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Journey to Wholeness

Take a Breath


By Jude LaClaire, Ph.D.



One of the skills that I most often find myself teaching is how to self-calm.  Without this, there is very little chance that we can be in charge of our process.  Due to trauma, stress, and learned behavior over time, many people have little experience of calmness, always being hyper-vigilant.

The first step in learning self-calming is to practice breathing. This may seem strange, as we breathe all the time to stay alive. Most of us take short, shallow breaths or hold our breath, not using the full capacity of our marvelous respiratory system. When I ask a person to take a breath, they often puff out the chest as the lungs expand. I ask the person to imagine the air coming in the nasal passages, down the windpipe, through the filter of the lungs, and down to the real powerhouse of the system, the diaphragm. I ask them to put their hand near the waist and feel the diaphragm pump air in and out. A good way to remember is that the lungs are the filter and the diaphragm is the pump.


Breathing is the core skill for most athletes, singers, musicians, martial artists, and others who are performing or doing something physical. As the breath is taken in and let out, the body begins to self-calm and sets the stage for that process of self-determination and self-regulation. We change the brain chemistry from fear to calming and energizing elements.


Those who study human behavior see self-regulation, coming from self-calming, as the cornerstone of emotional maturity. A society whose members have that skill of being ‘inner-directed’ operates more harmoniously and productively. The individual who has the skill of being ‘inner-directed’ is reflective, able to choose behavior that is productive and helpful for oneself and others.


When you feel inclined to lose your temper on the road, take offense at a fellow worker’s comment, speak critically of yourself or someone different from yourself, remember the ‘quiet place’ in yourself, and then respond. As you practice this, you will have more energy, feel more self-assured, and get along better with others.


One of the most creative and energizing metaphors to help us remember and ‘become’ this breathing process is to think of being a tree. I have been using this image with people of all ages for many years with great success. When working with younger children, I would ask them if I might try to lift them. It was usually quite easy. Then I would ask them to imagine they were a tree with roots going deep into the earth saying, “Feel your body getting heavier and warmer with your roots going deeper and deeper into the earth.” Then I would try to lift them again. I often could not budge them from the floor. They were surprised and delighted to know they could do this with their breath and imagination. It would give them a sense of their power to self-regulate and feel good.


The tree is the symbol of life in many sacred and ancient traditions. It is thought by many to represent the totality of a universe in which everything is imbued with the spirit. In some traditions, it represents longevity, rebirth and renewal, strength, and the wisdom of the ancestors. Walking near trees, even on a city street, can be calming, changing our mood, and energizing the brain.


Imagine you are a tree with roots reaching deep into the earth as you breathe deeply and slowly into your diaphragm. Hold the breath and as you exhale imagine the top part of your body as the branches and leaves, swaying in the breeze, reaching to the heavens. Breathe in to the count of four, hold, and exhale to the count of eight. (Breathing in half as long as you breathe out, helps us relax.) As you breathe say to yourself, “My body is feeling warm and heavy and relaxed. My body is giving in to gravity.”


I sometimes think of the tree as connecting me to Mother Earth and Father Sky. I may think of being informed and supported by the ancestors. Use your imagination and the images that appeal to you. As you practice breathing, becoming a tree, and using whatever images come to you, I hope you will feel calmer and energized, more powerful, and in charge of yourself.

Jude LaClaire, Ph. D., LCPC is a counselor and educator at the Heartland Holistic Health Center. She is the author of the “Life Weaving Education Curriculum” that teaches creative, effective, holistic problem solving. For counseling appointments, seminars, in-service training or speaker’s bureau, call 816-509-9277 or;

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