In this entertaining personal story Irena explains how breathwork and body psychotherapy allowed her to experience successful relationships in her life.
‘You are not your body’… right?
I’ve heard many a guru say over the years, ‘You are not your body’, with finger pointed toward the heavens and head bobbing convincingly. I so wanted to believe it. I really tried – gazing, chanting (I still like to chant), trying to ignore the burn in my knees, sitting cross-legged for hours with random thoughts running through my mind. And still, with great personal gains in meditation and therapy, there was persistent doubt. “Why then do I feel intense pleasure and also deep suffering in this body and why do I even have a body that can do so much if my consciousness is all that I am – or at least the most important part of me?”
I was raised a good Catholic girl with my fair share of enculturated guilt, but surely this flesh was not the work of the devil? It felt like a pan-religious conspiracy – they were all saying the same thing!
I was a child athlete, fast on the track, and deep inside myself I believed that God must have loved my speed and, for that matter, my feelings – and the way I sang and drew and danced, and later in life experienced my grown-up pleasures too. Right? I mean, how can orgasms be so nice if I am just a point of light?
But like most people, all was not well in the home I grew up in, and I took on the belief that this ‘badness’ I felt inside had everything to do with me. In particular I felt disconnection and alienation from my mother. As my personality developed with all its compensations and protections against this pain, I grew up fast. I flew off to live in another city at the tender age of 18, feeling somewhat less than ready for the world.
Long story short: relationships had always been a bit of a rollercoaster ride for me – sometimes great and sometimes disastrous, but more or less manageable.
Breathwork and body psychotherapy: a large, soft blanket
Deep into adulthood my inner life really started growing pear-shaped after having children of my own. Everything from my own childhood that I had been able to contain was suddenly too much. I knew some serious inner work was required with a now eight-year-old step-daughter and newborn twins to care for. Twenty-odd years of consciousness and mind therapies were not cutting it any more.
Through what I consider a happy conspiracy of the universe, I discovered breathwork and body psychotherapy. This new way of healing my disarrayed life felt like a powder keg and a large, soft blanket all at the same time – something that allowed me to let go and trust myself to feel fully, breathe properly, move my body, express myself and connect to an original sense of myself… all while being witnessed and lovingly supported throughout.
As uncomfortable as this was at times, my body psychotherapy sessions left me in a state of connection, feeling more love and joy, physical freedom in my body and, most of all, deep mental and emotional peace. I was less driven, anxious and moody. Family and friends felt the positive effects directly. My relationship to the world started to change, and, most surprisingly, the mine-field-difficult relationship with my mother transformed. After I had ‘forgiven’ her and given up on the idea that we could ever connect in a healthy way, our relationship began to transform – all without her knowing a thing about what I was doing in my healing work.
Breathing and releasing grief
The truth is she only changed in response to me. Releasing the grief and sense of childhood loss around her in particular was very hard – it brings tears now, remembering – but the opening it created in my heart for myself and for my family was worth each tear. Everything changed. Because I saw us differently, it changed the way I related to myself as a mother and a woman. Suddenly all my relationships with women bloomed. I also quietly fell in love with myself, and my intimate partnership reflected that too. Throughout, it was my body that was leading this process of healing; not my mind.
Here’s the most interesting part – the deeper I explored what my body held through breathwork and body psychotherapy, the more I discovered what my thoughts, beliefs and judgements really were, and the more I came to realise there is no thought without an emotional and energetic correlative in the body. None of these processes exists without a correlation in our consciousness either. Since then I’ve read the great quantum science discoveries that reflect this, and so much more, but how nice it is to feel it in the body and my relationships.
To my delight I now realise that in a way the gurus were right, but what they could have been saying is, ‘You are not JUST your body’. You are not just pure consciousness either. Everything really is connected and it’s important to include the body as a source for spiritual, mental and emotional healing. The body, after all, gives us the sensations of our experiences upon which we build a sense of who we are in the world.
Revealing our protections and improving our relationships
When we hurt, it affects our whole self. The protections we adopt against feeling that hurt show up as problems in our relationships way down the track, even when we want good things and do what’s right to bring them about.
The armour we’ve built against hurt is unconscious and doesn’t discriminate between positive or negative energy. This is a dilemma when it comes to love. Love is, after all, energetic in nature, and as energy it wants to move, inward to the self and outward to others. All protections block the movement of energy and keep us reacting in repetitive and usually negative ways, which profoundly affect our relating.
Utilising movement and breath, body psychotherapy and breathwork reveal these protections and embrace the premise that the body is a rich and accurate archive of our unintegrated personal history. It holds the energy of gross and subtle traumas, incomplete expressions, withheld communications and difficult feelings as chronically held tension in the body. You could even say that the body holds the key to each person’s life task in its structure, by the way that it points to what we protect against and hence what we probably most long for.
By breathing properly in a safely held therapeutic space, we can gradually and carefully energise and activate armoured parts of the body that have been blocked, overcharged or disconnected. This process brings out a spectrum of thoughts and feelings, giving way to more authentic expressions of the self. It’s a liberating process of reconnection that touches every aspect of life. It can feel limitless in its potential, resulting in easier, more responsive and flowing relationships. We can all use more of that.
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