The Phases of Respiration
Spontaneous and Anxious Respiration
In spontaneous respiration, from being at rest, inspiration stretches the muscles of the torso in a way that can be likened to an elastic that we stretch. It is therefore an active movement. Breathing out is the passive reaction of this elastic once we release it. The muscles that are mobilized for respiration thus return to their initial tone.
In a breathing exercise that is found in most body-mind methods, the therapist asks the patient to let the thoracic cage and the abdomen drop during exhalation as if one were letting go of a stone. This letting go during exhalation is impossible for someone who is tense or anxious. Chronic muscular tension raises the level of the basic muscle tone. As the muscles are less elastic, the variations in respiratory volume are limited.
The relationship between anxiety and the inhibition of respiratory activity is a good example of what I mean when I speak of a robust ancient knowledge about mind-body phenomena. I do not know if all anxious people have a troubled respiratory function, but the correlation is frequently observed. It has since been confirmed by most practitioners who have not waited for scientific research to use breathing exercises to reduce anxiety. The important point for body psychotherapy is the observation that an emotion is, among other things, a breathing pattern.