Fritz Perls, co-creator of Gestalt Therapy, said “fear is excitement without breath.”
i discovered this quote in The Big Leap, which i promise to stop referencing as soon as i squeeze the last juicy concepts from it.
but i couldn’t resist this equation: fear + breath = excitement (instead of breathy fear!)
our tendency to seize up and breathe shallowly when threatened is part of our fight-or-flight response. its aim is providing lots of energy quickly, so we can deal with danger. however, the trigger of fight-or-flight can be external or internal.
if fight-or-flight is triggered and there’s an external problem you handle—killing a saber-toothed tiger or climbing a tree to escape it—your body recovers quickly. the energy built up, was used, and returned to normal.
these days our problems are a little different. you might be angry during a board meeting but can’t hop on the conference table and kick your colleagues, right? so the energy stays pent up inside and continues cycling through your body.
but of course there’s a way out. if you breathe into the fear, as weird and inconvenient and un-fun as that sounds, you'll loosen up. when breath flows you can think clearly and make better decisions. you might even come up with a solution to what’s upsetting you. Gay Hendricks, in The Big Leap, says to breathe like you’re about to blow out candles on a birthday cake when you feel stress building.
i started periodically holding my breath during my senior year of college (it continues to this day) and mentioned it to a friend. but she wasn’t just any friend. she grew up on a yoga ranch (so cool, right?) and is simultaneously one of the most zen and realistic people i’ve ever known. she told me to identify the feeling as stress as i breathed deeply.
my reaction? “stress! i’m not stressed! everything’s under control!” she smiled sagely. as these things go, she’s now a Gestalt Therapist in Barcelona.