Are You Conflict Avoidant? Here's How to Breathe Through Uncomfortable Conversations

This advanced pranayama can help you and a friend or family member share feedback in a constructive way. Who doesn't need help with that?
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Try breathing together before having a difficult discussion. 

Try breathing together before having a difficult discussion. 

This advanced pranayama can be done with a partner, friend, or family member when you want to move or clear some of the reactivity and judgment from conflict you may be having with each other. You’ll maintain the same breathing pattern, while inviting in some deeper conversation with each other. 

By giving the mind a focus, this breathing pattern allows for expressing and moving emotions and energy stuck in the body. This breathing pattern has the potential to bring up a lot of embedded emotional and physical material. Doing this work with a partner can certainly be challenging, but ultimately may allow you both to hear each other more clearly. You might even wish to invite in a third person who can act as a space holder and witness to you both.

See also 5 Ways to Be a Better Partner (Plus, a Meditation for Coping With Conflict)

This breath is fast, and it can sometimes feel like it’s hard to “catch” your breath, especially in the beginning. The hyperoxygenating breath, combined with the moving energy, can sometimes bring up tingling, cramping, or tension in your hands, feet, and around your mouth. You might even feel a little light-headed. This will ease as you move through it, but you can also take it as a chance to remind your body that this breath is chosen, rather than out of control. Committing to the breath will allow you to move through whatever shows up and will help build trust that you and your body can navigate strong emotions and sensations.

If triggers or strong emotions arise during this practice, allow yourself to yell, cry, or express yourself as you need to. Your partner does not need to do anything except allow these things to arise without intervening.

See also Feeling Angry—And Can’t Seem to Let It Go? This Sequence Can Help

Break the unconscious pattern of constricting or slowing the breath that is common in much of our day-to-day breathing by continuing this breath pattern no matter what arises. It can be a powerful practice of breaking self-abandonment when things get difficult. Take the opportunity to rebuild trust with your body that it can and will hold you. If things get difficult, you might also want to hug or hold yourself, to reground with your own touch.

Pranayama Prep

This exercise takes commitment, and approximately 45 minutes. You'll also need a glass of water, a timing device, a yoga mat or blanket, and a notebook.

Only practice this exercise with someone you already have a strong and safe relationship with, since difficult feelings may arise. Before you begin breathing, think about your intentions and share them with each other.

Drink water before and after this exercise. It is best not to practice on a very full stomach, but you can have a small snack beforehand, if you wish.

See also Feel the Feels: A Mindful Breathing Practice for Tough Emotions

Practice

Set a timer for 20 minutes for the active breath portion. Lay down on a yoga mat or blanket in the same room as your partner, but in a way where you each have some space. Close your eyes if you would like to: this will help you go into your internal experience without distraction.

Start with Multi-Part Fast-Paced Breath

This active breath pattern, with a two-part inhale and one-part exhale, is taught by healer and teacher David Elliott. He chose not to name it so that it could travel and be used freely. It is a unique, open mouthed, fast-paced breath that allows you to feel fully enlivened and engaged throughout the whole body. 

Begin with a long, slow inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth for one to two minutes. On the inhales, feel the weight of your body meeting the surface beneath you. On the exhales, adjust to get more comfortable. 

Before starting the active breath, place one hand on the belly and one hand on the chest. Imagine an expanding balloon in your belly and one in your chest. Your mouth will be slightly open for the active portion of the exercise. 

With a slightly open mouth, draw a short, fast inhale into your belly, allowing the belly to expand. Quickly after, draw a second short, fast inhale into the chest, allowing the chest to expand. Feel the breath move under your hands from belly to chest. Quickly exhale, allowing the breath to be slightly clipped as you bring the inhale back into your belly and then your chest. Each inhale should be around two counts with the exhale around three counts.

Continue the active breathing pattern for 15 to 20 minutes, riding the waves of emotional and physical sensation. Don’t force yourself to think about the conflict, but rather allow yourself to focus on feeling into your body and what is present and alive in it.

See also Clear Subconscious Blocks with Breath of Fire

Begin the Resting Breath

Release the fast breath and close your mouth. Return to the longer, slower breath that you began with. Continue for five minutes.

Sit up slowly. You might feel a little dizzy for a few minutes. Sit cross-legged or in chairs facing each other.

Discuss

Take five to ten minutes in discussion with each other. You could use these prompts below if you wish. Allow each person to have a turn, uninterrupted, to share. Do your best to speak from your own experience about feelings and personal needs, rather than blaming or making demands. Keep the sharing contained so that you can rest soon after.

Discussion Prompts

Taking turns, talk about any emotions you felt arise. If possible, detail where you felt them in your body. You might say something like:

When I thought of this conflict I am having with you, I felt deep grief in my lower belly and fear in my chest.

Each person gets a chance to share without the other person responding. After each person has shared, the other should offer a thankful response, for example:

Thank you for trusting me with that.

Taking turns, share what needs for repair you have. The idea is to figure out small, doable things that you can each commit to. You might say something like:

When I get lost while driving and you snap at me, I feel scared and unable to think clearly. Are you open to taking five minutes of silence when that happens, so that we can cool down, before we start trying to address the situation?

You are allowed to say “no” while suggesting an alterative. It might take a few alterations before you find common ground.

After you have both had time to share some of what arose, and made some agreements with each other, offer each other gratitude and love by saying something like:

Something I love about you is . . .

or

Thank you so much for showing up for me in the following ways . . .

Aftercare

Take time to really tend to your body for the rest of the day and night. This might mean eating nourishing foods, drinking a lot of water, taking a bath, or engaging in a creative and artistic practice. Allow some time to integrate whatever arose and pay close attention to anything that shows up in the days after the breathwork session. You may even decide you need to take some solo time away from your partner.

Writing about your experience can be a powerful way to work with whatever came up during the practice.

Excerpted from The Power of Breathwork, by Jennifer Patterson. Her new book equips you with 27 exercises for channeling joy, creativity, emotional release, and more into your life. Patterson calls on her experience as a grief worker and bits of traditional wisdom to prepare you for anything that life can throw your way. Learn more about her work at corpusritual.com.