Elusive Breath

Seeking work and excellence in the arts requires focused training for our bodies to perform to the highest calibration and to highly technical demands. And yet, sometimes, even after all the training, all the preparation, it might feel like our body betrays, by losing our connection to something so basic as breathing.

It's so disappointing to be human, with inner parts of one’s personality not on board with the passions that lie close to our hearts. With parts that might especially get afraid because our artistic desires are so very near and dear to who we are as a person.

It’s so dang hard to be human!

[I guess I have the inconsistency of being human on the brain, as I wrote my last post about Embracing Inconsistency.]

This is what happens for me in those times that I've spiraled out of control under the pressure: adrenaline increases. My muscles tense in response, as I try to control the shaky feelings. As my adrenaline increases, so does the shallowness of my breathing.

Then my mind starts in on trying to fix it. “Take deep breaths. Take deep breaths. Focus on your breathing. Fix your breathing!” My head is barking orders to my lungs. My lungs are impervious to logical input. It’s like I’ve stuck a bellows in my lungs and I’m manually forcing the air in and out.

The physical discomfort takes me farther and farther from the focus of my music or collaboration.

And then parts of me are mad or frustrated, because whose body is this?!? Where did my arms and fingers go? What about my dreams and desires? Which furthers the cycle of more parts triggering each other, and moving farther from my best performing self.

Does this kind of pattern sound at all familiar to you?

If so, I have two suggestions.

First, oodles and oodles of compassion. This is so hard, and so frustrating, to be so very human in this way. To have goals, desires, longings, and our very primal needs for safety are getting in the way! Such an inner conflict. I've lived many years wanting to banish those pesky parts that are fearful. But what if, instead, we can have compassion for those fearful parts?

Can you find any amount of authentic compassion for yourself? One possible way to do this, is to see this normal body reaction as a part of you, and treat it like you might treat a fearful child. Fearful children do not get less fearful by yelling at them and blaming them. They get less fearful by treating them with love and support and safety, and setting up the right circumstances for success.

You do not need to quit performing just because one part of you gets scared! But if you can find out how those parts might like more support and what can make them feel safer, then maybe you can meet those needs.

For example, maybe you bring your own pianist to the auditions that you most care about. Or schedule a rehearsal with the hired audition pianist. Or maybe you’d like to create a sacred ritual before you walk on stage that is calming to your nervous system.

What creative ways might you find more safety for your scared parts?

Secondly, try looking inward to see what happens at the time that you lose your breath. As much as you can slow down your process and notice what triggers what, the more awareness you bring to your unique system, and the more specific you can get with your preparation.

Some possible questions that you might explore: When do you notice you get off track? What happens for you when you’re off track? Was there something that precipitated getting stuck? What came just before the stuck breathing, or the rush of adrenaline, or whatever it is that you notice in your body? What are the thoughts, words, or sentences that go through your brain? How does adrenaline affect your body? What feelings do you notice and where do you feel them?

In my most recent IFS training, I did some cool work with adrenaline as a part of me. I was able to create some space and separation between me and the adrenaline parts.

Adrenaline is triggered by the unconscious, I can’t control it. And yet, when separating from it – IT no longer controlled me. I had adrenaline coursing through my body, lit up and shaky, but there was a deeper sense of control. I could connect to the adrenaline and learn from it and hear it’s story, but it wasn’t in charge. AND I could deeply breathe.

Since breathing is both voluntary and involuntary, taking a multifaceted approach will help you find your best way to dealing with this issue. There are many resources out there for approaching the physical aspects of breathing, including good voice teachers, Alexander and Feldenkreis teachers, yoga classes, etc. Investing in good knowledge and good practice with your body is a very useful way to get to better breathing when under pressure.  

Sending you all my compassion for the times when your body doesn’t perform the way in which you hold the vision for your best performing self!