Beyond Trauma Is Breath.

Via Katarina Silva
on Mar 23, 2012
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Murder by Katarina Silva

They pop up when I least expect them to: those little triggers that shake my emotional ship like dangerous tsunamis I never saw coming. I don’t let them capsize me anymore, but they continue to give it their best shot.

There I am, standing on the deck of an-ordinary-day-in-the-life-of-yours-truly, when the gales of the past suddenly whip up against me, knocking the air out of me, squeezing my stomach and chest so damn hard I can’t breathe.

Not again! I thought I had moved past that! But here it is again: positively uninvited and tearing into me most voraciously.

It doesn’t take much for them to rear their ugly heads: a seemingly harmless little love song at the grocery store, a certain scent wafting through the air, feeling ignored by another person, a misunderstanding, a nightmare.

What does it feel like?

Disorientation by Katarina Silva

It feels like a threat to my safety, although there are no guns aimed at my head. It feels like I am alone and unprotected, even while surrounded by those who love me. And it overwhelms me, although a moment before I was fine.

This power seems to have no rhyme or reason, so I try to intellectualize it away. But I may as well be speaking Swahili because my logic has no effect over its determination to detain me. It acts like a ruthless dictator announcing its new reign over my being. The utter vulnerability is beyond uncomfortable, as anxiety begins to infect me like a parasitic virus.

 That’s when I feel my solar plexus contracting. Ouch!

On any given day, five million people in the United States alone will instantly feel themselves gripped by the lingering effects of past traumas.

All over the world, humans are struggling with becoming emancipated from their own past, myself included.

Sometimes I think that if I trace it to its origin I will be able to reason my way out of it. If only I can search out and exterminate the cause, I’ll be fine. It sounds simple enough. But which one is it? I shamefully admit to owning quite a colorful collection of childhood fears I wasn’t very well equipped to process. Then again, why feel shame?

How should a child know how to deal with death, or alcoholism, or experiences that don’t match their level of development?

It wasn’t my fault, I tell myself. But this mental exercise feels as feeble as trying to hold down an exploding volcano with a canvass tarp. More Swahili.

Crushed by Katarina Silva

We can’t self talk ourselves out of trauma because trauma doesn’t speak the language of logic and reason. Trauma doesn’t listen to the intellect. It is primal and savage and only recognizes the most universal language of all languages: that of the breath.

Our breathing patterns are like a record of our life’s experiences. In becoming intimate with our breath we begin to know ourselves more. Our breath is like a neon-colored, flashing metaphor for how we respond to life.

I used to compare myself to others. Wow! She survived that? How did she do it? That seems so much worse than what I’ve been through, and yet she seems fine and I am still rattled, still grieving, still waking up with nightmares! Why? But measuring the gravity of the event that may have traumatized you over those of others is like trying to squeeze apple juice out of oranges. It’s futile. Don’t try this at home. It’s dangerous.

Every one of us has our own unique make-up. For this reason, it’s not the specific events in our lives -and their perceived level of tragedy- that determine our level of trauma. It’s how we coped with them at the time.

And sometimes the way we cope with life is severely affected by past events we may not even remember! Like being left to scream your head off as a newborn in the maternity ward because the nurses had you on an unnatural feeding schedule, and only brought you to see your mother every few hours.

Some even believe we import the effects of trauma from our “last lives.”

“And then I think about my fear of motion which I never could explain: Some other fool across the ocean years ago must have crashed his little airplane.” ~ “Galileo” by Indigo Girls

Once, in my search for answers, a gypsy at a fair told me I had been murdered in my last life. It’s been a while since I’ve tried to make sense of why some things unnerve me more than others. It’s like trying to solve a puzzle you are missing pieces to. And judging myself for not always coping with things as gracefully as I’d like to, is just as pointless. In fact, it makes things worse.

Instead, I make efforts to consciously honor my own make-up; my own unique set of coping skills, and just breathe through life’s discomfort. Oh! And add a dash of compassion to that recipe please! Though it’s not always easy.

Once, I was alone in the little apartment I lived in at the time, in a seaside neighborhood that was on alert for a wanted rapist (every two minutes someone is sexually assaulted in the US).

My protective mother told me the rapist was targeting young, attractive females in their early twenties, which I happened to be. She asked me to be on guard. As I was showering, one late afternoon, I heard noises outside my bathroom window. There was a man there, fully unclothed, standing next to my bicycle, in my own private alley. He was peeking into my shower stall. Then he tried to open my back door.

I quickly jumped out of the shower, threw a towel around me, and as I didn’t feel safe alone, ran out my front door to ask my neighbor for help. It wasn’t until he called the police that I realized I had been holding in my breath that whole time. Suddenly I began hyperventilating, desperate for oxygen.

Fear had frozen my natural breathing pattern.

Every time we fail to breathe fully and deeply through an experience we stunt our processing of it. And every time something reminds of of it, we unconsciously duplicate the stunting breathing pattern.

The experiences in life that affect us most are those that have a powerful emotional effect upon us. The first place we notice this is in how we breathe.

Our breath charts the course of everything that’s ever scared, or surprised, or shocked, or excited or delighted us! When we disconnect from how we feel, all we have to do is connect with our breath to find out. Our breath’s speed and fullness are precise indicators of what’s happening to us on an emotional level.

When our breath is shallow we are shocked and guarded, when it’s fast we are excited. When it’s deep belly breathing the endorphins it produces have a deliciously relaxing effect on us, like after making love. We feel safe and confident. Lower abdominal breathing is emancipating!

I love watching well-loved newborns breathe while they sleep. Their whole torso moves up and down, and their bellies puff up like a balloon!

One way to tell if you are holding on to trauma in our subconscious is to lie down on your back and see how hard it is to breathe from your abdomen. The degree of your body’s resistance will be commensurate with how many unprocessed emotions you have within you.

Our bellies are the seat of our subconscious minds on an energetic level. Loving our bellies is always a good idea!

In yoga, pranayama is used to help us love our belly and our breath by using them to connect with any lingering effects of subconscious traumas that prevent us from moving forward in life. Engaging the abdomen in calculated, rhythmic breaths often releases blocked breathing due to unprocessed or unacknowledged emotions.

If you feel like crying during a pranayama session, by all means don’t hold back! That means the yoga is reaching deep into your core fears and opening you up to living your life more freely.

The most frustrating thing for me to hear is when yoga students tell me they felt like crying in class, but didn’t, because they didn’t want to draw attention to themselves. Instead, they tense up, sending their trauma deeper.

It’s okay if you cry. Just trust in the wisdom of your body and go with the flow.

Who cares if anyone is watching! The benefits you’ll get from going with the flow will far outweigh any embarrassment any stares from strangers may produce.

The flow of our breath during a pranayama session is connecting us with everything we are, and everything we think we are, so we can let go of the latter, once and for all. Holding it in just makes our grip on it stronger.

We might think we are going to die every time we ride in a car, because we survived a car crash once. But that is not our voice. That is trauma talking. The voice of trauma gets stuck in our bodies. And causes us to stumble at the slightest provocation. Our breath is the easiest way to free it. Our breath energizes us in our lives.

Seventy-five percent of our vital energy is supplied through our breathing patterns. The freer we are to breathe, the freer we are to live!

Sunday Morning by Katarina Silva

In becoming conscious of the way we breathe, we become more conscious of the way we live, and either react or respond to life. Notice the way your breath moves after an invigorating yoga session, or after laughing your head off with a close friend, or how about the way you breathe after singing your heart out in the shower, or dancing when no one is watching? It feels soooo good to inhale and exhale then, doesn’t it?

Then notice how you tense up your breath when in an argument, or when feeling nervous the minutes before you have to take a test, or when one of those catastrophic triggers goes off and begins to gnaw at your sense of security like a bird of prey on a defenseless little mouse. That’s when you can remember this:

  You hold the power in your breath. Send it to your abdomen and b-r-e-a-t-h-e! I mean, really breathe! 

And know that you are not alone. Most people you see around you are lugging around their own collection of past traumas. The whole planet is full of people who are sadly disconnected from experiencing the full potential of their life force (what they call prana in yoga circles).

And don’t be fooled by appearances either! Sometimes people expend so much of their energy just trying to look like they are in control, when their insides are actually tense, and their breath is stuck in a perpetual panic.

One of the easiest ways to connect with your core is through your breath.

Yes, it’s not that easy at first. In fact, it may even hurt. But the breath is a language you body will instantly respond to, so you will feel it working right away. This is when it gets kind of addictive. In a good way! We are all constituently wired to become addicted to the effects that come from deep, full, healthy breathing.

So, what happened with the naked man who tried to get into my apartment? It turned out he was not the rapist the police had been looking for. He was just a disoriented and drunk college student who got dropped off on the wrong block after a wild party. Apparently he mistook my apartment for his.

 At times, we become like disoriented drunks ourselves, fumbling around with the doorknobs of our past traumas, trying to enter places we no longer belong in. When we deprive our brain of the amount of oxygen it needs through remaining stuck in inadequate breathing patterns, we wobble through life looking for home.

Our breath is the detoxifier that will restore our sobriety, drive us home and orient us around where we belong now:

Here. Safe. Healthy. Happy. Dressed up in confidence and breathing deeply and fully.

Now inhale and exhale—and you are free!



Editor: Kate Bartolotta


About Katarina Silva

Katarina Silva is an artistic self-expressionist who thrives on the spontaneous thrill of creating photographic images in ten seconds, and inevitably employs witchcraft to do so. Her autobiographical art reflects her emotions and dreams, and is characterized by the mysterious absence of her complete face. She lives unafraid of darkness, wrapped in nature, in an obscure corner of the planet with her magical kitty. You may view her work at The Art of Katarina Silva. Or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter


26 Responses to “Beyond Trauma Is Breath.”

  1. Eric says:

    You touch on so many things here–wonderful, positive things. Even with training & practice, we forget to breathe sometimes. Some things just take our breath away…like your photo "Sunday Morning" 🙂
    Grazie, Bella!!

  2. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Posted to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
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  3. Ben_Ralston says:

    Lovely piece Katarina – can feel the love.
    And I agree with all that you say, but as a therapist who specializes in healing trauma (really healing it, permanently), I would add something:
    It is possible to truly heal any trauma, very quickly. The answer is not in the breath (it helps, like a band aid, but it doesn't heal fully). The answer is, as you allude to, in the belly, where the *instincts* that kept us safe or helped us to survive, reside. To really heal it we have to 'switch off' those instincts so that instead of being 'locked into' survival mode because of our subconscious association with trauma and the instinct (the example you gave – freezing – was perfect), we become free.
    I made a video about this recently, and I don't know, maybe it'll be interesting to you:
    With love, Ben

    Oops, that's the wrong video – it's this one:

  4. Yes, Eric, I also forget to breathe, that is one of the reasons I wrote this. I am happy to remind you~ And thank you!

  5. This is a very important perspective. Yes, in light of your valuable sharing, I realize that the examples I used in my article were perhaps a bit presumptuous. Not everyone will feel their breathing helped by each and every one of the associations I described, including, and perhaps, especially, orgasm. Thank you so much for pointing this out. One of the challenging things, for me, about writing such pieces is trying to make them personal, while at the same time, not assuming that my personal experiences will be like those of everyone else. Thank you for this significant insight, and I apologize for having not thought of that. Thank you also for appreciating my writing and art, which always encourages me to make more. And I wish you the best in recovering from PTSD. ~Peace and Love~ xoxox

  6. OK, here I am, Ms. Superficiality :)) I'm still looking at the images and haven't even READ the article yet Katarina :)) LOVING Disorientation, thought it was great, then scrolled down and saw Sunday Morning….wow….I love them. Love your trademark images, and now I promise I'll go back and reeeeeaaaaaad :))

  7. And read I did 🙂 Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Spirituality Homepage.

    Braja Sorensen
    Lost & Found in India
    Editor, Elephant Spirituality
    Please go and "Like" Elephant Spirituality on Facebook

  8. P XO says:

    Just thank-you so much. Exactly what my journey has been about these past 2 years and yoga and pranayama has helped immensely, maybe saved my life… xo

  9. LOL! :-))) Love you Braja!

  10. Wow! it is like magic when I hear my words speak to a person's exact phase in life! Thank you for sharing this with me! :-))

  11. Megan says:


  12. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    You are beautiful, Katarina! xoxoxo

  13. Awww…thanx sweetie. And so are YOU, lovely Tanya! xoxox

  14. janetlandis says:

    I bow to both your wisdom and compassion, as well as your creativity! (and beauty) One of the hardest lessons I've had to overcome is the Southern Baptist lesson my Dad passed on, that we are all born "bad" and sinful, inherently imperfect. What I've loved, always, about embracing my breath, (which both yoga and Buddhism advise), is the assumption that we are inherently GOOD, and already Buddha's. I often appeal to Kwan Yin, and Avalokiteshvara (sp?) she/he who hears the cries of the world. Katarina the light shines so brightly through you – I humbly offer my Namaste' while enjoying the warmth you light gives to the world. Bows, gratitude and peace.

  15. MarySol says:

    Really loved this article Katarina and the beautiful photos too! I'd never made the connection before between trauma and breathing, but thinking on it now I see it is true. Short breathing, tension, anxiety, fear all seem to go hand in hand to an unhealthy place. I guess conscious breathing is key to conscious living. I'm going to work on it!
    Interesting to realize too that patterns of behavior, particularly the tendency to stress out about things, may stem from prior, even consciously forgotten trauma. I look forward to taking some deep breaths before being carried down some of those roads again. Great video too.
    Thanks so much Katarina for sharing!

  16. Here here! To being inherently good! Yes, I can imagine how hard that must have been for you to overcome a perspective that we are all "born bad", but with those lovely goddesses of compassion to support your journey, you were in the best of hands! Thank you so much for sharing this with me and for expressing your appreciation of my creativity, as it inspires me to release it even more. My creativity has been one of the ways I work through my own past. A big hug and and peace and love to you, dear Janet. xoxox

  17. Conscious living through conscious breathing: I like that! It may not be the whole formula, but it such is a good start. At least for me it has been. I took my first pranayama class when I was twenty and I will never forget it. I think people disconnect from their bodies a lot so they don't notice how they are breathing, or how their breath patterns might be left over from the past, as you say. Thank you for sharing. I am glad you enjoyed the photos and video too. 🙂

  18. MarySol says:

    I think I'll try to learn pranayama also. It sounds very valuable! Amazing how we run all around looking for clues when often the answers are as near as the very breath we breathe!

  19. janetlandis says:

    A big hug and peace and love to you also!! Please, keep releasing your creativity, it gives others the courage to express theirs. (like me?)

  20. MarySol says:

    Katarina, I awoke with thoughts of Love, Fear, Breath and Trauma. (Thank you!) I was realizing that while some triggers for fear, constricted breath and trauma may be very difficult to avoid, like sudden accidents, rapists, earthquakes, etc., often (as you state) our traumas come from our nearest and dearest relations. I was trying to apply some of the positive ideas you shared in dealing with these. I envisioned someone very dear. I thought of all the love, the fear, the trauma. Then breathing slowly and deeply I consciously tried to meditate, just on the love. I realized what draws us together and sustains us in relationships is our natural exchange of love. The fear, the trauma, we create along the way. I was seeing how just as deep breathing flows, in and out, bringing us the prime sustenance for our bodies; air, which mixes, exchanges, revitalizes and nourishes us, similarly, the exchange of love, in relationships, is the prime sustenance of our selves. Deeply sharing love is the essential nourishment which sustains us. Allowing ourselves to breathe deeply and love deeply seems the healthy path! Essential nourishment! Fear, constricted breathing, emotional trauma, seem more like the sicknesses, often avoidable when we keep ourselves well nourished. Anyway, I was really appreciating your article. It has helped me see newer perspectives. Fear is so crippling. Thanks again for sharing it! :-))

  21. […] Beyond Trauma Is Breath.( […]

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  24. Beautiful article, Katarina.

    Bob W. Editor
    Best of Yoga Philosophy