Breathwork helps the body to naturally let go of our emotional build-up so that we can live free from the negative influences of past traumatic experiences and suppressed emotions and their long-term consequences.
Could something as simple and automatic as our breath be the key to freedom from anxiety, emotional issues, and even depression? Could it be that we already have the solution to the numerous stress-related health problems built into our physical body? If so, then why are an increasing number of us are struggling with chronic stress, anxiety, and multitude of related issues?
Physical ailments: messages and answers
We live in an era where we are taught to look for most answers from outside of us; we read books, listen to podcasts, see practitioners, and do courses that give us (often contradicting) advice about how to eat, how to exercise, live, think, parent, relax, achieve our goals, be a better person… you get the picture. Don’t get me wrong; I, too, am a big fan of the information age where all of the above is readily available and it is easy to study or research almost anything remotely from the comfort of your home, favourite café, or anywhere in the world. But there is something that we may be overlooking or forgetting about in the process: the infinite wisdom and power that is in us all, already built into the intelligent self-healing mechanism that is our body and mind. This lack of faith in our body’s ability to heal itself is at least partly fuelled by the huge worldwide industry that benefits from us not trusting our bodies or feeling well. Yes, the very the same one that sells a quick fix drug for each ailment we have.
All the different physical symptoms we experience in our body are trying to tell us something important. If, instead of listening to those messages we go to the doctor or our medicine cupboard looking for the solution, we are just putting a plaster on top of a deep, seeping wound. TV commercials and ads everywhere pound into our heads that we are to take an antacid tablet for our heartburn, a pill for our headache, medicated gel for muscle tension and medicinal lozenges for our sore throats or head colds. They ease the symptoms for a while and we go back to feeling normal – until the symptoms return either in the same or a different variation. This is because, even though the symptoms have been momentarily relieved, the underlying issues remain. The wound keeps on weeping and gradually getting worse; it needs to be cleaned from the inside out.
Much more often than we realise the physical illness we experience has its roots deep in our emotional body – in the unexpressed and unprocessed emotions we have accumulated over the course of our lifetime. In fact, an interesting Harvard medical study* revealed that a majority of people who experienced no back pain at all had the same physical ‘abnormalities’ as people who do experience back pain – herniated discs, vertebral degeneration and so on – only they occurred without the physical pain. This supports the claim that ‘all pain is emotional pain’ (perhaps we should assume that ‘most pain’ would be even more accurate). This does not mean that the pain, if its core is emotional, is any less real. It just suggests that we might have more success treating it if we approach it differently.
The same over-medicalisation also applies to our emotional life. When we feel unhappy for a long time, have lost our mojo, are stressed, sad, or riddled with fear for no apparent reason, we can be prescribed an anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication – or we self-medicate with our drug of choice including alcohol and recreational drugs to feel better or, more accurately, to feel less. Unfortunately their use doesn’t often work in our favour. These drugs, in fact, work to further suppress the body’s own natural healing and release mechanisms and inhibit their functions.
Stress – our archenemy?
Stress is a normal and natural part of life. All humans and animals experience mental, physical, or emotional stress from time to time. Natural levels of stress actually enhance our mental and physical performance. Prolonged, chronic stress, however, is not our friend. The question is: how do we process and release it, or do we hold on to it and store it in our body?
Animals and young children naturally release stress and emotional charge through automatic mechanisms of the body: different spontaneous breathing patterns, sounds, shaking, crying, and so on. As we grow up we learn to suppress these release mechanisms. Instead of allowing ourselves to fully feel and express all of our emotions, we tense up our body and restrict our breathing as an unconscious defence not to feel our painful emotions, or show them to others. Outside we may even seem cool, calm, and collected but inside we hold on to the fear, emotional pain, or anger. Over time the state of stress becomes more and more chronic and habitual; the neurological feedback loops of stress are reinforced again and again. Our undealt- with stress and ‘negative’ emotions can develop into anxiety, depression, or chronic pain and illness over time.
Physiologically speaking, the tensing of muscles, and insufficient breathing result in less blood flow and subsequently less oxygen in the body. When this goes on for extended periods the body uses all available oxygen primarily for vital body functions, and non-vital functions get second place. The prolonged lack of oxygen disturbs our digestion, circulation, metabolism, and all normal body functions, which leads to physical illness, chronic pain, headaches, and so on. The latest findings show that insufficient oxygen significantly reduces production of serotonin (the ‘feel good hormone’), which leads to even more tension and restricted breathing. The effect snowballs and the vicious cycle is ready. Breathwork therapy floods the body and cells with oxygen and reverses this cycle.
Cause of emotional pain and trauma
No one goes through life without experiencing trauma, be it gross and obvious or subtle and more difficult to notice. It is part of human life.
Gross trauma is caused by things like accidents, natural disasters, war, or physical or sexual abuse: something ‘big’ and obviously traumatic. Gross trauma can sometimes be easier to deal with because it is more obvious, providing that we remember or at least are aware of the event. Even then our conscious mind can often minimise the effect the event has had on us emotionally, yet we carry the imprints in the physical body for years to come. A good example of this is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Subtle trauma is often emotional in nature and can be more difficult to pinpoint. It may be as simple as unmet love needs or hearing mum and dad fight when we were little. Incidents that may seem insignificant to an adult can often leave strong imprints in the emotional body, which we then carry around as unconscious memories and negative core beliefs for years to come.
The breathing solution
Breathwork therapy harnesses the body’s own natural mechanisms for releasing stress and emotional charge. Simply described, it is emotional release work. It helps the body to naturally let go of our emotional build-up so that we can live free from the negative influences of past traumatic experiences and suppressed emotions and their long-term consequences. Feeling, and physically releasing these emotions results in deep healing and permanent change faster than analysing mental level memories in traditional talk therapy. The technique works through a style of active, connected breathing through the mouth, which you do under the guidance of an experienced facilitator.
How does it work?
Breathwork, directly reaches the limbic system to release deep, and often hidden, unconscious emotional trauma or wounding that accumulated in the cell memory of the body over the course of our lives. Hence numerous physical health benefits occur.
The specific style of active, circular breathing (that children do naturally when releasing emotional charge) stimulates the hippocampus, the part of the brain that stores our painful memories, and the amygdala, which is responsible for our emotions and other functions related to anxiety and depression. As a result, our built-up emotional pain is brought to the surface to be processed and released. During a breathwork session we may have profound and intense emotional experiences, or have emotional memories of past events that we have blocked out of our consciousness. This is why it is important to do it under the guidance of an experienced and qualified breathwork practitioner who can support you through the process. Breathwork therapy also includes conscious counselling and mental processing techniques. These help us to uncover and let go of the subconscious negative core beliefs that keep our unwanted patterns running and hold us back in life.
What are the benefits?
As the emotional and somatic (physical) body clears, the whole nervous system undergoes a thorough cleansing and all our energies begin to flow freely again. You will find you have more energy available to take care of tasks in daily life and do more of the things you love. Breathwork therapy offers advanced relief from anxiety, depression, and all emotional issues. Breathwork therapy also results in improved relationships, more conscious relating, and deeper intimacy. When we are no longer re-creating and acting from our past trauma and the defences built around it, our relationships – both with ourselves and with others – become easier. We are finally able to release our unconscious negative beliefs, break through repetitive negative patterns and exchange them for more functional and fulfilling ones.
* Harvard study: http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mind-back-pain-201605049517
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