Last week I began reading the book Imagine a Woman in Love With Herself by Patricia Lynn Reilly. FANTASTICALLY AMAZING. The book title is a poem the author wrote, and she breaks down each stanza and goes into further detail, provides stories and meditations. After one of the earlier stanzas, she talks about ‘coming home to the breath’ and she notes that in the beginning when we were all little girls, we breathed deeply through our bellies. Yet, each time we were criticized in our homes, we would begin to breathe from a the more shallow upper chest while tightening our abdominal muscles. Reilly goes on to say that this is a “fight or flight” breath and that our socialization sets us up to fight our natural self and banish it to our depths or take flight from it by finding and participating in any number of distractions.
When I first read this, it hit me hard. My memory started playing clips from my childhood where my mother was saying, “Suck in your stomach!” over and over again. When you’re constantly sucking in your stomach, you can’t do belly breathing. I was so intent on constantly having my stomach sucked in growing up that I wouldn’t ever NOT suck it in around others – especially romantic interests, and especially if we were being intimate. Today, I almost have a 6 pack, which I owe predominantly to my mother (sucking in your stomach is a constant ab workout).
After reading this section, and in the spirit of learning how to love myself again, I began doing belly breathing. All the time. And I began trying to look at my belly and feel it while I’m breathing and appreciate its roundness and its curves and love it. It’s been fascinating for me because unless I’m consciously thinking about breathing, my breathing reverts back to that tight-upper chest breathing. I’ve also been catching myself sucking my stomach back in if I start to pass by people and I need to choose consciously to belly breathe again. I figure it makes sense – after all, it took me a while to learn to breathe so shallowly, naturally, it’ll take a while to break that habit. And each time I belly breathe, I breathe healing into myself and wholeness.