on Being Soft
Part two - fear abatement
scroll down for part one -
seriously - read them in order
Relaxing the pelvic floor
Now some of you good breathers can rejoin us.
There is another really important reason to get real friendly with your pelvic floor muscles.
If you can control them, you can conquer fear and stress.
I am not kidding.
When we are afraid or ‘stressed out’ we clench – we tighten our core muscles,
especially those abdominal ones I have been talking about.
Right now, imagine a scary, startling or stressful event.
Take that sucked in – scared breath and hold it.
The fight or flight breath.
Feel that clench? Tight all through.
You do this reflexively.
And when you do it, it puts pressure on the Vegas nerve at the base of the spine, which sends messages to the brain to panic. And within a couple of seconds the brain starts pumping all the stress chemical that you might need if you were really in a life-threatening situation. This is a biological survival technique.
The problem is that this reaction is set off all the time in situation that do not actually call for adrenaline and cortical steroids. Some people live in this clenched state. Some people have to use drugs (Rx and not) or alcohol to relax this clench.
This is very bad for your health – your body and brain were not meant to live ‘stressed’.
You will crash at some point.
The good news is that if you make friends with your pelvic floor you can turn this reaction off at will. You can stop panic attacks, phobias, anxiety and most of the physical symptoms of stress. You can decide if the situation warrants a full fight or run for your life response, and if not, you can stay mindful, present and non-anxious in the face of nearly anything. It takes practice - years of practice, but you can do it.
Anytime you feel that clench, triggered by any source, you have a couple of seconds to intervene and stop the chemical flow.
Now, nuts and bolts. You should be able to have three settings to your pelvic floor muscles;
1 - clenched – contracted (for women you have been taught Kegels – if you can stop the flow of urine mid-stream - that’s it – good to be able to do this – practice every time)
2- neutral – relaxed, neither contracted or expanded
3- expanded – convex on the in-breath (for women – like pushing a baby or expelling something from the vagina - guys - think about expelling something else)
It is the expanded position on the in breath that pulls the muscles away from the Vegas nerve and turns off the panic response. Then you return to the neutral position rather than the clenched. You should live in the neutral position. It should feel SOFT, not strained.
When you have a soft belly and pelvic floor you will be more mindful, more aware, and have more access to all your higher faculties. All martial arts master know this discipline – body ready and useful, but soft and aware.
Clenched warriors may be dangerous, but they are also most likely to die.
Soft warriors step aside as death rushes at them.
Most of us will thankfully never face a ninja in a death duel.
But this mindful, soft technique is useful for so many other things.
It allows the trauma healer to be present to people who need to speak about horror without taking on the trauma secondarily. I would think it would be very useful to police detectives; to anyone who must spend time with others who are in a stressed state. I have learned that anything that I received softly will have no power to hurt me. I remember it when I open and e-mail I think I am not going to like, or when I pick up a phone call I do not wish to take.
I use it with anything that scares me.
Many of your poor breathers, live clenched.
You have learned to live on those chemicals.
You may have no awareness of any muscles below your belly-button.
If this is you, and especially if you have a history of trauma, I want you to know that you do not have to live like this. You may have to work a long time, and you are going to need help – but you can reset your default to 'soft'. You will need a class – yoga or tai chi – with a teacher who can teach the breathing techniques really well, and you will need a counselor or spiritual director who is comfortable helping you look at your trauma from a relaxed place.
Don’t give up until you find this combination.
The Final Step
Combine the belly breathing and the soft pelvic floor with any contemplative prayer discipline. The serenity prayer, wordless prayer, the rosary – doesn’t matter.
Learn to breath and pray soft.
Then learn to do it while you do other things.
Then do it all the time.
I am not kidding.