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How do we release prolonged stress?

In Health and Healing, Health and Nutrition by Liisa Halme0 Comments

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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.

 

How does emotional pain become physical?

Cellular memory, as the name implies, is basically the memory that resides inside the cells within the body. Every single cell in the body has a memory of its own that stores reserves of information related to past experiences, both positive and negative. When a cell stores a memory from a negative or painful experience, it will cause an undesirable effect, which usually manifests itself as a physical or emotional block. These are often not conscious, mental level memories but much deeper, unconscious emotional memory imprints.

​When we experience chronic pain, stress, anxiety or depression,​ it is the memory within the cells that is causing a reaction within the body. This applies to every aspect of a person’s life in both the physical and emotional level, meaning that cellular memory can affect your body physically in the form of sickness or disease, emotionally through our reactions and responses to events and relationships, as well as metaphysically through things we attract in life. A good example of the latter is how people who have experienced abuse as a child will often end up in abusive relationships later on in life. The good news is that you can change the cell memory and release painful and negative memories for good. As a result we stop recreating and replicating these painful imprints and feelings in the present-day life.​

Stress – our archenemy?

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 un-dealt-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 = 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.

Anxiety and panic attacks – the adrenaline response

Anxiety and panic attacks are essentially a state of accumulated and unprocessed fear in the system. They have been labelled medical conditions, but actually they are just an accumulation of emotion that can easily be released and cleared from the system.

When experiencing stress and fear we have two (or three) possible survival mechanisms: ‘Fight or flight’, or ‘freeze’. Anxiety is a result of ongoing fight or flight response, a state of high adrenaline and increased heartbeat. Other symptoms include hypertension, hyper-vigilance, inability to relax, restlessness, insomnia, hyperactivity.

mother with newbornThe causes can be traced back to as early as birth. During the stresses of being born, a baby’s heart rate and adrenaline levels are high. When the baby is put to mother’s chest soon after, the warmth and beating of mother’s heart calm the baby down and make the newborn’s heart rate and adrenaline levels drop. If this, for whatever reason, doesn’t happen, and a distressed baby doesn’t get the calming, soothing touch of a caregiver on a regular basis, adrenaline levels may stay high permanently. This can be a root of anxiety. Fear may also accumulate in the system later on in life. Panic attacks happen when the pressure valve of accumulated fear finally blows up.

Anxiety affects half of the population at some point in our lives. One in six people suffers from chronic anxiety or panic attacks.

Depression – the opiate response

Depression is a result of the ‘freeze’ stress response becoming chronic. This is the primal survival mechanism of playing dead, or complying, when running away or fighting is not an option, or when the ‘fight or flight’ response has been exhausted. It is as if we leave our bodies and internally go somewhere else. Physiologically speaking this is the opiate response: the body is still flooded with high levels of stress hormones, but their usual symptoms are covered up by the opiates which slow the heart rate down and create an illusion of relaxedness. In the animal kingdom this would mean playing dead in order to avoid attack, but being ready to flee at the first opportunity.

Depression can also be the result of accumulations of suppressed sadness or anger in the body. Keeping the emotional energy held in takes all our energy; there is none left for living our life in a normal, healthy way. A depressed person’s breathing is insufficient and body is deprived of oxygen, which results in low serotonin levels and a snowball effect of depression. The opiate response has the characteristics of:

  • feeling down or numb
  • leaving the body
  • dissociation
  • low heart rate
  • low blood pressure
  • compliance
  • isolation
  • inability to feel
  • lack of motivation
  • lack of energy
  • lack of enthusiasm
  • literally feeling dead inside.

Pharmaceutical depression and anxiety medication often offer little or no help, yet they come with many undesirable side-effects.

Breathwork offering an effective remedy for the various forms of stress

Because we are psychosomatic beings, dealing with our emotional pain often results in the profound healing of many physical issues. Significant health benefits may include relief from allergies and asthma, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, hormonal imbalances, IBS, skin disorders, and many other health issues.

Traditional counselling and psychology approach treatment from the cortex and neocortex part of the brain: the mental level, logical, and rational thinking part. Their limitation is that our underlying emotions don’t have anything to do with reason or logic, and intellectual understanding of our problems doesn’t always make them go away. Without a way to access deeper, subconscious material, the progress can be very slow, and in most cases even after years of talk therapy only surface level emotional pain is discharged.

Breathwork, on the other hand, directly reaches the limbic system to release deep, and often hidden, unconscious emotional trauma or wounding that has accumulated in the cell memory of the body over the course of our lives. Hence numerous physical health benefits occur. ​​Breathwork therapy was shown by Lalande*  to offer significant and permanent relief from anxiety and panic attacks. It can also offer significant, permanent relief from depression, even for chronically depressed individuals who have found traditional talk therapy and medication ineffective or insufficient.

The specific style of active, circular breathing employed in a breathwork session – and also the style of 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.

Resources

Lloyd Lalande’s PhD study: * https://www.biodynamicbreath.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Breathwork-An-Additional-TX.pdf

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mind-back-pain-201605049517

http://www.australianbreathworkassociation.org/find-a-practitioner.html

About the Author
Liisa Halme

Liisa Halme

Liisa Halme is an advanced breathwork practitioner, a registered yoga therapist and a senior yoga teacher, as well as a mother and a wife. She works with individuals and groups in Sydney eastern suburbs. Contact Liisa at [email protected] or http://www.FreedomTechniques.com.au.

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