I don’t much favor the term mental health, or mental illness. It’s not the ‘health’ or ‘illness’ word that is a concern, it is the ‘mental’ word. Mental has a kind of negative valence to it. If a person is asked how they are doing and say they are mental, it’s not considered a positive state. We have a host of labels, diagnostic codes, for mental illness: general anxiety, major depression, conduct disorder, bipolar disorder, adjustment disorder, borderline personality disorder, etc., etc. We have no such labels for states of mental health. Consider some of the following as candidates for labels which represent mental health: acuity, agility, clarity, coherence, congruence, resilience and, of course, humor, to name a few. One of the predominant mental disorders today does not even have an official diagnostic code: Psychesclerosis – hardening of the mind, and a constriction of the breath.
The same negative valence that has been associated with the word ‘mental’ also applies to the word ‘psycho’ as in psychology. If a person is ‘psycho,’ they are not well. And, besides, the word psycho is a distortion from the original ‘psyche.’ So, let’s replace mental health with psyche-logical well being. The Sigh Key and Mental Health becomes The Sigh Key and Psychelogical Well Being.
Psyche is a character in a Greek myth. Another character, a significant character in the myth, is Eros, aka, Cupid. The myth is about love and desire. Who has not been impacted by love and desire? Who does not desire to be loved? In the myth, Psyche is eventually betrothed to the beloved, but not without a series of trials and tribulation, a bunch of troubles. What love relationship is not without troubles? It may be that the trials and tribulations are themselves the crucible in which the love to be desired is transformed into the desire to be loved. The desire to be loved is called ‘yearning’ and a potent motivational force.
The word ‘psyche’ is generally thought to mean ‘mind’ or ‘soul’, but it’s more basic translation is ‘breath.’ Who has not had their breath altered when in the grips of love and desire? Or, when such is taken away….? We can go weeks upon weeks without food, days upon days without water; we can hardly go more than a minute without breath, without air, which though invisible to our everyday eyes, is a gas composed primarily of nitrogen at near 80% and oxygen at near 20%. The atmospheric pressure of this combination of atoms in a one inch column of air rising from the surface, at sea level, is 14.7 lbs. Imagine having 14 pounds of weight on every square inch of your body. That’s a lot of pressure. The only reason we don’t implode from the pressure is that the air within us is at the same atmospheric pressure. The pressure inside is equal to the pressure outside. If you go up or down from sea level, the pressure decreases or increases. Without adjustments, such as ‘pressurized cabins,’ for example a space suit or scuba gear, there would be an explosion, or an implosion, due to the pressure difference between outside and inside. Entering into psyche-social situations, relationships, can be a pressure, a stress, a tension, and that is often reflected in how we breathe. It should be noted that not all stress and pressure is bad, referred to as distress. There is such a thing as good stress and pressure, called ‘eustress.’
When under the weight of psychelogical pressure, stress and strain, our breathing is impacted typically becoming more shallow, constricted, restricted, tight. As such, our psyche, our mind, our thinking and reasoning also becomes more limited, more confined. Increasing pressures can lead to implosions such as heart attacks and strokes or explosions such as domestic violence and murder. How can one learn to have a ‘pressurized cabin’ when the distress piles up? That answer is in the psyche, as the sigh key.
The sigh key is a self regulating mechanism within psyche. You’ve done it before. You take a deep full breath in and then exhale fully. It often happens quite automatically when we experience relief. Some pressure is removed, and we sigh, we can breathe, we feel better, instantly, not entirely because the pressure has been removed, but because breathing has been reset. The sigh key resets our breathing to normal. It counteracts the tightening and constriction from pressures and stressors. A few turns of the sigh key can be very refreshing.
Learning to engage the sigh key at will, intentionally, comfortably, for a few minutes, can become an immediate antidote to the emotional pressures of day to day obligations and responsibilities. It can counteract accumulated pressures and prevent current pressures from becoming accumulated. It can be done just about anywhere at any time within just a few minutes. There may be nothing more intimate than our breath and the process of breathing, consciously, intentionally, with awareness. To breathe in and out, fully, to turn the sigh key several times, resets the normal breathing patterns which had been disrupted from pressures. The sigh key, practiced with mindfulness, is both a remedy and a preventative.