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


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



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 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.