We teach people to normalize their breathing so as to improve their sleep and their health.
What came first? The feeling of anxiety or the Sigh?
Let us first look at why we Sigh. The Advanced English Dictionary (Version 10.0 2016) defines the Sigh as “an expression of fatigue, exhaustion, grief, sorrow, frustration or the like”.
It is an outward expression of our inner emotional state. In my experience, the Sigh attempts to dissipate or disconnect from a particular emotion. In my case, repeated Sighing was my body’s response to my persistent fatigue, lack of energy and inability to concentrate. I Sighed without even realizing I was doing it. In fact most of us are unaware of when we Sigh.
Professor C Lum in his article Hyperventilation: The Tip and the Iceberg published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, Vol 19, pp 375 to 383 1975) Great Britain states:
The movement (of hyperventilation) is the same as that employed in sighing, and indeed frequent sighs are a hallmark of hyperventilation. This type of breathing becomes habitual and the patient is usually unconscious of his sighs, although friends and family often comment.
Buteyko breathing discourages the Sigh. It is a symptom of dysfunctional or irregular breathing. It is not conducive to quiet and regular breathing. If repeated often enough the Sigh will result in excessive blowing off or exhaling of CO2. If too much CO2 is exhaled it can lead to a CO2 deficit in our blood gases which, in turn, can result in hypoxia to the brain. This scenario can and does lead to anxiety. As Professor Lum states:
Anxiety, in my experience, has usually been the product, not the prime cause (of hyperventilation).
Our body’s physical response to an emotional or physiological state is not always the best response. The physical response of the Sigh may be compared to the responsive urge to scratch a swollen mosquito bite. Although a momentary sense of relief is attained by scratching the bite, the consequent release of histamines actually intensifies the itch. The best response is not to scratch and to instead apply something cold like ice or soothing like chamomile lotion, which is rich in antihistamines.
Others may say that mental anxiety is actually the cause of irregular breathing, such as hyperventilation or frequent Sighing. It is certainly true that the parts of our brain known as the amygdala and the hippocampus play a role in reigniting memories of fears and threatening events which can lead to anxiety disorders.
But why create the circumstances for anxiety to occur or even worsen?
Perhaps the best example of how the Sigh attempts to disconnect from an emotional state is illustrated by the following scenario:
While gently breathing in and out of your nose recall your most beautiful memory or feeling of joy. It could be a loved one or a loved experience. By continuing to gently nasal breathe you will find that you are able to sustain that beautiful feeling. Now Sigh with your mouth open. Repeat that Sigh. Notice how your feeling or your connection to that feeling has been disconnected?
The opportunity to sustain that feeling will have been lost.
While we engage with our beautiful memory and continue to gently nasal breathe we will sustain the energy of that memory and remain connected to it. We will be able to work with it and continue to be aware of it in an acutely mindful way.
However, a Sigh will disconnect or dissolve our feeling associated with the memory.
So, by continuing to nasal breathe we can sustain the connection to the memory, the feeling and energy of the memory and of course to ourselves. By sustaining the connection we can ponder the dynamics of the feeling engendered by the memory. A Sigh – ironically even a romantic Sigh – will deprive us of the opportunity to hook the fish of memory.
It is far better for us to adopt a counter intuitive approach by navigating around the temptation to cross the Bridge of Sighs.