Blog Archives for category Energy Work
On my recent trip to California, I had the pleasure and honor of meeting Kate Mackinnon CST-D. Kate recently published a remarkable book titled From My Hands and Heart – Achieving Health and Balance with Cranialsacral Therapy. Kate was kind enough to give me a signed copy of it. Once I started reading it, I could not put it down. I read the book 3 times in the span of about 48 hours. This is my review of her remarkable work. I hope that you’ll consider purchasing a copy for yourself today.
Once in a rare while, a book comes along that creates the possibility of profound, life-altering change in the reader. From My Hands and Heart – Achieving Health and Balance with Craniosacral Therapy by Kate Mackinnon is such a book. In it, Kate chronicles her journey with Craniosacral Therapy (CST) – first as a skeptical recipient – and then it follows her transition from CST student to gifted practitioner and teacher of this powerful hands-on treatment.
The story is told through a series of case-studies and real-world examples from Kate’s clients. She writes with a clarity and precision of an accomplished journalist and makes even the most arcane aspects of anatomy, physiology and the theory behind CST easy to understand for the layperson. For those not familiar with this form of bodywork, Kate describes CST in detail and explains how it works at both the physical and energetic level. She goes on to help the reader understand what to expect during a CST session and how to find a qualified practitioner. She also gives the reader step-by-step instructions on how to incorporate CST self-healing techniques into their lives.
Kate is obviously a gifted practitioner of her art. But what separates her and CST from other forms of bodywork is her intuitive ability to “follow her hands” and to listen to what the tissues and the body underneath them says. Her ability to listen with her hands, to “blend and meld” with the underlying tissue, combined with her detailed knowledge of anatomy and physiology (she is also a trained physical therapist) allows her to help her clients tap into their own native wisdom. This helps to create an awakening of the body’s ability to heal itself.
People come from all over the world to receive Kate’s mindful ministrations and healing. They typically come with specific medical issues, and she chronicles many of these cases in this book. But these same clients leave with a deeper understanding of themselves and the root causes of their afflictions. The result is a feeling of empowerment and the client is now able to take charge of her own life and health and well-being.
Kate has treated clients with a wide range of conditions – from traumatic brain injury to emotional distress, disorders of the immune system, asthma and more. She has treated mothers and children and even animals. But, she does not provide a laundry list of conditions that can be cured. In fact, she goes out of her way to say that she is skeptical of any treatment modality that claims to cure anything. One of the important tenets passed down by Dr. John Upledger, the “father” and founder of CST is to know one’s limits and to “willingly refer clients to other professionals when appropriate.” Nevertheless, the scope of conditions that can be helped with CST is very wide. Many of Kate’s clients have come to her when conventional treatments have failed or no longer work.
This book offers a roadmap of hope for people who want to take control of their own health by harnessing their body’s self-correcting and healing mechanisms. There is something in this book for everyone who has an interest in achieving optimal health and well-being. For those not familiar with this form of bodywork, it is undoubtedly one of the easiest to understand descriptions of CST ever written. For those who are in the healthcare profession, it can serve as a reminder that the body knows how to heal itself. The role of the practitioner is to follow its direction and provide support.
Read this book. It could change your life.
Learn more about Kate Mackinnon and her practice.
Purchase a copy of her book.
Follow Kate on Twitter.
“Like” Kate on Facebook.
Your body is naturally hard-wired to react to threats in a way that is meant to protect you (think of encountering lions, tigers and bears, oh my!). But your body and your mind may pay the price if your “fight-or-flight” reaction – a natural protective mechanism – is constantly “on.”
Stress today comes from different sources than that of our ancient ancestors. It may come from fighting traffic during the daily rush hour, the rush of getting yourself, your family off to work and school everyday, from pressures related to job and career and managing your workload, and from worry about making ends meet in this difficult economy. And while these daily stresses may not be immediately life-threatening, if left unchecked and uncontrolled, if you allow your body’s natural stress mechanism to be left continuously in the “on” position, you will begin to pay a price over the long haul.
When your body perceives a threat, and is under stress, it releases a combination of nerve and hormonal signals that prompts your adrenal glands, located atop your kidneys to release a surge in hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. According to an article from the Mayo Clinic, here’s what happens when these hormones are released:
Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies.
Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues. Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes.
Fortunately, your body’s stress response is usually self-regulating. As the perceived threat goes away, blood pressure returns to normal, adrenal glands stop producing cortisol and adrenaline and your body returns to normal functions.
The problem occurs when levels of stress are constantly present in our lives, even at low levels. When this happens, the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and the other stress hormones begins to create health problems. Such problems include:
o Heart disease
o Sleep problems
o Over eating, which can lead to weight gain
o Skin problems, rashes, eczema etc.
o Short-term memory loss
So, how do we cope with the stress that is a part of our daily lives? As the woman and primary care-giver in most families, you have to put yourself first. As I am fond of telling my clients, “If you are going to constantly write checks off of your wellness account, we have to put some deposits into the bank from time-to-time!”
It’s all about achieving balance in your life, finding the time you need to maintain your optimum health, while at the same time caring for your loved ones. Some of the things you can do include:
Exercise – finding 30-minutes a day, at least 3-4 times a week doing an activity you enjoy. Walking is a great form of exercise. Remember, exercise isn’t punishment! As human beings, we are meant to move, to walk, to run, to stretch, to jump, to throw. Incorporate simple, joyful activity into your life
Get plenty of sleep – this is one lifestyle factor that you can directly control, not just for yourself, but for your family. Turn off that TV early, and set a goal to get 7-8 hours of rest every night. Your body needs this time to recharge and re-energize
Find time to meditate or use other relaxation techniques – I lead a very busy life, but I’ve mastered the art of the “5-minute meditation!” Ideally, I will find more time each day, but I have also found that taking short, little meditation breaks, as short as 3-5 minutes, really help me become calmer, more grounded, balanced, and focused. Just find a quiet spot, turn off outside distractions like the TV or radio, focus on your breathing, and let your mind find that calm, quiet space it needs
Surround yourself with friends – there are few greater joys in life than good friends. Surround yourself with them and they will help you find comfort
Counseling – Talk therapy really works. If you find that you cannot manage the pressures of your life on your own, please do not be afraid to go out and find a professional that can help you. Start with your doctor and get a referral. If she can’t help, here is a good resource for you.
Finally, here is a simple energy medicine techniques that I think you will find helpful.
Connecting the Central and Governing Meridians
This is a technique that strengthens the Central Median, which will help you stabilize your body’s energy systems, and will help you to center and ground yourself.
1) Stand with your arms loose at your sides, feet comfortably apart
2) Breathe in through your nose, and then out through the mouth several times until you begin to feel a sense of calm taking over your body
3) Place the middle finger of one hand between your eyebrows and the bridge of your nose (this is the point of your third-eye chakra)
4) Place the middle finger of your other hand in your navel
5) Gently press each finger into your skin, pull it gently upward and hold for about 20-30 seconds while continuing to breathe deeply through your nose and out through your mouth.
You can repeat this technique 2-3 times or until you feel a sense of balance and grounding.
A fundamental concept of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) dating back over 3,000 years, qi (pronounced “chee”) is the Chinese word for energy, which also carries with it connotations of air, breath, and life force.
In TCM, it is understood that everything from humans and animals to rocks and trees is filled with qi. This energy facilitates function, communication, and connection and is the uniting force of the universe, as well as the animating life force in all objects.
Qi in the Body
Qi flows through the body via 14 meridian channels, which run either up or down throughout the body along specific pathways. These pathways deliver energy to organs, structures, and systems in a constant pattern, and when qi is flowing unimpeded along these meridians, a person is said to be in balance.
Illness, injury, stress, and other trauma can cause blockages along these meridians, thus impairing or stopping the flow of qi and resulting in energy congestion. Several TCM techniques are designed to clear these blockages and restore balance and flow to the body’s energy.
Working with Qi
Along each meridian are points, known as acupoints or pressure points, where these energy blockages are likely to occur. Significant acupoints are also known as trigger points, and these are often starting points for therapists working to clear congested qi.
An important principle of qi is that clearing blockages at certain trigger points will help restore flow and thus impact parts of the body that are connected along the various meridians. For example, this could mean that working on someone’s foot might benefit an internal organ like the liver, or benefit his or her heart. This concept further illustrates that qi in the body is one balanced system in which one imbalance can affect several body parts and even alter emotional states.
I am a certified massage therapist, Intrinsic Coach®, and Reiki Master in private practice near Washington DC. For the past 6 years, my work has focused exclusively in the area of women’s wellness and trauma recovery. This was not a path I intended to travel when I decided 8 years ago to leave the corporate world and pursue life as a massage therapist and coach. Rather it was the path that was presented to me when I discovered energy work – polarity therapy, cranial-sacral therapy, Reiki – and a wide range of Asian forms of massage and bodywork, all of which see an inextricable link between body, mind and spirit.
I have had the honor of working with over a thousand women in the past 6 years – all of whom sought me out in an effort to heal, to cope with the lingering effects of trauma and chronic pain and to reconnect their spirit with their bodies. Many came to me with physical complaints, but through the process of working together, they discovered that emotional healing can also be achieved through a sensitive application of what I call a “body-centered” approach toward healing and recovery.
There have been many tears shed when together we discovered that place within your body where you have held the pain for so long. But, our sessions have been a safe harbor, a sacred place where your experiences have been honored, a place where there is no judgment for expressing emotion or shedding tears, a place where it is ok to be cared for, to be nurtured, to feel the infinite love of the Universe.
Each day, I learn something new from my clients; working with you has spawned tremendous personal growth in me, and for that I am grateful. But, I have observed what I would describe as common patterns or threads among all of you with whom I have worked. And, I would like to share those lessons with you today in the hope that you begin look at bodywork and massage in a much broader context. It is a physical medium for sure, but I believe that all bodywork is a spiritual act first and a physical act second. When you are fully and deeply connected to your body, you cannot help but be connected to the earth and to the greater universe.
So, I give you these five observations with the full knowledge that they will be supplanted by new learning as I work with some of the most amazing women whom I have ever met – my clients. They inspire me every day and I am so very grateful that I have the opportunity to share in their transformation.
Try as you might, it is very difficult for you to receive
As I begin each session with my clients, we start off with a few minutes of stillness and quiet. She is lying face down on my table and I will gently place my hands on her – on in the small of her back and the other in the middle of her back and then near the crown of her head. I ask her to take in deep breath and envision the breath coming up from her root chakra, and then I ask her to just focus on her breath for a few minutes, breathing slowly in and slowly out.
I will than say, “Give yourself permission to be here today . . . Give yourself permission to receive.”
For almost all of my clients, this is one of the most difficult things for them to do. The inability to receive is something I see in my clients every day. My clients are all busy women – many are mothers who are trying to balance the demands of a career with the needs of raising a family and children. They are constantly in a give, give, give mode, which while having its’ rewards, often leads to lack of sleep, increasing levels of stress, fatigue and often illness. I see resentment and anger building within them as they continue to go on giving. I try to remind them that if they continue to write checks on their “giving accounts,” it is mandatory that they make a few deposits into it from time-to-time!
Receiving is a skill and it is something that can be learned. Receiving is its own reciprocal action. You do not need to immediately return the favor of the gift. Your acceptance is a gift in and of itself. When you receive you begin to recharge yourself, you make deposits into your giving account and make it easier for you to give to others.
There is time for everyone in your life but you
You always place yourself last on your list. Being a mom, a wife, balancing a career is more than a 24 hour a day job. At the end of the day, you are Dr. Mom, the primary caregiver, and Given your predisposition to give, give, give, it is very easy to simply drop your name last on your list. Oh, you’ll get around to it, but you rarely do.
Intellectually, you all know that it’s important to make time for yourself; time to exercise, time to rest, time that is just for yourself. But, it is just so darned hard because everybody comes to you for everything. You’re the family doctor, head chef, in charge of housekeeping and accounting, the family bus driver, CEO and more.
The fact that you’re on my table, once a week or once a month is a great start. But, it is not enough. So, where do you start?
You start by setting boundaries and (occasionally) saying no. Your family, your co-workers, your spouse, boyfriend or lover will not respect your time and ultimately you, if you don’t respect your time and set aside time that is just for you. Just. For. You.
You also start by re-training your kids, your spouse and even your co-workers. If they are old enough, there is no reason why your children cannot make their own lunches for school. The same goes for laundry and other household chores. If they don’t know how to do something, teach them. Your insistence on making time for yourself will also set an example for them. You’re not just teaching them how to live; you become a living example and you show them how to live.
Sadly, domestic violence and sexual abuse is more common than people realize
According to RAINN, every 2 minutes someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted. 44% of the victims are under the age of 12. 80% of the victims are under 18. 97% of the rapists will never spend a day in jail. Domestic violence numbers are a little harder to come by, but surveys put the number at somewhere between 25% and 40%. Domestic violence ranges from verbal battery and abuse to outright assault.
When I started my practice, I was shocked with the realization that so many of the women who were coming to see me had suffered at the hands of men. At any given point in time, more than 50 percent of the women who come to see me have experienced some form of sexual assault or domestic violence. I was stunned by the number of women coming to me, and by the fact that they were coming to see me at all. I believe that the official numbers are actually low, because so much of this type of abuse goes unreported. But, I realized early in my practice that this would become a major focus, that it would become my life’s work.
The stories are chilling. I have a client whose father repeatedly raped her from the time she was 6 months old until she turned 7 when he tried to strangle her. She completely repressed these memories until she came to me complaining of neck pain. When I worked on her neck to try to relieve the pain, it triggered flashback memories of the event.
There is another client who stuttered and her father would repeatedly slap her in an effort to try to get her to stop. Those memories came back, when in the course of her massage I gently worked on her face. She too had repressed the memories and dissociated her feelings from her body. Another client was repeatedly gang-raped. These are just a few of the stories. I have hundreds more like them in my client archives.
The body captures these memories. Physical therapists call it tissue memory. It’s not a well understood phenomenon, but massage therapists see it all the time. I’ve written extensively about it on my blog. When an area injured during trauma (whether it is an accident, abuse, invasive surgery – which is also traumatic) is released, all of the feelings, emotions, and sensations that you experienced during the initial event may also be released. The same fear, the same pain, the same anxiety may resurface, just as intensely as when the original trauma occurred. At the subconscious level, this is what your body has been feeling all along. In order to fully heal, these sensations must be fully felt so that they can be released.
The bottom line is that I have learned that bodywork can help bring about emotional healing a well as physical healing. Body, mind and spirit are inextricably connected; they cannot be separated and should not be treated as separate entities.
A sensitive therapist, within the therapeutic environment, can help a client fully connect mind and body, and help the client to safely release the sensations associated with the trauma. It is only through this kind of release that you can truly heal. Unless you completely let go, your body continues to experience the trauma at a subconscious level. If the body doesn’t release, restrictions can form in the fascia, creating chronic pain and making it worse over time. The added stress on your body may also compromise your body’s immune system, which can lead to other forms of illness.
Within the therapeutic environment, and with a competent and sensitive therapist, you have the ability to release and clear the pain and trauma of the past. When we fully let go of the pain of our past, we can embrace life in the present, and experience the love and beauty of living in the moment.
So, what should you do if you if you are a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault?
If you are in immediate danger or if you have been hurt, call 911.
For advice and support: if you or someone you know is frightened about something in your relationship, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY, 1-800-787-3224.
For rape or sexual assault, contact RAINN (Rape and Incest National Network). RAINN is the nation’s largest anti-sexual assault organization. At any given moment, more than 1,100 trained volunteers are on duty and available to help victims at RAINN-affiliated crisis centers across the country.
To reach a qualified counselor for help, call 1-800-656-HOPE.
For a safe place to stay: Contact your state’s branch of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence or another local organization.
Even though you may not feel so, you are worthy of love, care and nurturing
Again, intellectually most of my clients would agree with this statement. But, it’s hard for them to walk this talk. So, how do you put this into practice?
It starts with a conscious decision to love yourself, to reduce (and eliminate) self-criticism, to forgive yourself, to let go of worry, to have fun, to receive, to be true to yourself and more. Everyday can be an exercise in building your self-confidence and self-esteem. Every day can be an affirmation of love for yourself and an expression of gratitude for the life you have.
There will be set backs. So, I try to help my clients set reasonable expectations. I am drawn to the Reiki Principles which start with the words, “Just for today . . . ,” and especially the principle that says, “Just for today, I shall be kind to all living things,” and I remind my clients that they are one of those living things and that kindness and love for oneself gives you the ability to love others.
Even though you may not believe it, you hold all that is necessary to heal
We are always in search of that magic pill. My clients are no different. They come to me, often with a specific pain, complaint or issue. And, at least in the beginning, they expect me to fix it. And I’ll try various healing modalities; massage in all of its forms, Reiki, Cranial-Sacral therapy, essential oils, diet, exercise and more.
My clients eventually come to realize that there is no “one thing.” What I have learned is that there is no “one thing” that if we all would do to make our lives perfect. No, instead I work with my clients to develop what I call their own personal “life cocktail.” It’s an ever changing combination of things, in varying proportions – from meditation and yoga, to exercise and diet, to massage therapy and energy work, to balancing work and life and play, to love and sex, to spirituality and seeking a higher order, – it’s all of those things and more, much more.
What I have learned is that you all are creative, capable and complete. You are absolutely perfect. When a client comes to see me, there is only one person in the room that matters, and that is she. She holds all the knowledge necessary to live a full and productive life, to be happy. It starts with a conscious decision, a desire for change.
What I have learned is that even though we may desire magical cures and modern medicine tries to create pills that will miraculously cure you, healing does not happen that way. It happens when, as my friend Dr. Lissa Rankin says, “we as practitioners hold sacred space, believe in our patients, love them, hold them up to the mirror to show them what we know is possible for them, and then make recommendations for how we think they might achieve the healing effect they desire.”
She goes on to say, “Science may cure, but only love heals.”
And that my friends, is the ultimate answer. That is what I have leaned over the past 6 years.
This chart says it all. Doctors believe that stress accounts for more than 60 percent of all illnesses reported today.
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) refers to healing modalities that don’t fall into conventional Western medical philosophy, including bodywork, acupuncture, herbology, homeopathy and mind/body techniques. CAM is becoming a more familiar term as approximately 125 million Americans suffering from chronic illness — arthritis, back pain, hypertension, and depression — look for solutions that conventional medicine can’t provide.
“Complementary” modalities are used together with conventional medicine, such as utilizing aromatherapy to lessen a patient’s discomfort following surgery. “Alternative” modalities are used in place of conventional medicine, such as using herbs to treat stomach upset rather than taking pharmaceuticals. And the merging of alternative and conventional medicine is referred to as “integrative medicine,” connoting the idea of combining the best of both healing philosophies.
CAM is continually gaining the respect of the Western medical system, as indicated by the nearly 100 medical schools now offering courses in alternative therapies. The University of Arizona is an exceptional model of such a school, offering the nation’s only postgraduate, two-year Program in Integrative Medicine (PIM). Founded in 1994, PIM is designed to teach small groups of physicians how to integrate holistic modalities into their practices. These doctors are committed to a fundamental redesign of medical education including such principles as:
- Appropriate use of conventional and alternative methods to facilitate the body’s innate healing response
- Consideration of all factors that influence health, including mind, spirit, and community
- A philosophy that neither rejects conventional medicine nor accepts alternative medicine uncritically
For more information and research about CAM, visit the nonprofit Alternative Medicine Foundation.
Healing through the scars
A negative body image is not necessarily about those few extra pounds on the hips. It might instead be tied to the scars of past injuries and surgeries. Massage can help here, too. For example, for burn victims, research has shown massage can help in the healing process, while for postsurgery breast cancer patients, massage and bodywork can reintegrate a battered body and spirit. And of course, in the case of physical or sexual abuse, massage therapy helps to reconnect the client with her body.
In addition to softening scar tissue and speeding postsurgery recovery, or helping to heal the trauma of violence and abuse, massage therapy and bodywork is about respect, reverence, and learning to look at, and beyond, the scars.
The Value of Touch
Touch is a powerful ally in the quest for physical and mental health. It not only can help you be more in tune with your body, but it can help create a sense of wellness and “wholeness” that is often lost in our segmented, over scheduled lives. When we regain that connection, it’s much easier to remember that our bodies are something to be cherished, nurtured, and loved, not belittled, betrayed, and forgotten.
Take the first step. Schedule an appointment with me today by using my online scheduling system.
I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Susan Kingsley-Smith for her Empowering Solutions program on BlogTalk Radio. We spoke about how the body is affected by past trauma and stress. We also discussed ways to move past the pain and trauma.
I hope you’ll take the time to listen to our broadcast.
Peace dear friends.
I have an extensive library of books on meditation and meditative practices. One of my very favorites is “Daily Meditations for Calming Your Anxious Mind,” by Jeffrey Brantley, MD and Wendy Millstine, NC. I refer to it often and I use it as one of the textbooks for my workshops on breathing, meditation and meditative practices. I would like to share with you today, one of the meditations in the book that I have modified.
Brantley and Millstine give us some background for this meditation by suggesting that we practice compassion and self-love for ourselves as we bear the burdens of stress and pain. We often become angry when we are in pain, whether the pain is physical, emotional or spiritual. We feel anger towards the pain, and then carry that anger towards ourselves. Sometimes we may feel helpless or vulnerable, and that fuels the pain and anger, which only serve to increase the pain we feel.
This meditation helps us to remain present and to act with kindness and compassion towards ourselves. I personally have embraced this meditation and use it as a matter of practice whenever I feel fear, anxiety and uncertainty. I use it to support myself during challenging moments in my life.
- Find a comfortable location, a quiet space in your home. I have a very comfortable chair in my living room that I always use. It has become my “meditation chair,” and my body has become so accustomed to it, that it naturally settles in and relaxes!
- Sit comfortably, close your eyes and take in several long, slow and deep breaths. Feel the air fill your lungs and savor it as you slowly exhale, deliberately bringing attention to your body.
- As you begin to feel more comfortable and more focused, let yourself become more open to whatever is upsetting your mind or your body. Name this upset gently, and with compassion – for example, “This is my anxiety about my health,” “This is my fear about losing my loved one,”, “This is my back pain.”
- Continue to breathe mindfully and remain present for the experience at it unfolds before you. As best you can, let yourself relax and soften. Allow the chair or sofa on which you are sitting to do the work, feel yourself sink deeper and let yourself be calm.
- Speak to the part or parts of you that are in distress. With compassion and kindness, offer them relief. Visualize offering a drink of cool water to anger. Imagine a gentle touch or a massage at the site of the pain.
- Speak quietly and kindly to the upset. “May you be at peace.” “May you be released.” “May you be safe.”
- Take as much time as you need and continue to practice. Be patient, not requiring anything to change. Allow your heart to fill with compassion for yourself and for the pain and upset, regardless of what happens next.
- When you are ready, finish your meditation by speaking compassionately towards yourself. Speak to yourself with a kind and understanding voice. For example, “May I live with peace and ease.” “May I live free from fear and anxiety.” “May I live free from pain.”
I wrote this post originally for Owning Pink, and it was first published there on June 9th, 2010. I am republishing it here to share it with my clients and readers.
It’s amazing what children can teach us.
Recently, I had the pleasure to work as one of more than a dozen or so caregivers participating in a “Day of Pampering” for the women of an organization that operates an undisclosed 200 room safe house in Northern Virginia for female domestic violence and sexual assault survivors and their children. The Day of Pampering was being held at a local church. The congregation there had graciously offered to open their doors to the volunteers and survivors. My job that day was to give Reiki, Cranial Sacral Therapy and bodywork to survivors who had signed up for the day.
My first “client” of the day was Najya. That is not her real name, but we have to protect her identity. She came to me on that day to receive energy work. Reiki and Cranial-Sacral Therapy can be very effective methods to re-introduce nurturing touch to survivors, as they are very non-invasive techniques.
I always ask for permission before I begin the session and before I apply touch. It’s the client’s session – in this case, Najya’s session – not mine. She needs to set the tone and the pace. Permission is always required.
While I do not have a set protocol when working with survivors, I often like to begin with a deep breathing exercise. It’s a safe exercise, and it helps to bring the client into the moment, helps her to relax, and helps re-connect her with her body.
It’s fascinating. We don’t think about how we breathe, we take breathing for granted and many of us have literally forgotten how to perform this basic act. We have lost our ability to breathe naturally, in the way in which our body was designed. Our lungs are teardrop shaped, and they are meant to be filled from the bottom up. That means breathing from deep within the belly, engaging the thoracic diaphragm, and filling our lungs with air from the bottom up. However, most people fill their lungs from the top down. They engage chest and neck muscles when they breathe. It’s called “chest breathing”, and this is often the source of neck and shoulder pain, and the cause of headaches.
As I began the session, I guided Najya through a typical breathing exercise. I usually do variations of this exercise.
But, Najya was definitely having trouble with this. Try as she might, she just couldn’t seem to get the hang of engaging her belly muscles, engaging her diaphragm. And I just wasn’t doing a very good job guiding her through this.
“I can’t get a full breath,” she said frustratedly.
“No worries,” I replied. “Let’s just move on.”
So, for the next 10-15 minutes I performed gentle massage, Reiki, and some Cranial Sacral Therapy. I focused my attention on her head, neck and shoulders – gentle, very subtle manipulations, in a very nurturing way. I checked in with Najya throughout, always asking permission to move on. It was her session, and she was in control. And as progressed through the session, I noticed that she began to relax and become more present and in the moment. As that happened, her breathing began to subtly shift from her chest to her belly and diaphragm. And in the end, she was breathing deep from her belly.
Her head was in my hands, and I was about to end the session. I asked her, “How do you feel?”
She took a few seconds to reply and said, “I feel calm.”
I don’t know what made me ask, but I said, “Do you have any children?”
She looked at me, smiled and said, “Yes, I have a baby boy. He’s 8-months old.”
“Have you ever watched him breathe?” I asked.
She thought about it for a second and said, “Not really. No.”
“Where is he?” I asked in hopes that she had brought her young son to the daycare center that the safe house volunteers provided.
“He is here. He’s in the nursery,” she replied.
And then I quickly answered, “Let’s go see him.”
I helped her off the massage table, and we walked down the hall together to the nursery. As we entered, Najya walked over to a volunteer who was holding a very big baby boy in her arms, rocking him as he slept. He had a dark head of hair, and a gentle smile on his face as he slept in the arms of his caregiver.
Najya smiled at the volunteer and whispered, “Let me take him.” The volunteer gently handed over this plump baby boy to his mother.
“What is his name?” I asked.
Najya replied, “He is Bahir.” She looked down lovingly at this beautiful baby boy.
Najya cradled her son in her arms. He was sound asleep, and as she held him, she broadened her stance and began to sway slightly, mimicking the rhythm of his breathing.
“Put your hand on his belly,” I whispered as I moved closer to both of them. “Close your eyes and feel the sensation of his breath.” She placed her left hand on his belly, and then closed her eyes, searching for the rhythm of his breath.
“Feel his breath and make it your own,” I said. As I said this, I could watch this little baby boy extend his belly, breathe in through his nose, and ever so slightly breathe out through his mouth.
We stood together in silence for several minutes and Najya began to connect with her son.
After a few minutes I asked, “May I hold him?”
Without a word, she slipped her son into my arms. I quickly said, “Place your hand on his belly, and place your other hand on your belly and mimic his breathing.”
Then, the three of us were just stood there in silence, swaying gently. There was a gentle rhythm to his breath and I was able to count Little Bahir’s breathing patterns. His belly filled to the count of five, and he exhaled to the count of eight. He was sound asleep and just doing this naturally.
“Feel his breath and begin to breathe as one,” I said.
And so we stood there for several minutes. I’m not sure how much time really passed. But, I could see that her breathing patterns had changed. She was now taking deep full breaths, in a very relaxed and natural way. She was breathing as her body was designed to do.
I also noticed subtle changes in her posture. Her shoulders were no longer up around her ears. Tension lines had disappeared from her face.
“Continue to focus on the breath,” I said and I returned her son to her arms.
When we were born, we all breathed like babies. And then somewhere in the transition from baby to “little person,” we forgot how to breathe. We lost the connection to our belly, and to that place that grounds us to the earth.
But, we can definitely recapture this feeling. We want to breathe this way. It only requires training and desire.
Najya, Bahir and I stood together in the silence for a few more minutes.
“How do you feel now?” I asked.
She replied, “Wonderful!”
“Practice this,” I said. “Mimic the way your son breathes and let him teach you,” I said.
I stood there for a few minutes more and then quietly slipped out of the room.
It was a wonderful day. One of my favorite parts of the day was to walk around and watch the children rolling in play doh, making jewelry, playing on the play ground or in the nursery, so content and being rocked and played with by a volunteer care-giver.
I saw nearly 20 “clients” that day. But Najya was the most memorable. As I packed up my table and supplies at the end of the day and carried them to my car, I noticed Najya from across the parking lot. She glanced up and saw me. She placed her hand on her belly, and I could see that she took a deep breath from all the way across the parking lot. She closed her eyes and smiled.
It’s amazing what children can teach us.