MIDL contains specific skills for lowering the experience of anxiety in your daily life by using easy to learn, MIDL Mindfulness Softening Techniques.
Anxiety is a normal response to an unknown or dangerous situation and part of the natural protection mechanism within your mind; your mental immune system. You are here, reading this now, because your ancestors were survivors. (article continued below)
This survival response (stress response), has been handed down to you from your ancestors to prepare your mind and body for dangerous situations. The stress response itself is not a problem if it turns off when no longer needed.
The problem arises if you are continuously exposed to stressful situations and become averse towards the unpleasantness of this survival response.
"I don't like this feeling!"
Because of this reaction your mind will start to view its own protection mechanism, the anxiety, as being dangerous. The survival part of your mind will then start to defend against the anxiety in the only way it knows how; by increasing the stress response and the level of anxiety that you experience.
This then locks in the anxious cycle, your mind is attacking your mind. You can experience this as starting to become anxious about being anxious, fearful about being fearful, depressed about being depressed etc.
Your mind is now fighting against itself in a battle that can never be won.
This habituated anxious cycle has another effect that keeps it locked in motion. Part of the survival mechanism of the stress response is the changing of breathing patterns; from diaphragmatic in your belly, to short, shallow breathing in your upper chest in preparation for fight or flight.
With continuous stress or anxiety, chest breathing becomes habitual and the diaphragm muscle weakens making it difficult to re-engage in respiration. Your body now mimics the stress response, with stress chest breathing, making your mind believe it is still in stress it becomes hyper-vigilant and hyper-sensitive.
I have taught hundreds of people to understand their experience of anxiety and to lower or completely remove it through MIDL Mindfulness Softening Techniques for retraining stress breathing patterns. Be gentle with yourself, anxiety itself is a natural function of your mind trying to protect you.
Your task is to teach your mind that right now, is safe.
Learn to breathe deeply to lower your experience of anxiety. Practice daily for a period of 3 - 4 weeks or until your breathing pattern changes.
Exercise to retrain natural autonomous diaphragm breathing.
Longer version includes exercise for opening of rib cage.
Your breathing patterns, like anything else can become habitual. Every time you have experienced stress, anxiety, trauma in you life, your body has changed the way that it breathes to help you to cope with the dangerous situation. Your stress response has altered your breathing from relaxing, diaphragmatic breathing in your belly to short shallow breathing in your upper chest. If stress breathing happens regularly then the diaphragm muscle loses condition and chest, stress breathing becomes natural to you.
To help you feel the diaphragm muscle cough a few times now, notice when you do this you can feel your diaphragm muscle moving up and down within your belly.
Now laugh, can you feel the movement in your belly?
This is also your diaphragm muscle, it is this muscle that is engaged in autonomous breathing and the one you strengthen during this mindfulness training. You will notice that when you cough or laugh your diaphragm moves down and up quickly. While useful for coughing, laughing, talking or singing this fast movement of our diaphragm does not help us to breathe deeply and lower our anxiety experience.
For this exercise we start by laying down flat on the floor, we do this because for most people it is easier in the beginning to feel the movement of the diaphragm this way. After a few practices this same exercise can also be done seated or in a balanced, standing position.
Laying down, we place a pillow under our head and a rolled blanket under our knees to protect our back if needed. We then place our hands with one palm either side of our belly with fingers touching in the middle just below the belly button slightly pressing them inwards.
Pressing lightly with our finger tips is useful so that we will be able to feel the pressure from the movement within our belly. Breathing is done in and out through our nose for health reasons as well as it creating a back-pressure with the diaphragm for a slow, calming out-breath.
We then breathe in gently with the focus of slowly lifting up our fingers. We are careful of over-straining at this stage, we see how gently and effortlessly we can breathe into our belly. Also if we find it hard to breathe down into our belly, feeling tightness below our ribs, it is usually because we are misunderstanding breathing with the diaphragm and trying to breathe in using our chest instead of our diaphragm.
Once we have found a rhythm in breathing we make the in-breath and out-breath slow, particularly emphasizing the slowness of the breath as it goes out. This keeps the C02 in the lungs longer and helps the imbalance of C02 levels associated with stress breathing to return to balance.
If our breathing rate is short this is ok. If chest stress breathing has become natural for us then it is normal for the diaphragm movement on the in-breath to only last for short time - this is part of why we are doing this exercise. Because of the shortness in the movement of the diaphragm in the beginning we may feel as if we are not getting enough air. If needed to we can take an extra breath.
Once the movement of the diaphragm slows down and lengthens and we will become accustomed to breathing slowly through our nose, the feeling of needing more air will go away. Our aim should be to lengthen the in-breath and out-breath by slowing down the diaphragm movement. This is done by paying attention to the very beginning of the movement of the in-breath, starting it slowly, and paying attention to the very beginning of the out-breath and also starting it slowly. In this way our breathing will lengthen.
The most important part to focus on is learning to release the out-breath slowly. We do this to allow the depleted C02 levels caused by the hyperventilation to re-balance, and as a basis of using the breathing as a vehicle for deep mental relaxation during MIDL softening techniques.
There are certain things that we need to be aware of that can hinder diaphragm breathing exercises. During this process if you feel a tightness of the breath as you breathe in, it is possible that you are breathing from the top of your chest and using your in-breath to try to push the diaphragm downwards – this will not work.
The diaphragm is a dome and can not be pushed down – it needs to be pulled. It can be helpful to think of your diaphragm as being an upside down plunger, when you pull the handle downward the plunger will suck in air, as you push it back up it expels it. To move your diaphragm, think of pulling it downwards rather then pushing it.
Placing your finger tips below your belly button and pressing in slightly is helpful to feel this. The focus is then on breathing so that you lift your finger tips upwards rather then on trying to take a deep breath. Once you can feel the movement of the diaphragm your next task is to train your breathing to move from your belly up into your chest. As mentioned earlier when we experience stress our breathing reverses and as we take a breath in, moves from the top of our chest downwards. The second part of this exercise reverses this breathing.
It is helpful to have one palm below your belly button and one on the top of your chest below your collar bone. You now start your breath in your belly so that your lower hand starts to lift and then start to move the breath to the top of your chest.
It is also helpful to push your ribs outwards and to physically help your chest lift and open in this early stage. Stress breathing lowers the flexibility of your rib cage through its lack of movement so we need to help our chest expand in the beginning.
As your diaphragm moves down your lungs will start to fill, as you make space by raising your chest you will feel them fill to the top of your chest. Now allow your whole body to relax as the breath goes out. You then repeat it again: belly – ribs – top of your chest – relax. Belly – ribs – top of your chest – relax. With practice your lungs will raise your chest by itself and you will no longer have to help it.
Once you have completed this next stage your task is to get out of the way – literally. You allow your breath to fully go out then relax and wait. Your brain will then fire a signal and take over the breathing for you, your diaphragm will have re-engaged and move freely and gently within your belly.
Be careful of mental control at this time, it can be helpful to bring your attention away from the breathing and into the touch of your body on the floor.
At this stage we need to allow the breathing to happen autonomously. You are now working with two things, relaxing the minds desire to control the diaphragm and return back to stress breathing and also being aware of the gentle movement of the diaphragm in your belly so that your brain starts to realise that this is what breathing is supposed to feel like.
Your breathing patterns reflect your state of mind in daily life. Retraining your breathing patterns to lower anxiety can be divided into two parts: The above breathing exercise to retrain your breathing and observation of changes in your breathing pattern throughout the day.
This training also has an affect on our daily life, the sensitivity we develop to the breathing process, allows us to see every time stress breathing switches on. It can be helpful at first, throughout the day, to ask your self one question:
“Where am I breathing now, is it in the chest or in the belly?”
If your breathing has moved up into your chest then the stress response has been switched on – you are resisting something - this is ok - it is habitual. You can re-engage natural, autonomous breathing by placing your palms just below your belly button and lightly pressing your finger tips inward. Taking slow, deep breaths so that your lower part of your belly presses against your finger tips.
Make the breaths in your belly slow and gentle especially emphasising the slowness of the out-breath, this engages the diaphragm muscle. In-breaths and out-breaths are taken through the nose.
After these three breaths you may feel a little light headed, this is normal when we re-engage the diaphragm, just allow the depleted C02 levels 10 seconds to re-balance and you will feel mental clarity and calmness return to you.
When starting this MIDL training of sensitivity to diaphragm breathing within daily life you may find that throughout the day, every time you check in, that your diaphragm has locked and breathing moved up into your upper chest. This is ok, you are working with a habitual defensive pattern; you just need to retrain your mind.
Think of it like giving up cigarettes, you want to give up so you throw the cigarette away and the ten minutes later you pick up another one. You throw it away and then find yourself picking up another one. Again, every time you fall back into the habit you become more disenchanted with the process until finally when you put it down you no longer have any desire to smoke again. This is the same process. Through patient re-engaging of your diaphragm throughout the day, autonomous breathing will become your natural breathing.
You will experience your breath moving in your belly throughout the day and only moving up into your chest during physical exertion, it will then naturally return to autonomous breathing. At this stage your experience of anxiety and stress will be much lower, more importantly you will have created your viewing platform for MIDL.
This gentle movement of your diaphragm in your belly is now an extremely sensitive reflection of your state of mind. Any time you mentally resist anything throughout the day, your breathing pattern will reflect this – and because of the sensitivity developed, you will notice the very moment your breathing pattern changes. Your sensitivity to changes within your breathing patterns then becomes the foundation from which to observe heart & mind.
From this viewing platform you will be able to observe any time your mind resists an experience at one of your six senses throughout the day.
On observing this change in your breathing you will then gently re-engage your diaphragm with three slow, gentle breaths in the belly, then Soften Into any emotional response through bringing the breath up into your chest and relaxing with a slow out-breath.
In this way the stress response is turned off, all resistance dissolved and through Mindful non-participation you start to target and decondition any habitual defensive emotional responses or personality traits that arise within you. You will start to strip back the layers of resistance to life, you start to Soften as a person, become less defensive, more open, the path becomes clearer to you.
I would love to hear from you and am happy to answer any questions you may have about lowering your experience of anxiety. I am also available in private Skype sessions if you would like personal tuition in this and other MIDL mindfulness based techniques for lowering anxiety and trauma.