A Coaching Power Tool Created by Joni Holub
(Life Coach, USA)
I once had a Massage Therapy client who took her breaths in tiny precious sips through her nose. Short little bursts of oxygen punctuated her speech and her silence. Her life was filled with stress and confinement and she literally could not breathe. Knowing how precious and life giving breath is, it was painful for me to experience, even second hand, the holding of breath, emotions and potential. I kept the hope that someday she would breathe, deeply and fully, and experience the expansion of her lungs, chest, emotions and her perception of her world.
My first step in exploring this topic was to research the words that I was utilizing for my Power Tool. These are the definitions found in the Merriam Webster Dictionary:
- The act or power of breathing
- A slight breeze
- Air inhaled or exhaled in breathing
- Spoken sound
- The act or process of expanding
- The quality or state of being expanded
- An expanded part or thing
- POSSESS; also : KEEP
- To support, remain, or keep in a particular situation or position
- SUSTAIN; also : RESERVE
- To hold within a location; also : IMPRISON
We’ve all encountered the uncomfortable feeling in physical situations where we are conscious of being confined in a holding pattern. We feel the loss of freedom and productivity and that sense of “stuck-ness”. For instance; traffic jams on the highway, circling patterns on an airplane, even being confined inside working on an absolutely beautiful day. We are conscious of the fact that we are physically restrained and we are not happy. At the first possible opportunity, we run for freedom! Find the next highway exit! When the airplane taxis into the terminal we are up on our feet ready to charge out! Physical confinement is easy to identify.
Other entrapment’s however are less easy to identify on a conscious level and even harder from which to free ourselves. For instance, take someone who has a “great job” at a prestigious company, with fabulous pay and benefits. The spouse can choose to work, or not. She/he travels in the most exclusive circles and never has to worry about money. Her/his kids have all the advantages like private school, expensive vacations, private clubs, etc. There is enough money to do whatever they want. This is the lifestyle that he/she has worked and strived for.
It took hard work and sacrifice to get there, but something is wrong…… Life has lost its luster. She/he hardly gets to see their privileged children and has lost touch with their spouse. There is fatigue, depression, anxiety. Sleeping pills are needed at night and anti-depressants during the day. Maybe a raise would help….. Maybe a trip to Europe or the Caribbean….. Maybe a different prescription….. The focus remains on possessing the dream that keeps the holding pattern in place, no matter how miserable they feel. With all of the perks of this career, it can sometimes be almost impossible to identify that the dream has become a prison. Emotions must be restrained in order to continue on towards the initial goal.
Another scenario could be someone stuck in a low paying, demeaning job feeling like they have no skills or means for advancement. How about someone close to retirement suddenly needing more income but concerned that their age will be a deterrent in a much younger workplace? It doesn’t all have to be about money either. People stay in damaging marriages because they cannot see how they could possibly break free and survive. Some people are imprisoned by the constraints that they have allowed others to put on them (“Your father, grandfather and great grandfather were all doctors” or “Your family has always worked in that factory), thus adopting these constraints as their own. In all of these situations, these people are allowing themselves to be confined to a holding pattern which does not allow them to find their true happiness and fulfillment.
Curl your fingers and thumb together to make a “scope” and then tighten it in to be very narrow. Now find a spot to focus on and look through the “scope”. It could be a picture, or a spot of grass, the petals on just one flower or maybe just a spot on the wall. Spend a few minutes (or more if you have it) looking only at this one spot. Try to imagine that this is all there is in life, this spot and your reaction to it. Now, widen the scope a bit, then a bit more until you take the scope away. At each step the world is much different. You have expanded your perspective and allowed many more possibilities to present themselves. Expansion is a tool that can be utilized to allow us to see our confinement. Breath and breathing are tools that can help us to become more conscious and envision the expansion.
The act of consciously breathing has been utilized for centuries to center and stop the “monkey chatter” in our brains that limit our ability to see things as they really are. It calms our emotions and bodies allowing us to relax and let go of our preoccupations and perseverations. When we empty our minds of all of the clutter, all sorts of possibilities can then surface without resistance. Expanding our vision of our world with physical and/or metaphorical inhalation we can expand our limiting beliefs and perception of our world and our place in it.
When we are born our vision of the world is very small and close. If we are lucky, it is the faces of our mother and father as we are lovingly fed, bathed and rocked to sleep. As our vision begins to expand so does our perception of the world. That world takes on new dimensions when new tastes, mobility and speech begin to take us to new places and experiences. Every day is full of wonder at the expansion of our reality. Everything is new and inspires exploration. We change daily in just about every direction.
However, when we start school, we learn what someone else wants us to learn. We take on the responsibility of pleasing others. We must do well for our teachers and parents. There’s not as much time to explore on our own. We are expanding our minds with knowledge, but maybe not in the direction that we might want it to go. We are taught how to live “in the box”. From Kindergarten we aspire to get to 1st grade. From grade school we aspire to get to Middle School and from there can’t wait to get to High School. If we stop at High School, we are told that our chances are slim to succeed in life. We’re looking at low paying jobs and bleak futures. If we choose to further our education, we strive to get into a good college and then commit to our path in life, often before we even know what that means to us! While expanding our minds in scholarly ways, we can be narrowing our possibilities and locking ourselves into a holding pattern. This narrow scoped learning situation can happen in all aspects of our lives, for example; relationship expectations, self-image, societal limitations, religious beliefs, parenting patterns, nutritional habits, etc.
This is where the breathing/expansion tool comes in. By breathing both physically and metaphorically into the image of the current situation and expanding it to include other potentialities, it creates the opportunity to explore and “try on” other realities. Questions like “If you could do anything at all without limitations, what would that be?” or “What do you absolutely love to do when given the opportunity?” or “What sorts of things do you daydream about?” could be an opening to start the childlike, excited exploration needed to begin the scope expansion. The simple act of the aforementioned exercise of using your hand as a fist is a great visual tool in approaching this topic.
- What do the words holding & confinement conjure up for you?
- What do the words breathing & expansion conjure up for you?
- Take a moment to do some very deep breathing. Describe how it feels to expand your lungs/chest/abdomen all the way to its limits?
- Do some shallow breathing. Describe how it feels to confine your breath.
- Form your hand into a “scope” and narrow it down so that you can barely see through it. Now pick something, for example; a picture, a page in a book, a tree or flower, and look at part of it through this scope. Then bit by bit, noting the changes, widen the “scope” and see how your view of this reality transforms. How can you relate this to your life?
- What are the visceral feelings that you have in your body when you think of your present reality?
- Breathe into and expand your consciousness. If you could do/be anything, what would that be?
- Expand on this. Describe what that would look/feel/sound/taste like?
- What are the visceral feelings that you have in your body when you put yourself in this new reality?
- How do you think you could bring these feelings into your life now?
- Where would you begin?