The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, November 16, 2012

Take a deep breath (five times a day!)

So I'm finally beginning to edit the transcript for the Erotic Intelligence workshop with Amara from last weekend, with an eye toward creating our new product. There will be many many things to talk about in connection with it, but the first to pop up was the following quote, dealing with one of the "third rails" of the human body-mind: the survival instinct.

"And you can get in touch with your survival simply by slowing down your breathing to the point that carbon dioxide builds up in your blood and the panic button in the back of your head goes off. It’s great because the disciplines that slow your breathing down like that are teaching you to relax through stress. It’s beautiful. These things are not just esoteric. They’re also extraordinarily practical."

So much that could be said here. But one of the most important ones is just the question of clarity. There are so many different aspects of life that attract our attention, so much complication and so many petty, tangled motivations. You can worry about your mortgage, your receding hairline, your crabgrass and/or who your co-workers are giggling at behind your back. It can be difficult to apportion our limited human energy, and one of the first things to do is clarify your priorities. There are two basic ways that work:

1) Survival first.
2) Love first

Slowing your breathing down until you are below about three respirations per minute will, as said, increase the amount of carbon dioxide in your blood. Cardio-respiratory distress is a fear response, and if you continue you will begin to feel the alarms going off in your head. Relaxing decreases muscle tension, which burns less oxygen (thereby easing the stress) but also teaches you to relax under emotional stress.

Relaxing under emotional stress is a very positive habit, allowing one to maintain a balanced perspective, from which you can see the available options more clearly. Stress/strain creates tunnel vision, as well as rigidity of thought. PRECISELY the wrong responses in a life-and death situation, or running a business, or writing a term paper, or negotiating a family argument.

The law of requisite variety basically says: If a system is to be stable the number of states of its control mechanism must be greater than or equal to the number of states in the system being controlled" or to put this in more human terms, in any situation, more potential options tend to be better for problem solving than fewer.

(There are exceptions, of course. A famous story about a fox with a thousand ways to escape the hound pack, and a cat who had but one comes to mind. When the hounds arrived, the fox couldn't decide which of his thousand to use, and the cat ran up the tree. Oh, well...)

But at any rate, learning to control the breathing is a powerful, generative activity with near-infinite depth. But just on the surface, problems lead to stress lead to panic, leads to a narrowing of perceived options, leading to more problems.

And conversely, if one adds controlled breathing to the equation, then stress leads to an adaptive breathing response, which triggers both energy AND relaxation, which leads to sharper more flexible thinking, which leads to solutions, leading to growth.

All from a little conscious breathing. I can't wait until ├ůmara and I can conduct our full workshop, and actually teach and integrate all of the different basic aspects of human existence from the dozens of different world traditions that have explored this.

And for my half, it will happen from survival "up" and from the heart "out." And never, ever, ever from the head down.



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