Lean In and Breathe

By Shane YoungApril 7, 2015

Many of you have had some type of  bodywork performed by one of our incredible practitioners at Ascend– if not, I highly recommend we chat! Seriously, everyone is so passionate and here to make you feel like the best version of yourself; we want to see you breathing, sweating, and smiling each day.

I recently had a bodywork session with a client that was truly special. She asked, “why do we contract and stop breathing when we feel pain or fear?” I was blown away by her question. It’s such a simple yet profound observation of our relationship to ourselves and our broader lives. After some thought I responded, “it’s a shared aspect of human experience, especially when our safety is presumed to be at risk.”

In the massage room, I work in harmony with the person’s breath; I believe it’s integral to the session. Bodywork, as opposed to massage, is an expansive practice encompassing different aspects of healing by integrating physical, emotional, and spiritual components of well-being. It’s designed to promote healing and awareness. When I breathe with a client, we bring life into an experience. We embrace the discomfort and discover vastness and expansion together. We identify restrictions and move with intention to release trapped energy and potential. In doing so, we cultivate a stronger mind-body relationship and a deeper awareness of the power of breath itself.

Practicing working with our breath gives us awareness and releases us from fear and its restrictive, isolating grip on our lives. That’s why it’s essential to lean in, breathe, and push up against the confines of our fear and physical, emotional, or spiritual pain. We must practice breathwork mindfully and resist the temptation to run and constrict, to hide in the egoic fear of our perceived pain.

When we feel pain, our automatic response is to run or recoil from the undesired stimulus. We shrink from provocation to protect ourselves and adopt a flight or fight physiological response. Unfortunately, consistent reliance on this mechanism is consistently restrictive, especially when we’re not actually in immediate danger. Our adrenaline and cortisol levels rise and we constrict our breathing. This is all evolutionarily great if we need to run from a threatening animal but provided the comforts of modern-day society, I highly doubt this is a real scenario for most of us!

What is real is the trapped fear and pain that dwell within each of us– residual reminders of difficult situations in life. As humans, we have a tendency to drag the past with us and the mind is quick to protect us. So much so that we begin to barricade ourselves into lives that resemble concrete walls– no fun and lacking both passion and intimacy.

So, why do we constrict and hide?

Generally, we fear situations that are out of our control– we fear not getting what we want or think we deserve and we fear losing. By contracting, we create the illusion of safety and security.

As we continually constrict our breathing, we begin to create trigger points in the musculoskeletal system which become holding patterns of unexamined pain. We often don’t even realize pain exists in a particular area of the body until someone applies pressure to it. Notice I use the word pressure here and not pain. While the automatic response is to hold our breath, pull away, and hide, true healing occurs when we breathe into the discomfort. When we draw our attention to rather than from it, we give it breath, life, freedom and we transform.

Using breath allows us to arrive to a still point of no time, no space, and no-thing–that is when change occurs. We can do this through bodywork and breath is our catalyst.

This is why it’s powerful when a palpable connection exists between bodyworker and client. We’re able to explore where pain resides not only physically, but also spiritually and emotionally. As the client resists the temptation to withdraw by gently leaning into discomfort through breath, she begins to internalize the importance of expansive breathing.

Pain or discomfort becomes our entry point into a deeper and more meditative exploration of self.


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