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Learning Relaxation when Breathing Deeply Is Not an Option

16 Sep

A while ago we got this question from a concerned husband, whose wife has a condition that makes it hard to breathe. She can’t do the usual relaxation preliminaries:
Dear BR,

Many of your guided imagery meditations have to do with breathing.  What if people suffer from a disease where they have trouble breathing, or are even using oxygen?  What do they do then?  This is the case with my wife.

Ralph P.

Dear Ralph,

Thanks for asking.  You’re absolutely right that for someone who is having difficulty breathing, directions to “take a nice, deep, full, cleansing breath” are not merely pointless, but downright annoying, not to mention distressing and anxiety-producing.

That’s why on our Asthma imagery, we have the listener place his or her hands on the chest and focus on the sensation of the warmth from the hands permeating the lungs and soothing them.  A device like touch can substitute for the healing, relaxing, grounding effects of conscious breathing. In general, that would be my first choice.
It could be her own hands or perhaps even better, yours, gently sending warmth into her shoulders or back. So you’d be making that substitution – the sensation of nourishing warmth from the hands permeating her body, instead of the warmth of the breath.
Another approach is to take the focus off the breathing altogether, as for some people the very idea of breathing is too closely associated with discomfort, and instead to just go directly to a favorite place or to imagine healing occurring on the cellular or energetic level, or in some other abstract way.
Some of these generic, nonspecific images are incorporated into some of the affirmations we use.  For instance:  “I can see and feel a powerful blue-green wave of healing, washing through me from head to toe, clearing away any unwanted debris and taking it out with the tide.

Or another:  “I can see and feel a warm, pulsing, glowing blanket of magical comfort surrounding me, enveloping me with peace and safety, soaking its energy into me.”

I hope this helps.  My best to you and your wife.


Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award.