I dissociate and my triggers.
Much like many others just like me, dissociation, was part of how I coped as a child, both during and after trauma. This adaptation tended to work pretty well for me, maybe a little too well. What I didn’t know though was just how detached my mind-body connection would become.
Then there are triggers. Without getting too long-winded (pun intended) my breathing tends to slow or all out stop when I’m triggered, I also lose track of my body and surroundings. Sometimes by even attempting to attend to my breath and body, I can be triggered. Fun.
So how have I managed to get better in all this? Good Question.
1. A Great Therapist
One of my therapist’s most often repeated phrases is… “and breathe”.
When I am triggered or in an Emotional Flashback she regularly suggests I take a breath. Likewise, she reminds me to take in my surroundings and asks about what is going on in my body. This has been an ongoing thing with us for nearly 10 years, and while I always knew why she was doing it, I don’t think I really integrated it until the last year or two. Now on a regular basis, I am able to do this on my own, which is a whole new and exciting thing on my journey.
2. Tenacity and Patience
I have been involved in some type of treatment for nearly 20 years. It’s my experience that we do not rewire neural pathways or our nervous system in a quick fashion. There have been many times I didn’t think I was ever going to improve. There have been healthcare providers who were unhelpful or even re-traumatized me. But I’ve stuck with my healing journey regardless, and now here I am.
3. Unique Healing Connections
Sometimes in life, the stars align and you find just the right people at just the right time. This has been going on for me, particularly in this past year, and it has been truly amazing. I’ve found that when I feel safe and supported it’s much easier to do things like attend to my breath and body. It seems it’s also way more possible to share when I am needing some support, and then get a helpful response.
I took a calculated risk and decided to work at trusting some additional professionals that I’d gotten good vibes from, and this was not easy. There was a lot of crying and a lot of fear. Yet I was rewarded for my bravery and got a lot more supportive hand-holding, hugs, breathing, and grounding- and these were very needed things.
Likewise I now no longer feel overly embarrassed to let my people know when I have no idea what they are talking about or that I’m not too sure how to do something they are suggesting. I’m also able to lead things at my pace, and there is an overall recognition that for me the “little things” are not that “little” and are worthy of celebration.
For the first time in my life, I’ve begun to allow someone to teach me strength training, I’m now getting way better at inhaling and exhaling along with my yoga moves, noticing new muscles that I can control, remembering to breathe when activated, and I know there’s even more that I can’t think of right now.
Some of these helpful people have been new and old friends, my massage therapist, my chiropractor, a yoga teacher, some other rad mental health people, and of course my therapist. And thanks to them along with my hard work, I’m improving.
I want to offer that if you have experienced trauma and have a hard time in these same areas, you aren’t alone, it’s not your fault, and that over time this can get better. I’m still in the very beginning stages, but I know I will keep improving with support. It does take a lot of work, it doesn’t happen quickly, but it turns out it’s not all nonsense.
If you’d like to follow along with my journey, you can find me on Instagram as @mentalhealthyxe.
Heidi Fischer is a mental health advocate who lives in Saskatoon, Canada. Heidi enjoys writing about her personal experience with C-PTSD, Depression, and Anxiety. Heidi is the creator of a popular mental health Instagram called @mentalhealthyxe and can also be found on her website mentalhealthyxe.com.