To some extent, in our culture, we associate calm with a certain relaxed dullness, like lying in a hammock on a summer afternoon after a hard day's work. On the other hand, we are often alert but tense, as when we face danger or financial problems. We go back and forth between these two states, relaxed but dull, alert but tense. we associate alertness with a crisis mode.
- Breath by Breath
...another major breathing type, paradoxical breathing, involves a combination of expanding the chest while simultaneously contracting the abdominal muscles, which pushes the diaphragm up into the chest cavity. Although the chest wall expands, increasing lung volume, the diaphragm simultaneously rises and diminishes these gains. It is immediately obvious that this cannot be an efficient way to breathe, fighting against itself for air. Then why would anyone breathe this way?
Although breathing is partly under voluntary control, as mentioned earlier, it is also regulated by the autonomic nervous system, and any attempt to breathe consciously in a manner which threatens survival (for instance, holding the breath beyond one's capacity) is overrided by this regulatory system. Responses to many emotions are also involuntary. The symptoms of acute anxiety, the "blush" of embarrassment, and a trembling fit of rage are expressed directly by the autonomic nervous system, often bypassing conscious control. We can all identify how we characteristically respond to specific emotions time after time. That we have these reactions in common with the experiences of most other people indicates a common fundamental psychophysiological response.
Paradoxical breathing is seen in conjunction with a sudden shock or surprise. One reflexively gasps when startled, expanding the chest while tensing the abdomen. If a situation which elicits paradoxical breathing occurs frequently, either because of the presence of much stimulation from the environment, or because of an excessive sensitivity to environmental cues, the body will accommodate itself to this mode of functioning, gradually offering less and less resistance to it. Then, after being accustomed to this abnormal pattern, the body risks becoming less specific in its application of this pattern.
- Science of Breath. A Practical Guide. (pp. 40-41)