One of the most beneficial aspects of employing the medium of air with the seriously ill is the possibility of subtly helping their system regulate the rhythm of respiration. Breathing always reflects our state of mind, and certainly all our fears and anxieties. When we are ill – and especially when we come to the end of our life - a vicious circle can develop with anxiety leading to inadequate breathing, and inadequate breathing increasing anxiety, which in turn affects respiration for the worse and so on.
Time and again I have found that it is enough to gently accompany or faithfully mirror a patient’s – often irregular, and occasionally hardly perceptible - breathing so as to bring about relief and inner peace.
This can be done very simply by softly pressing an oval ball on which the person’s legs are comfortably resting: initially exactly in sync with the breathing rhythm. It’s important to explore which pattern works best: Pushing with the person’s out-breath and letting go with the in-breath, or vice versa. Once the individual’s nervous system is beginning to respond, one can begin to play with variations and thereby gently guide the system into finding greater calm and ease which will immediately be reflected in the quality of respiration. Here is just one example.
First I was in pain and then the pain had vanished
There was a time when I worked with several cancer patients. All were undergoing chemotherapy, all were feeling scared and uncertain about the future; and that was invariably reflected in the quality of their breathing. Dominique, for instance, felt thrown back into her childhood asthma after an extensive abdominal operation and especially during the onslaught of chemotherapy. We found that the best time for working together was during treatment-free periods when no poison was seeping into her body from an implant under the left clavicle, making her feel very, very ill. The most comfortable position for her was lying on her back with the legs supported by a big EGG ball.
This is what Dominique said one day about long-standing protective patterns and the impact of feeling herself coaxed out of such alienation:
“I have no peace. Maybe I am running away. It’s quite typical that I try to escape at certain moments. That was one of my main problems – especially at school and later at university. Whenever I was supposed to concentrate I just switched off. My parents used to say: ‘Dominique is always on the moon.’...
“What I liked best about our work together was the gentleness – that did me a lot of good. Also that you really took time and that we hardly talked at all so that I lost all sense of time. I managed occasionally to sink into my body. It was so nice for my belly, all the movements were so round and soft. I found it really amazing that there was hardly any resistance. Even now I can still remember the wonderful feeling in my legs. I can also remember that on one occasion I had a lot of pain in my abdomen. It rumbled like crazy and hurt incredibly much, but after the session all that had stopped. First I was in pain and then the pain had vanished”.
Thanks to those movements I sometimes succeed quite easily in breathing freely.
“Sometimes I felt lost; I seemed to forget to breathe altogether. I don’t know why. It’s to do with my head. It gets blocked or something like that, really stupid! Whenever I notice that I am not breathing any more, I think I will never get it right again. Sometimes that happens to me at night or in hospital. Suddenly I notice that and get frightened so that I begin to breathe as if I suffered from asthma. At such moments I feel totally helpless; and the more I tell myself: "1,2,3, now breathe in! Don’t be so stupid!" the less I feel able to get it going again. Trying to work it out in my head just leads to utter confusion. But with your help, thanks to those movements, I sometimes succeed quite easily”
Supporting the breathing