Moving with the breath: A Case Study
Andrew was sent to us by a close friend, he had suffered a severe panic attack at the office, which left him unable to drive back home. He felt nausea, headaches and pressure in the back of the head, a feeling of being “frozen” and unable to move. After his first incident at work, he took some time off and was considering stopping work for a longer period of time, due to possible “burn out”. But staying at home seemed to make things worse in his mind, because he had a family to take care of and high expectations of a promising career. He had also experienced the particularly traumatic loss of his mother just a few months earlier. Andrew felt “stuck”, physically, mentally and emotionally.
From a therapeutic perspective, teaching Andrew a breathing technique straight away would have been completely pointless. The respiratory muscles around his chest, rib cage and back were rigid and tight. His belly was hard and very tense. In Andrew’s case, as in many others where tension and extreme stress are the causes, the more we encourage him to “breathe”, the more tense he becomes. Focusing directly on the breath can be stressful for a total beginner, or for anyone suffering from panic attacks, so the only way to “wake up” the breath is to take the attention away from the area concerned and invite the whole body to move gently with the breath.
The movements that we started with were slow and basic, we practiced a technique called moving with the breath which works wonders for cases like Andrew. Moving with the breath is also very helpful for anyone who finds themselves struggling with stressful situations. Soon Andrew started to feel better, even though we had to slow down sometimes, and it took only a few sessions for him to laugh (one of the best breathing exercises) and get on with his life. Moving and breathing also helped him to clear his mind and make wiser decisions, therefore reducing his stress levels and enabling him to feel better equipped to handle any possible panic attacks in the future.
Andrew’s story is not that uncommon. More and more people are becoming aware that correct breathing is a big piece of the puzzle, and moving with the breath is an extremely helpful tool to start with. So the answer to the question of what we should be focusing on, “moving or breathing?” is actually, both.