What’s one thing you might do to allow more room for your breath?

Nothing is more important to our health and well-being than how we breathe, and also probably nothing we take more for granted. 

Breathing is an autonomic function of the nervous system. When we stop breathing, we stop living. The brain receives a message that the body is low on oxygen. That message goes to the diaphragm and tells the diaphragm to do its job. 

Ideally, when the brain gets the message that the diaphragm needs to go to work, we exhale the air that is being held. The diaphragm then ascends into the ribcage, emptying the stale air in the lungs, which allows a more full breath to be taken in. 

But If the diaphragm is weak from lack of activity or trauma, its capacity is limited, and we resort to our accessory breathing muscles, which are in our chest and upper neck. We are not able to truly get a good breath.

I learned this physiological explanation of what happens when we breathe from my teacher Carl Stough, who developed his understanding of breathing after decades of practice with trauma survivors, asthmatics, and people with emphysema. 

Carl began his work as a voice teacher. He corrected some of the misunderstandings that are commonly taught around the efficacy of breathwork and created the term “breathing coordination.”

In my practice with Carl Stough, I learned the movement of the diaphragm is a little like the movement of an octopus, in terms of its fluidity and responsiveness. There’s nothing else in our body quite like it. It’s an almost magical mechanism. However, the diaphragm cannot function maximally when the body is in extreme tension and restriction.

In my own practice, I also witness how stress, including the demands of work and too much time spent on our phones and computers, can result in a weakened coordination of breathing. My practice has taught me that, in order to assert our desire for a more responsive breath, we need to slow down our hectic pace of life. 

What’s one thing you might do to allow more room for your breath?

Is it Depression that we’re feeling? Or something else?

A number of people have told me they find themselves feeling depressed as this new year begins. I know I have felt that way. It could be because of what’s going on astrologically in the star alignment– that we’re just very sensitive right now under the Cancer moon  – or it could be that the latest events in our legislative branch of government have been disturbing and also confusing. 

But I’d like to offer a slightly different point of view about depression. I think that word doesn’t really cover the feeling that a number of us are experiencing. I think that what I am actually feeling is a sense of overwhelm and a quality of despair. 

In other words, we may be asking ourselves, does it matter what we do? Does it matter if we choose this party or that party? This action or that action? This step forward, this step backward? We’re wondering what we can do to make a difference in this world right now, and that sense of powerlessness and heaviness in our hearts can be translated as depression but I think it’s a different emotion. 

For me, I think it harkens back to some very early childhood experiences, when I saw what the adults were doing around me, and I knew that if I had power, I might make a different choice. 

As children, we didn’t have that power. So perhaps what we’re feeling is a similar powerlessness that comes from not being the person on top or the person who gets to make decisions or the person who’s going to have an impact in the world. So we feel like our behavior doesn’t matter. 

But I think it’s exactly in these moments that we have to draw on the practices we’ve been building over the years. In particular, some of the practices I developed during the COVID pandemic are the practices I need to draw on now, even though I now have the ability and the facility to move around. 

It is our dream life and the choice of how we express ourselves that will make all the difference right now. For instance, this morning, when I went to the farmers market and spoke to the vendors, I knew that my dollars would make a difference to their lives. I was not powerless then. Or when I call a friend who’s having a hard day, and I listen to her, and we take the time to really feel into our hearts, we know we’re not powerless. 

We only feel powerless when we face obstacles that feel insurmountable, the stories that appear in the world, perhaps of politics or maybe even bigger family issues that we’re facing. 

So today I’m writing you to say let us choose to bring our heart to another person and to bring our soul to each moment so that we can fill our lives with goodness, and we can fill our interactions with caring.

Then our lives are about contributing – in the small ways that make a difference – maybe one person, maybe two, maybe groups of people. If I live from that place every day, I don’t feel depressed. I feel empowered.

A Short Basic Breathing Practice.
Begin by laying flat on your back, with your feet flat on the floor, and your knees bent.

The Breath as a Teacher

What if we knew absolutely that every breath brings us into direct connection to our soul? What if we knew that our heart and soul are leading us exactly where we are meant to be? What if the unknown were nothing more than the next step?

I said to my soul be still

What if in that moment, we breathed into the unknown and recognized that our heart is taking us where we are meant to be going, and our body is present to be in company with the heart’s desire? What if the dreams we have are whisperings of our soul’s longings? What if we know that longing is our guidance system for our highest and greatest good? If we knew that in every part of our being, then our fear would simply be a caution light that’s going off to alert us.

Our bodies are whisperings and wanderings of our life experience.

If we truly knew we could infuse our body with light, and as we light each cell we create more pleasure. The pleasure then aligns with more joy, which is a combustion engine of love. Love is being open to receiving. Love is the true direction of fullest presence.

So what did my past experiences of living in a house of fear and hiding teach me? It taught me that coming out of hiding is my truest destiny. I was directed to work with the breath as my teacher to the great potential of our fullest expansion.

Most of us cannot stay there all the time. We have life to teach us. We have bodies to teach us.

But what if we truly know in every moment we can breathe ourselves into presence and receive the love that is our divine birthright?

This is the teaching I have received so far in this lifetime. I  am open to being a student of this teaching because of my story, not despite it. It provided me with a hunger to embrace the love that my soul has always known. The breath teaches me that the soul and the heart long to be one, and that flow is mine if I am open to it.

Is today a breathing day?

I’m waking up knowing I have a lot on my plate today, feeling my head bog down, filled with details. In the background is Ukraine. I can’t put it out of my mind, nor should I. Millions of people are being displaced; for what reason? What gives a bully the right to go into a country that just wants its people to have a choice? What gives a bully the right to decide that he has so much power that he can completely affect the world order? He can affect gas prices, he can affect the stock market, he can affect how much food we have on our table.

It reminds me of my father who used to say “There are Haves and Have-nots, and I want to be a Have”. That philosophy of life was his motor; it kept him going. He had morning blues which meant he hated to get up for work on Monday, but he had an underlying voice saying “I want to be a Have”. I know I have internalized that message. I know I have traded on my privilege. I know the thought of being a Have-not not terrifies me. When I look at the people leaving the country with just the dog and a suitcase I think that could easily be me. Having been raised with that story in my background I see how much it rules the decisions I make.

Every day I ask myself can you breathe? Is today a breathing day? And if I can’t breathe I have to look inside and ask my brain, what is stopping you from breathing today? After years of practice and working on this one question, I know that when I can’t breathe it’s primarily my head and all the noise that’s getting in the way. So the combination of having had the experience of learning to breathe properly, learning to use my diaphragm, learning the importance of sound, and understanding why we need vibration is what allows me to go from my head being noisy and my heart pounding fast to beginning to have a breath. I need to do this every day. It’s not a choice to skip it. I’m not doing back stretches only because my back hurts. I’m doing back stretches because it helps me breathe. I use a belt and traction my spine because it helps me breathe. I stretch my arms up over my head and let my ribs expand because it helps to breathe. Every day, I wake up, and I start again and again and again.

Finding Light Through the Dark

An upcoming women’s retreat Inspired by the Marion Woodman Foundation.

Still space open to join our women’s retreat this Spring.
Visit http://reclaimingourlives.com/ to learn more

Freeing Your Breath

The pandemic is making some of us very aware of the challenges of breathing. If you’ve had Covid, then you know what it’s like when the onset of the disease happens, and there’s this anticipation that something’s going to happen to your respiration, so you immediately go into fear and constriction.

If you haven’t had Covid, there’s a chance you may be walking around holding your breath and being vigilant because you’re worried that you’re going to breathe in the virus. 

For anyone living in the 21st century, it’s not unusual to notice that your breath is shallow and your mind tells you that perhaps you could have a better breath — but the question is, how to do that?

So it’s possible you search the web and you listen to different experts tell you how to breathe. You try to do some of of the practices and you notice that you can do them one or two times but they don’t become part of your lifestyle. 

So what I want to suggest to you is from now until whenever you decide — a week from now, a month from now — you start becoming aware of how often you are holding your breath. How often are your shoulders up near your ears? How often do you feel like you want a satisfying breath but you can’t get it? After you become aware of this chronic pattern of shallow breathing, then and only then can you begin to unpack what creates better breathing coordination.

Your breathing is as unique to you as your fingerprint, because it depends on the muscle tension in your torso, what you do with your jaw,  how your tongue rests in your mouth, what kind of lower back position you hold yourself in and, most importantly, what is the health of your diaphragm. After all, the diaphragm is your main breathing muscle. 

I’d like to recommend that after you’ve paid attention and become aware of your breath, then can you start working on having better breathing coordination. 

If  this is speaking to you, let me know. I am now currently bringing people together to help them breathe in a more efficient and easeful manner, and I will add your name to my list.

The recording that’s attached is a short guide to creating a better breathing coordination. I hope this finds you in a good place and that you’re able to put this awareness into your life.

BodyDialogue · Basic Breathing Practice

Allowing the Body to be Vulnerable, as a Source of Strength

Shame lives in the body. I suspect that most people walking around in their daily life don’t know that. Shame can show up as tension in the neck, shoulders, and armpits. Shame can show up as tightness in the stomach. Shame restricts our breathing. We live in a shame-based culture. It is written about and spoken about, but rarely understood as a somatic experience.

So many people come to me with physical complaints that have no diagnosis. People suffer with emotional pain trapped in the body that the mainstream medical establishment has no explanation for. So many people come to see me as if they are living in a straitjacket, preventing them from moving out of restriction. Sometimes, it’s managed with food or drugs, or talk therapy. Sometimes it’s managed at the gym in a quest for fitness, but how much time do we slow down enough to allow ourselves to soften joint by joint, tissue and bone? How little time we allow ourselves to feel into the depth of the pain that is showing up in unexplained patterning. For example, if you receive a diagnosis of lower back pain and you simply try to resolve it with drugs, it will return because the underlying root of the problem is often the body’s somatic response to an emotion.

My work as a practitioner allows me to journey with my students into a territory that is often so frightening that unless the person can trust me, they will work hard to resist and avoid this courageous process of softening into what actually is happening in the “pain body”.

In a world that is driven by achievement and speed, it takes enormous dedication and commitment to attend to the emotions in the body. The more I practice Body Dialogue, the more I see the possibility of transformation, if my student agrees to surrender to the process.

I applaud the work of Brené Brown because I think she truly understands that the collective must risk being vulnerable in order to feel our belonging to one another. Our body knows when we are in a safe environment. We all know what it feels like to feel safe with one another, and we all know what it feels like to be armored. When one recognizes that feelings are safe, then one doesn’t have to revert to blaming, shaming, and projecting these feelings onto someone else.

For me, the work starts with the breath. Not only as a meditative tool, but as a tool that allows us to break down barriers so we can break through to connection.

Reconnecting to the Body

When I woke up this morning, my body was struggling with an old physical pattern that was familiar from my childhood. I was pulling my sternum up and away from my lower back, creating my “dancer’s arch.”

This posture made me feel safe in the world of my childhood. In those days, I had no body workers or therapists to reflect back to me what I was feeling or thinking. I just had my dance studio and my dance teachers and improvisation. Over the course of an hour in the studio, I would often come back to my breath and feel more fully connected with something bigger than me, and also with what was confronting me in my childhood. 

I needed to dance so I could find out who I was, and what was home for me within myself—not in the universe of my family, but within my own being. 

As I grew older, and dance became a set of moves that I had to “do right” so that my teachers would give me affirmation and applause, I lost that wisdom of knowing truth in my body. By the time I was a performing artist, my body was no longer the source of a sacred practice that brought me healing, joy, and expansion. 

I’ve spent the last 55 years in search of that clarity I had as a child in the dance studio, when I didn’t need people to tell me I was doing it right or wrong, good or bad, I didn’t need their approval, and I didn’t need applause—all I needed was to feel alive in a particular way that was natural and organic to me as a child. The grief that arises when I get on the floor and improvise, today as a 70 year old, is the leftover pain of leaving that innocence I knew so well. I embodied my joy in my exploration because I was dancing for myself, and no one else. 

That metaphor of understanding the contrast between knowing wholeness, versus looking outside myself for approval and affirmation, has been the guide for my spiritual journey. Without my early childhood experience, I would not have had a compass to help me make decisions for how to live my life and follow my life’s path. 

That compass—that knowing—came  from my heart, not from my mind. It came from a connection to something much bigger than myself or my family. I don’t know who I would be today without those very young experiences in the dance studio. In those moments, I trusted my reality and I trusted myself. But as soon as I left the studio, I would struggle with whether my need for love from others was more important than my love for what I knew in those moments in the studio. 

Eventually, in order to receive the love I imagined, my body would take whatever form and shape was necessary to fit into a mold of belonging. What I am learning from the back spasms and nerve pain I am encountering at this stage of life is that in order to heal what is showing up as pain in my body, a deeper investigation is needed. This is the ongoing work of Body Dialogue. 

Stress Results in Atrophy of the Breathing Muscles

Body Dialogue Sessions are now available Remotely

I would never have believed it, but I am now teaching private sessions remotely. For all of the people who have said “I wish I could work with you, but I’m not in Orlando”, I have come up with a way to do Body Dialogue remotely.  I’m not going to lie, it’s not the same as having hands on, but it’s still highly effective. Why? Because most of us do not carve out the time we need to attend to ourselves, and particularly to our breathing. How do I know this for sure? Because even I do not do that for myself, and I teach this work!  If we make a session for 45 minutes, I can help you create better breathing habits through new information and practice tools to invigorate your life. Listening to your voice and hearing your frustrations is one way I can help resolve some of your breathing issues. More importantly, over the last year, I have developed a more sensitive attunement to the somatic restrictions that arise out of fear and stress. Because this work is so intimate, I am able to respond to some of the hidden factors that create restriction, and have developed some new techniques that free up the musculature that inhibits a deeper breath when under tension. In 45 minutes, we will be on the floor together, going through a protocol that I will design specifically for your needs. That protocol can be recorded so that you can continue to practice on your own when the session is over. 

Although breathing issues show up as a result of trauma or emotional imbalance, one develops a literal physiological weakness of the diaphragm and a restriction in the accessory breathing muscles. So repeated practice with Breathing Coordination is necessary in addition to working with the emotional problems.

$95 for 45 minutes. To schedule contact Janice@bodydialogues.com

“I came to Janice in desperate need of help because my health was not doing well and no doctors seemed to truly know how to help. Without even meeting her in person, I felt so comforted and protected. I knew that she was the perfect person for what I needed to help me get through this. She guided me through her breath work. The first day I bursted out into tears because my body had so much to release and finally felt this sense of safety unlike before. From that session I continued to work with her and felt completely relaxed and calm, unlike any other meditation or breath work I have done before! Janice is truly amazing at what she does and I will ALWAYS recommend her to everyone who I feel she could help!”

~Rachel Strever

I had the great fortune to work with Janice for a breath session last week. Even though we worked over FaceTime, I felt like Janice was in the room with me. I would describe the work as simple but profound. Janice helped me to release the tension throughout my torso, and free up my ribs, shoulders and diaphragms, allowing for deeper fuller breathing. I came away from the session feeling relaxed and energized. I look forward to working with Janice again soon!

~ Dr. Keren Vishny

What makes a satisfying, deep breath?

So many people tell me that can’t get a deep and satisfying breath.

The key to a deep and satisfying breath is a strong, resilient, dynamic diaphragm. Chances are you have been told that the diaphragm is important to get a good breath, but if you’re like most people, I suspect you have no idea what that really means.
It’s true that the diaphragm IS the main breathing muscle. If your diaphragm is weak, you’ll have a shallow excursion up and down in the rib cage on the in breath and the out breath. 
The trick is that you cannot strengthen the diaphragm the way you train other muscles.
The only way to strengthen the tissue of this muscle/organ is through toning, sounding, and vocalizing — not exercise and exertion.
It is the coordination of the diaphragm, lungs, intercostal muscles, and abdominal muscles which determine optimal breathing.
In the following practice videos you will learn how to build the tone without effort to strengthen the diaphragm, thereby improving the coordination of your breathing.
Think of vocalizing as a vibrational isometric exercise that improves the elasticity and tone of the diaphragm and also improves the coordination of all the different functions, resulting in a fuller breath.

Try these three videos, and after a month’s time you will most likely feel improvement and a better exchange of inhalation and exhalation.