When I work with clients as they are describing an uncomfortable or painful feeling, I ask them “where in your body are you feeling this?” They often respond with, “What do you mean?”, “I have never thought about this, so I’m not sure,” or “I don’t think I feel anything.”
Ironically, feelings are called “feelings” because we FEEL them. If someone tells me they don’t feel anything, I inquire about their physical health and check if I can make a connection that way. If they tell me that they have no physical complaints, I ask them if they spend a lot of time in their head, and if so, we just focus on that.
In this case, I also make sure to explain dissociation. I double check and ask again about potential physical complaints, but more specifically this time: “Do you ever suffer from headaches or migraines?”
My goal is not to be right, but to have my clients start making links between their bodies, minds, and souls, basically to approach their life holistically, so that they will be able to do the same for themselves outside of our therapy space.
Holding Our Emotions
When clients tell me that they feel as if they are “suffocating,” it is almost predictable that they hold their feelings in their throat and neck area. This makes sense, right?
Along the same lines, if a client tells me that they just lost a loved one, they likely hold their pain somewhere from the heart up, either in their chest, upper back, shoulders, throat, or neck area. Lost love in grieving people is often felt anywhere between the heart and the throat (the heart is our 4th chakra and is green + the throat is our 5th chakra and is blue).
If clients have generalized anxiety, I have noticed quite a few of them holding their emotions in their sacral/gut area; if chronic, they may then even develop GI issues, including Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) (the area below the belly button is our second chakra and is orange + the area below your rib cage is our third chakra and is yellow).
I also ask my clients how long they have been holding onto their uncomfortable or painful feelings. Their answers vary from “for just a while” to “for as long as I can remember.” In the latter case, one can more clearly understand that painful emotions, which are “stuck” in the body can lead to chronic health issues, referring to both mental and physical health, don’t you think?
Trapped emotions cause a blockage to our energy flow; this stagnation is what contributes to our issues (hence the saying “issues in our tissues”).
I cannot stress enough how vital it is for our life force to be able to flow through our entire being easily and effortlessly for us to reach or maintain optimal health.
Breathing Through Discomfort and Blockages
Now, this is where breathwork comes in. By learning to BREATHE THROUGH blockages, your energy has the opportunity to flow freely to all the different parts of your body again. Only then does it have the opportunity to leave your body entirely through either the soles of your feet or the base of your spine. This clears the way for your healing.
There are an unlimited number of ways to visualize “breathing through an emotional blockage”—use your imagination! Here are two different ways to get you started:
- Imagine the blockage as a brick (if the pain you are feeling feels like a heavy weight, for example) and your inbreath blasting it apart with the power of dynamite and your outbreath breathing out all the pieces of debris through the bottom of your feet
- Imagine the blockage as a thick, tight rope (if the pain you are feeling has a pulling sensation, for example) and your inbreath representing a hot knife that cuts right through the rope making it snap and your outbreath pushing out the different pieces of rope through the bottom of your tailbone.
Hint: Have your healing inbreath linger in the area of your body where you most feel the blockage.
Here is the chain of events leading to the development of a “blockage” (a brick or a thick, tight rope, for example):
- painful or traumatic event (real danger) ➡ fight, flight, freeze, or fawn (survival mode) ➡ rapid, short, shallow breaths ➡ event + connected feelings not fully breathed through
- thoughts about / conscious memories of the event (perceived danger) ➡ triggered back into survival mode ➡ return to similar anxious/panicky breathing pattern
- dissociation from traumatic event ➡ no conscious memory ➡ information/narrative (with original feelings) stored in the body and deeply buried in the mind holding the same trauma narrative (and feelings) as when the event initially took place
- ➡ no opportunity for: change to the narrative + processing and integration of feelings
- event (1), conscious memory of the event (2), or unconscious memory (4) deeply buried in the mind + connected feelings never fully breathed through, not initially, nor later when back to safety ➡ emotional energy around the perception of event = stuck + stagnant some place in body and mind
- energy accumulates over time ➡ increases in size and density + takes shape ➡ e.g. “a weight on my shoulders” (brick example – may lead to actual shoulder pain) + “such a pain in the neck” (rope example – may lead to actual neck pain)
- blockage = “issues in our tissues”
4 Ways To Breathe In Feelings You Want and Breathe Out Feelings You Don’t Want
Once we recognize these “issues in our tissues,” how do we manage them? You can visualize your breath through colors, images, symbols, and words:
Visualize Breath Through COLORS:
- Breathe in “healing” colors—for me, this is typically fairy/pixie dust colors, or bright white, yellow, or gold
- Breathe out colors that represent “release” to you —for me, this is typically dark purple
For other breathing visualization techniques, I will use some specific examples by referring to client A and client B:
- Client A has been dealing with chronic headaches.
- Client B has been dealing with an oppositional, defiant child.
Visualize Breath Through IMAGES:
- Breathe in images that you want to attract into your life
- Client A: all images combined become “a reel” consisting of a clear head that feels light and healthy
- Client B: images consist of a compliant and mindful child
- Breathe out images that you no longer want in your life
- Client A: images consist of memories of what your head felt like during a migraine
- Client B: images consist of difficult memories of when your child was oppositional or defiant
Visualize Breath Through SYMBOLS
- Breathe in a symbol that represents what you want
- Breathe out a symbol that represents what you no longer want
Visualize Breath Through WORDS
- Breathe in words that represent what you want
- Client A: calmness, clarity, enjoyment, focus, good health, solace, lightness, pleasantness (can add a color – white, for example)
- Client B: compliance, cooperation, easygoingness, flexibility, mindfulness, respect (can add color – pink, for example)
- Breathe out words that represent what you no longer want
- Client A: aches and pains, darkness, illness, sickness (can add color – black, for example)
- Client B: back-talk, defiance, disrespect, opposition, temper-tantrums (can add color – dark green, for example)
More On Breathing
- Healing Card Deck: A Therapist’s Advice 55-Card Healing Deck by Sara Cloostermans
- Book Recommendation: The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk M.D.
- Mantra: I AM ATTUNEMENT // with diaphragmatic breathing
- Yin Yoga Asana: Seated Eagle Arms Pose
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