Exhaling Trauma

nov 14 6Students come to me to learn how to breathe better for many reasons: to sing or play an instrument with greater ease, to be more in command on stage as an actor, or simply to feel less stressed. But, in truth, breathing coordination offers us much more. The practice can take us underneath the old patterns and emotions locked deep inside us. Often, these patterns and emotions show up to sabotage us when we least expect them. Breathing coordination can release us from these restrictions. It can even free us from inner monsters we didn’t know were controlling our lives.

I learned this dramatically about 20 years ago, when I was working with Carl Stough, one of my most important teachers. Carl was the founder of the technique of breathing coordination and was known as Dr. Breath. I had been working with Carl for about a year, and each week I could feel improvements. It felt great to be on his table, extending my exhalations so that I had a greater respiratory capacity. It was a gateway to such ease vocally, as well as in movement and in other behaviors. After a session, I used to feel that I could even see better, because so much tension had been released. Sometimes, when I was deeply in the reception space of the breath, I felt like I was surfing waves. There was no lack of continuity between the ease of my breath and the ease of my mind/body.

But I couldn’t seem to sustain that same experience beyond our sessions. Why was that, I wondered? Why would I deprive myself of something so exquisite in my daily life? Why wouldn’t I practice on my own? Why wouldn’t I commit to it?

One day, in a session with Carl, I was in that delightful wave-surfing place, feeling a kind of ease and pleasure I never imagined was possible, when suddenly a thought popped into my head. Without restraint, I blurted out, “HITLER would be so angry if he knew how good I felt right now!” Once those words were out of my mouth, I could hear how absurd they probably sounded. After all, I wasn’t a direct survivor of the Holocaust, although my father had been. And Carl did seem a bit taken aback. He said to me, “Janice, Hitler is dead. Isn’t it time to give it up?” But when I heard those words spoken back to me, something was unleashed in me. For the first time since my father died ten years before, I started to wail and shake with grief.

Through the tears I said to myself, “But to give up Hitler, I have to give up my father.” And at that moment, I understood why my body carried so much tension and rage—in my jaw, in the back of my skull, in my chest. Later I realized that during this session with Carl, my breath had carried me to a critical moment in my healing. Up until this point, my sessions had demonstrated that my diaphragm was getting stronger, that my breath was getting fuller and that the sound of my voice was more resonant. The vibrational frequency I could produce had become more powerful. For the first time, I could sustain tones and, for the first time, actually sing a song and feel the joy of expressing myself with my voice. I felt giddy and full of delight—emotions I had never accessed before.

Until that day, I had not touched or even realized the grief that was living in my body—the grief and anger stored in the tissue and the cells. Physiologically, it was as if I had been in a frozen state since my early years, when I would hear my father recount stories from his days in the camps.

We have all heard of “fight or flight” instincts, but it is important to notice the third option—to freeze—that is also a natural response to emotional or physical trauma. Non-human animals understand how to shake off the freeze response, but we humans have lost the instinct to unfreeze. This is why we need others to help us meet the trauma we hold in our bodies. In order for the body/psyche to release the habitual holding patterns, we need total safety. We need to completely surrender.

And we need the strength that comes with practice. In my case, until that day with Carl—the day I blurted out words about Hitler and then began to cry—I had been in the process of healing, but my diaphragm had not yet been strong enough to support the release of my grief and my tears. I had needed to slowly build the strength of my diaphragm before I could truly release the muscular tensions of chronic freeze.

Since that time, I have made Carl Stough’s breathing coordination the cornerstone of my work in Body Dialogue. What I understand now as a practitioner is this: The breath allows us to drop out of our habitual understanding of ourselves. Through breathing properly, we can literally change our physiology and enter a different state of knowing ourselves. Our experience of our identity can actually shift. If we are breathing from a place of absolute ease, with no effort, the old tension patterns (that have been so much a part of our personality) can re-organize in such a way that we respond to that old identity from a new reference point. This process allows the habitual thinking and habitual preoccupations of mind to let go of their hereditary grip.

Every time we move out of that tension pattern and experience ourselves from a less confined and restricted experience, we can tap into a place within ourselves that is not ruled by the protective complex that allowed us to survive but is now holding us back. My blurted-out words about Hitler revealed to me that I was still being controlled by an old habitual pattern of mind that basically prohibited pleasure. The experience also allowed me to drop my unconscious assumption that my father and his experiences were in charge of my life.

 

For more on Carl Stough’s work, see BreathingCoordination.com. 

The Gaze and the Vigil

apple treeIt is more than a month since the three boys were captured in Israel.
It is more than a month of waking up every day to hear that the nightmare is not over.
More than a month of fantasizing that Israelis and Palestinians will not continue to play out the futile and feudal warfare of the big powers, playing into the hands of the worst extremists.
Believing that one can annihilate the other when we all know neither side is going to give up their right to exist in and on that land.
Where will it end? No one knows, but it is clear that this is not an incursion like any other before.
It is a total game changer.
We all know why.

Deep in our hearts and souls we know that what happens now will be remembered by both sides forever.
The wounding, the hurt, the anger, the hatred and the solidarity of the tribal connections will be engraved in the hearts and brains of all the parties all over the world. It will be reinforcing the trauma of the Second World War.
Our neuro pathways are conditioned to trauma.

So why am I writing another piece?
I am not a professional writer,
but I am a wandering Jew. I had five weeks in Israel when all this started and now am in Ireland where people say if we can do it, they can do it. After all, we hated one another.
I want to believe that.
I want to believe that my German friends can make Shabbat with me because we believe in looking into each other’s eyes.
No, I am not having a gun held to my head.
No one wants to kill me.
But nevertheless I am a Jew and have been told as long as I can remember that the non-Jews want to get rid of us, so beware!

I was raised on the fear of anti-Semitism.
And today I have two children.

One works for the end of the occupation through non-violent means. The other believes that redemption is on the other side of this war. That once and for all, Israel will end safe from its enemies.
We brought up these children in NYC And they grew up hearing that Israelis are our brothers and sisters.
Where do I stand today as both my children call to tell me how they are faring daily with the war in the back drop?

When I went to Israel recently my son was so disappointed that I was not ready to give up my U.S. passport for an Israeli passport.
He was so furious that I could not see that being a wandering Jew was weakening my body and making it difficult for me to age without more stress on my body.
I kept saying over and over,

I am not an Israeli.
I do not know the language well enough, I am scared of the roads, and I am too sensitive–but really, is that why I am not picking up and starting over at age 64 in Jerusalem or Safed?
No. Actually I am not living there because at this moment in time I cannot hold the vision of what I believe in a country that is continually bombarded by choices that seem untenable to me.

It feels like the life-support machine called the IDF–Israel Defense Forces–is having consequences that I cannot stand behind.
I cannot sit in the comfort of my life knowing what it is costing to the whole nation and to the whole of the Jewish people all over the world. The violence that comes with power allows people to make bad choices. To believe that might is right. To believe that whoever has more guns wins. That is now what I know as a woman waking every day to feel the pain of all the mothers whose children are dying, and for what?????
As an American, I know that we are also making choices that are untenable.
I know that.
But on a local level I can have a little more control.
I can work in my private ways to help individuals wake up to the inner story of their hearts and bodies.

We are all making choices now that are very hard.
And yet I believe in the gaze.
I believe we need to be able to look into one another’s eyes.
We need to not be ashamed
We need to know we did our best
We need to believe in what we do and say
We need to be honest and real

It is my choice.
I do not know where this will end.
I know I have to look in my own eyes every day and ask myself,
Am I doing the best I can do right now in this moment to be
True
Honest
Loving
Real
Courageous and simple.
If my grandsons ask me

Where were you, Safta, when this was happening?
What can I say to them?

That is what is guiding me right now.
I will not answer that now but will continue to use that question to guide me.
I am not going to give up the vision of the eagle and the condor*
I believe this is the dying of the old way
Of domination, colonization, power over not power with

I have to believe that, or I cannot wake up every day and breathe in life.

image from Amy Livingstone of http://sacredartstudio.net/

image from Amy Livingstone of http://sacredartstudio.net/

*The eagle and the condor myth says when the northern hemisphere people meet the ways of the southern hemisphere people there will be a more aligned balance of the energies of the masculine and the feminine

Using the Breath as a Tool to Counter Anxiety and Fear

A student came to me with an enormous amount of fear and anxiety. I got her on my table and opened the space for her to describe what she was experiencing. While she was speaking, I used my hands to feel for where the tension patterns were in her back, neck and shoulders. With my touch alone her anxiety started to lessen. Together, we would slowly count to ten out loud, and with each counting, her body started quieting down, and her tension patterns began to release.  I gave her very physical instructions.  I told her to feel the weight of her bones on the table. I helped her experience opening the jaw wide (releasing some of the pressure at the back of her skull), and I helped her identify the tension at the back of her tongue.

In the space of one hour, she began to see that the physical patterns of her body and the restrictions in her breathing were simply a result of habit. With guidance, hands- on instruction and my insight, she began to quiet the chronic panic that would build from breath to breath.You might imagine that her anxiety was only an emotional problem, but she already had tried a decade of talking therapy and it wasn’t having results that were measurable; it wasn’t shifting her behavior. Her tension literally lived in her body.

We continued to count out loud in series of 10′s, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10…and little by little her exhale increased from 10 counts to 50.  With the increase of exhalation, her muscle tension released, the panic subsided, and she began to receive a glimmer of hope, that perhaps she didn’t have to live crippled by anxiety.

In some cases, dealing with anxiety can be as simple as becoming aware of where we are unconsciously holding tension in our bodies, and consciously releasing and relaxing our bodies.

 

Click here for a practice to try at home. Enjoy!

 

Running For Your Life? 5 steps to slow down and take charge…

This month’s blog post is borrowed from a dear friend and teacher of mine Jana Titus. Jana is an amazing teacher, writer, life coach, and healer. She is intuitive and yet practical, insightful, and direct. Please enjoy this article. To read more by Jana, visit janatitus.com

 

body-in-motionOMG – Gotta do this – Gotta do that – Gotta move faster – Gotta do more…

Sound familiar?

It’s the soundtrack of the modern mind, a siren song of stress, endlessly driving us to do more and do it faster. We all honor the idea of being mindful, of keeping calm, of staying in the moment. I’m not sure we really believe it’s possible – or, frankly, even desirable…

Slow down and someone else might get ahead. Slow down and we might miss the next boat taking off for the next big thing. So day after day we run after the cosmic To-Do list that rolls before us, striving to catch up with our lives – to take control. But somehow we never do. Somehow our lives seem to have taken control of us…

It’s time to take charge…

Speed is the enemy of consciousness. It creates stress out of thin air and panic out the simplest errand. But we live in a speed-addicted world, and we’re all hooked – pharmaceutically or psychically. It’s our culture – the ingrained belief that the more you do the better person you are. The busier you are the more important. The faster you move the more you get done. So of course we take on more than we can do! Of course we speed up to do it! That’s what successful, got-their-act-together people do! Yet at the end of the day we wonder why we feel so exhausted, stressed and overwhelmed – and why, despite all we did, there’s so much left to do. It’s the way things are. Life in the 21st century.

Does it have to be that way? Really?

Ask yourself: Does doing things faster give you more time? Does driving through your day like it’s the Indy 500 make you more productive? Have you ever got it (whatever ‘it’ is) all done? Is it even possible? Does it even matter?

Years ago I studied with a Swami who observed that Americans make themselves crazy running around, and asked a simple – ‘Why?’ That was my ‘aha’ moment, the moment I decided to slow down enough to smell at least one flower a day. Because at that moment, in a flash, I saw my life as a race I was running – and losing – everyday.  And when I asked myself ‘why?’ I couldn’t answer the question. Since then, I’ve asked the same question of people who come to me stressed out and exhausted – and I’m always amazed to find no one can answer it! It seems that all the rationales for rushing around to accomplish XY & Z in the shortest amount of time dissolve upon examination.

The plain fact is that the go faster/do more paradigm by which we live is a lie. It doesn’t work.

We need to make a change. And the only way to change behavior is to change the thought that inspires it

  1. First step: create a new paradigm that answers the questions: what do we really want from life, what would reduce stress, give us more energy, create more happiness, and make more time for the things that give us joy
  2. Next step: create a practice that puts the idea into action. By practice I’m not talking about adding to the list of what we already have to do – thus creating more stress. I’m talking about implementing certain time-proven techniques for staying conscious, present and calm in our day. For instance:
  3. Set a daily intention. Intention – ‘samkalpa’ in Sanskrit – directs energy toward a particular goal, whatever it may be – to go slow, to be patient, to take time for ourselves.
  4. Be mindful about the things that speed us up and create tension. No judgment, no guilt – just observing ourselves in action. What triggers tension and speeding up? Running late? Change of plans? Waiting? Recognize the triggers and we give ourselves the chance to avoid them and/or alter our response to them.
  5. Remember to breathe. Speeding up creates tension and constricts breathing. One deep, conscious breath can change a day. Right now, take a breath, enjoy the release of tension – then count to three and do it again. Feel the difference?

Amazingly, when we get ourselves to slow down – even a little – we find we have a lot more time to get things done!  When we don’t worry about all there is to do – but simply stay with the process of doing – we discover it’s entirely possible to move fast without racing, and get things done without stressing. To breathe, to stay calm – even, miracle of miracles! – actually enjoy doing what needs to be done…

And when all is said and done, maximum enjoyment is better for the soul than getting the maximum amount of things done.

What is our pain asking of us?

Dr. John E. Sarno is a pioneer in Mindbody medicine. His area of expertise: chronic pain. Dr. Sarno has been conducting research since 1973 with individuals who experience chronic pain and has concluded that structural abnormalities like bulging discs in the back, tendonitis, and fibromyalgia are not necessarily always the causes of pain. Chronic pain comes from someplace deeper, in the realm of the mind-body connection. Dr. Sarno believes that back pain is a result of repressed rage, and is often and very likely rooted in the emotions.
This week, my back was very creaky and I felt restricted in motion.  I wondered, was it repressed rage manifesting as pain in my back? Think about it; rage sits in the tissues in our jaw, tongue, butt, hips. If rage, like happiness, is an inside job, does that mean we can clear it ourselves?

 

Following is a practice to try and clear your pain yourself; to clear your pain both emotionally and physically:

what is my pain asking of me

First, go deep into the pain and ask “What is my pain asking of me?”
Go into the sensation like a meditation.  Try to stay detached and just listen, rather than trying to change or chase the pain
Remain open to receiving an image, a sound , a word
Be with what is
What is the color, the texture, the scope?
Stay in it for a while and use this as an exercise of discovery
Once you drop in, feel free to start to move, letting your body direct the movements
Make sounds and softly invite the pain in
Let yourself be your own guide as if this is an exploration into new territory
After moving a bit and letting your pain speak to you, see what your body wants. Touch, sound, oils? Imagine you are working on your best friend
Start there and write it up in your journal.  It is a good way to track your story.
Let me know how it works

 

Resources: http://www.healingbackpain.com

Anchor and Flow: A conversation between Janice and her Body Dialogue Students

anchor and flowI want to focus today on form and formlessness and I am starting with a line from T.S. Eliot,

Except for the point, the still point, there would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

So in all our conversations about flow, I realize we have not spoken enough about anchoring. If you have nothing to anchor, then you have nothing to flow from. If you have no form, then the formlessness has no container. If you are so open, that you let everything come in, but you have no membrane to separate that which you want and that which you don’t want, you may be too vulnerable to all that is floating around in the ethers. So, although I am teaching about flow, I am equally teaching about anchoring. When we are doing our movement practice, I always start by having us anchor through our sit bones, find our resting place, knowing where our foundation is, grounding in that foundation, rooting in that foundation, and going back to that foundation, because only from what is held can we release. So when we talk about direction, Alexander’s direction, he never said “neck free, head forward and up, and just go up up up up up”.  He always said, “neck free, to release your head forward and up, to go into your legs, ground through your feet, to lengthen and widen your torso”. Neck free, head forward and up from the occiput, but that doesn’t mean you give up your rooting. So what I want to focus on is, what is this dynamic between grounding and releasing, pulling together and opening, to the organic flow that results from the movement that’s coming through the spine, the breath, the organs. Tai Chi is the perfect example. The form itself, your knees are bent, you are grounded through the soles of your feet, you are rooting down into the earth. That stability is what enables you to actually experience the subtlety of the movement. Without that—I mean to me it’s so brilliant because I think now more and more about old people and how we lose our legs. And you see elderly people in China who practice Tai Chi, dropping into their legs, all their movement is very low, the grounding is what guides the whole form. You don’t actually do anything unless you have that base. I am beginning to see now that the one challenge with all this language about “going with the flow” is that it doesn’t have a direction. You can’t just go with the flow if you don’t know where you’re going. You have to have a direction. Direction has a vector of intention. It’s not just moving moving moving with no destination. It doesn’t mean that we want to have a closed story of what the destination is going to look like, we want to be open to what is going to emerge. But if we create an intention and we create a destination, and we have someplace that we are moving towards; just creating that and then going back down to ground is going to create a loop, it’s going to create some kind of dynamic, and there is no dynamic if there isn’t something held. So when we do work with the voice, the body is the container for the vibration, the throat is the container for the vocal chords, the whole body then is your sounding board. So what we are doing is opening things up, but we necessarily have a closed system. There’s this dialectic between form and formless, holding and release, letting go from somewhere to somewhere, and setting an intention. The clearer your intention and the clearer your direction, the clearer your ground, the more energy you build up in that system. Just like breathing, it’s a bellows. We don’t just breathe breathe breathe. We breathe in and then we breathe out. The weight folds in on itself. It doesn’t just go out out out out. It goes out and then it comes back in. We are in a really interesting conversation here. The dynamic of the still point and the dance is what we are investigating here.

Feeling stuck? Better breathing can open you up.

photo-1-1.jpgphoto-1-1.jpgphoto 1-1You might think that feeling stuck and stagnant is primarily an emotional problem. As a body-worker, I have had clients come to me seeking help with their emotions and feelings of stagnation, and I have found that what they really needed help with was their physical restriction and muscle tension that was manifesting in emotional behavior.

Rather than seeing it as psychosomatic in the traditional sense, I saw it as the somatic restricting the psyche.

Because I approach the breath first, instead of looking at the issue as purely emotional, I have students experience what actual physical freedom feels like.  When one experiences release, breath, expansion, and flow, physically, a reference point is established that can then be related to an emotional state of more openness, greater heart field, softening of attitudes, and releasing of old mind patterns.

One startling example was a student who came to me in a very physically uptight, constriction over how to make a decision. With a little probing  by me and asking her the right questions she noticed that every time she had to make a decision, whether it was large or small, she could feel her breath constrain, her neck muscles getting tight, and she experienced shoulder tension.

She wondered if there was any way to change that behavior.  She did notice that when she was on vacation, decisions didn’t seem to have quite the level of impact on her body, but she couldn’t translate that experience into her daily life.

That provided me with a jumping-off point, working slowly, deliberately, and quietly with her inhale and her exhale.  She began to track the thoughts in her mind and could release the thoughts that were creating restrictions in her body. By focusing her on sensations in her body with release, lightness, and less effort, her mind began to open up and she began to approach decision making  through a physical practice instead of being in war with her lack of mental clarity and her inability to be proactive.

Whatever the ailment, breathing can help you

reach for the skyWhen I was 18 years old, I had three herniated disks in my neck that created so much pain I couldn’t turn my head more than one degree to the right and three degrees to the left.

At that time, the only help that doctors could suggest involved surgery and pain medication.

Through research, I was able to find a teacher of the Alexander Technique and began a course of study that continues to this day.

Throughout my training to become an Alexander teacher, I noticed that my breathing was compromised. I would yawn continually from the time I entered the classroom until I left, and I often felt tremendous exhaustion after simply doing three hours of training. Mostly, what I was feeling was the back and forth of release and holding of my breath.

Eleven years later, one of the other participants from my Alexander training recommended that I begin study with Carl Stough, founder of the Stough Institute of Breathing Coordination.

Carl was a master musician, vocalist, and choir director who vowed that by the end of ten weeks with him, students would find their breathing greatly improved—and they would begin to have a singing voice.

I was incredulous, doubtful, and actually cynical that breathing could improve the quality of my life. I surely never expected it could help the neck pain I still suffered. Alexander Technique had helped me 50 percent, but I would still have occasional bouts of neck muscle spasms and restriction of movement.

My work with Carl Stough began after my first session. I was testing him, doubtful that I would see any more improvement after eleven years as a teacher of the Alexander Technique.

Miraculously, after my first session of working with Carl on his table, with his very gentle manipulation of my tension patterns in my head, neck, and jaw, and focus on my exhalation, I had almost full rotation in my neck.

More important, all the pain was gone and has not returned from that day in 1992. Over the years, I’ve seen many of my students gain similar help from the simple act of breathing.

Explore Breath and Balance in Buncrana, Ireland date to be announced in 2014

Finding Center Through Breath and Balance,  is an opportunity to delve deeply into your breath, your physical patterns, and your unique relationship to stability and balance. Although we are breathing all the time, most of us experience restriction and constriction in our breathing and in our musculature. This is a natural result of emotional and postural patterns we each accumulate over a lifetime.

Together, we’ll take this time in Buncrana, Ireland to slow down and explore what it really means to enjoy freer breathing. We’ll examine how our daily habits prevent us from experiencing the ease and joy that are available to us all the time. Through yoga, private sessions, and group workshops, we’ll help you develop a greater awareness of your body and breath. Through sounding, toning, and voice, we’ll create a playful environment in which you can experiment with practices to support your daily life. All of these practices will give you greater mobility, pleasure, and joy in movement and breath, and ultimately, more balance. What makes this retreat unique is that it willl provide you with a toolbox of practices you can take home with you into your everyday life.

As bodywork and voice practitioners, we will host you on a journey to not only reveal the physical story of your breath and body, but also the emotional stories stored in your musculature. This retreat is an adventure in to the unknown. Together, we will explore our inner landscapes with deep intention, clarity of purpose, and a lightness of curiosity. Each day affords us the opportunity for meeting ourselves in a new way. This retreat is a chance to do exactly that. We will learn what becomes possible when we free up the tensions that have kept us safe and controlled. We invite you to come join us and explore another aspect of yourself. And we invite you to our lovely group of Irish friends and colleagues in Buncrana who have welcomed us with incredible generosity.

We recommend that participants begin the retreat with a private session with either Claire or Janice. This will allow for a hands on investigation into your particular areas of restriction and tension and physical patterns. Learn more or registerDownload the PDF. Call Janice at 646.734.5709 or email janice@bodydialogues.com to talk more.

Janice Stieber Rous is the founder of Body Dialogue, an interdisciplinary approach to the study of the body and mind. She combines yoga, breathing coordination, and Alexander Technique to help people reconnect with their natural breath and movement. Janice leads workshops and retreats across the globe and spends most of her time in New York City, Florida, and Israel.

 

 

 

Claire Hodge has more than 30 years experience as a voice teacher and brings the unique perspective of using toning to facilitate a new level of body awareness and breathing coordination. The powerful combination of Body Dialogue and voice help people gain more confidence, control, resonance and freedom in their everyday lives.

Response To Taking on Stress

Kristi recognized that she was taking on her clients pain. Even if you are not a massage therapist we ALL take on stress when it is in our field of energy. Kristi went from taking on others pain to having a personal transformation. You my be asking yourself how did this transformation occur?

First, Kirsti became AWARE that she was taking on others neck pain, if you do not know you are doing something you cannot shift it.

Second rather then trying to fix it, there are certain clues that can take our awareness and move it to the next level. For instance are we breathing, are we grounded into our legs on the floor or into our sit bones in the chair.

Third recognize the separation of the client from you, her emotions are not your emotions. Create an invisible shield to contain your energy within yourself.

Lastly this practice is a moment to moment choice, that rather then collapsing into the field of stress we choose to stay in our own central column of support.