Integra Therapy Blog

The body as home- Silence, embodiment and finding wholeness

Perhaps home is not a place, but simply an irrevocable condition

James Baldwin

I’m reflecting on home. What does home mean to me? What does it feel like to ‘be’ home? I feel at home most when I…?

My journey in the last 18 months has been circling around these questions, as my life has drastically changed. Inevitably, not only the change in my physical surroundings has come into consideration, but so too has this question been knocking on the door of me; my personhood, my body. 

My body as my first home?

What is asked of me, if I consider this to be true?

A few days before writing this post, I noticed that it is Audre Lorde’s birthday. For those who do not know Audre’s work (I urge you too!), she is a black, lesbian feminist, warrior poet in her own words. She would’ve been 88 years old, 2 years older than when my own mother passed at 86. Her words, like my mothers resound and echo in me repeatedly at different times and in different ways. 

In The Cancer Journals, she writes; “… the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation and that always seems fraught with danger”

“… the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation and that always seems fraught with danger”

In this reading, I see this silence represented by the body – a ‘silence’ we neither listen to or pay close enough attention to. In our culture, we are not conditioned to listen; perhaps we lack the skills, often we are numb- we have disconnected and are dis-embodied from our felt sense of ourselves and often our emotions. We do this for many reasons; for safety, survival, unsure sometimes of how to take the next steps.

Usually, we begin paying attention when we experience pain, unpleasant sensations or our functional capacity is restricted in some way because of this. But what if outside of these common experiences that we may label as dysfunctional, are we able to access ‘information’ from the body that can offer us more by way of choices to recognise how we ‘are’ and thus how we might act/behave? 

The body has its own languaging- through sensation, urges, impulses – it is preverbal and can arrive as an image and/or a symbol. The more scientific term to understand the ability to sense what the internal state of the body is, is called interoception. It is the nervous systems capacity to detect the processes of our visceral, internal processing (such as wanting to use the bathroom, have sexual urges feeling hungry, thirsty, nauseous, cold or hot). You may think that it is linked to our basic physiological mechanisms that help us as an organism survive.

Personal Somatic Body Map 2021 – Landing-Flying

Connecting to these sensations, urges and impulses is the basis to which we formulate and name our emotions, which in turn helps us to understand ‘how we are’ in any given moment. This often isn’t easy to identify and name what precisely we are feeling and this is the part where we understand we are not conditioned to connect to our feelings as it can be argued in these contemporary times, feelings or our emotions are not to be relied on. The point here is it isn’t either/or, cognition versus emotions, but rather integrating and utilising all the natural capacities of our humanity to discern how to make the choices that are right for us.

As a marginialised person… this embodied seeing can be particularly challenging as ones self-image can be distorted because of the internalisation of racist tropes and stereotypes that have been culturally normalised, which in turn shape the image of ourselves.

My work with clients as a somatic educator and in my own practice, I have understood it can be daunting to look and explore deeply into the body; confusing even- with all of the contradictions and complications of who we are and to witness what is there in our embodied experience. This ‘seeing’ may reveal parts of ourselves that we are ashamed of and exposure to this may risk a voice of judgment, scrutiny, challenge or even shame.

As a marginialised person racialised as Black and with other people who identify from the Global Majority, this embodied seeing can be particularly challenging as ones self-image may be distorted because of the internalisation of racist tropes and stereotypes that have been culturally normalised, which in turn shape the image of ourselves. This is also true of how we attempt to fit our bodies into schemas that society deems as valuable; whether you are old, fat, thin or express degrees of ability and so on. If it doesn’t fit the accepted societal norms, then it is deviant or as seen as less valuable in some way. It takes effort, practice and solid critical reasoning to undo these social scripts that historically have been designed and perpetuated to dehumanise certain bodies over others. 

Personal Somatic Body Map 2021- Flying- Landing

Lama Rod Owens, a Bhuddist teacher asked this beautiful question in his ‘Love & Rage’ course I’m taking at the moment; “What is your body’s story?” What a beautiful question? In considering this, I’m giving myself such a wide girth and space to allow thes story of my body to emerge, rather than me continually imposing my own narrative on or about it. 

This process of embodiment is a way to re-humanise and accept who we are in all our complexities, nuances and differences. As bell hooks says in ‘All About Love’, the practice of acceptance is the beginning of self-love. Acceptance for who we are, although not without its difficulties or sometimes heartbreak, it is a step that can lead to a more enriched life where self-compassion can begin to blossom. 

So perhaps I can find home in my body; listening to its voice through the veil of silence; to find language and right action from that place. An utterance of truth- a declaration of love- a step towards acceptance. A move towards freedom, not just me but for all beings.

For my body only longs for that of my own gaze; it’s the one that really matters most, so I can return home.

Physiotherapy without Contact? Using embodiment practices to enhance therapeutic relationship when using online video tools

I’m impressed at the way the COVID-19 virus has taken the global community by storm in unexpected ways across every sector of society. There’s no one who’s been left unaffected by its spread and it continues to transform the way we feel and respond to this new situation.

Many outpatient physiotherapy services have been altered drastically, including my own. The decision to practice ‘physical distancing’ (I prefer it to ‘social distancing’) has meant suspending all face-to-face contact in the clinic and redirecting all of our services online.

The wonderful thing about physiotherapists is we offer a wide range of skills that can be used to continue supporting our clients in this unique moment of separation. Skills such as; assessment, diagnostic and exercise advice and coaching where appropriate, creating a therapeutic alliance that meets the needs of our clients.

I started thinking about the idea of ‘distancing’ and how that could be examined more closely; in what ways does it matter if there’s physical/geographical space between a clinician and client?

What does distance signify for the client (or the therapist)? Does the knowledge of non-contact hold meaning to the client’s expectations of the therapeutic encounter? If it does hold meaning, in what ways might I, as the therapist close the gap?

What follows is an outline of some of those reflections which could be used to think differently about the therapeutic encounter and how that might be applied in practice.

As an aside note, when we think about distance, we may also think about different notions of space which carry different textures and meaning. ‘Distance’ could translate to ‘separation’, which may include ideas around safety, isolation, withdrawal or hiding.

For other’s it may also mean freedom, restoration and safe boundaries. It’s worth remembering each person brings their unique understanding to these ideas and consequently may respond more positively or negatively to it.

As therapist’s we may not necessarily ‘know’ the client’s position on certain ideas, but holding it in mind means you’ll hold for the client the possibility for exploration in the therapeutic encounter. Where appropriate, it’s useful to get to know our client’s story; who they are; what motivates or drives them. Being interested in somebody is part and parcel of building trust and learning to relate to each other’s humanity.

‘Contact’ or more specifically manual therapy, as an effective component of service delivery for certain conditions and has been challenged within the profession in recent years. Historically, massage was the core skill of physiotherapy. Adopting a hands-on or hands-off approach has polarised some quarters of the musculoskeletal world; perhaps emphasised by the different demographics of the private or public spheres within the profession.

Considering our contemporary times, the shear client load and pressures within NHS outpatient departments has meant a drastic reduction of individualised time with clients. Parallel to these evolving changes, there continues to be necessary, ongoing dialogue concerning the evidence-base of our treatment techniques that physiotherapists employ.

Manual therapy and other combined interventions such as education and exercise have been suggested to produce favourable outcomes that justify our efficacy for particular conditions and in different population groups. At the centre of these discourses is whether service delivery remains client-centred and at the same time supported by clinical evidence.

Non-contact also brings to mind the possibilities that touch may be problematic for some clients. Without complete histories, there may be trauma, current or historical abuse, shame from body image or body dysmorphia and/or cultural nuances that restrict the use of touch for particular individuals.

Whether within our individual practice we choose to use touch (manual therapy) or not, the challenge is can we remain connected to our clients in meaningful ways that delivers compassionate and person-centred care? And can we continue to do this when using video tools or telehealth as a model for service delivery?


So what are the conditions that might best achieve this, particularly where face-to-face interactions have been suspended?

From an embodied perspective as a somatic practitioner and physiotherapist, there’re central themes that emerge as core skills that enhance the therapist-client interaction or therapeutic alliance.

 

Therapeutic Presence
This describes the experience of being ‘conscious’ of one’s bodily responses in relationship to another person. In other words, you’re ‘present’ with yourself and able to recognise information coming from different sensing channels (mental activity, sensations from the body, sight, hearing etc.).

Therapeutic presence helps you make more informed decisions about how to respond more compassionately both towards yourself and your client.

There are a number of ways to help achieve this, but it takes practice to feel comfortable. Somatic practitioners have a method to achieve this by means of ‘grounding’ the body using the breath and their skills of awareness.

Grounding increases the opportunity to further attend to inner sensations arising in the body through interoception; a part of the nervous system that functions to inform us how we feel. It gives representations of our internal state, more broadly our emotions and internal physiological state of the body.

This helps increase the awareness of one’s physical body in space; ‘I feel my body supported by the floor/chair’ and ‘I’m aware of the soles of my feet on the ground’, as well as information about how you feel; ‘I feel anxious’ or ‘I feel safe’. This allows more choice about how to respond from a place of authenticity.

This approach is shared with mindfulness-based practices. It utilises our internal sensing skills (interoception) that support the regulation of our emotional responses, offering a broader perspective on our experience helping to foster clearer communication.

 

Active Listening
Most of our communication is through non-verbal communication, in particular through our body language.

Nonverbal phenomena are most important in the structuring and occurrence of interpersonal communication and the movement-to-movement regulation of a particular interaction.

However, not being in the same room as someone potentially reduces the ability to pick-up on body language where we may be less likely to view the entire person on a screen.

Paying more attention to what is being said or ‘active listening’ is a way to ensure we’re most attentive to the client’s needs.

It’s been argued to be an essential part of a set of our clinical reasoning skills.

Repeating or affirming what has been said, helps to clarify the information received and engenders more trust from the client that they’ve been heard. Although this skill in theory should be implicit in all therapeutic interactions, not having to rely so heavily on bodily clues in face-to-face interactions, brings it more into focus as an active skill to use.

Being present in the body as described above, further enhances the capacity to listen carefully to what is being said. It serves to redirect our attention from any thoughts processes that may be trying to construct a reply before the other person has finished speaking. Our response is from a more embodied position, that’s present to the therapist’s experience and present to what the client is actually saying.

 

Tracking
As an extension to both therapeutic presence and active listening, tracking is the dynamic way in which you’re able to follow signals in your own body. It gives moment-by-moment information regarding the interaction.

These include registering in the body both non-verbal and verbal cues that give a more comprehensive meaning to the dialogue. How the therapist responds from this informed place is vital to remain compassionate and as authentic as possible.

Tracking supports the emotional response of the therapist by helping them monitor more closely if for example, there’s material shared in the interaction that has high affect. It allows them to choose how to respond appropriately to better regulate their response.

 

Language
How we use language in interactions with clients must be carefully considered to avoid judgements or projections about them. A projection used here is a psychological term where one ascribes one’s own traits, emotions or positions onto someone else.

An example would be, “you look like you’re sad when you rubbed your cheek”. The other person may be feeling something completely different but hasn’t stated it explicitly as to verify that assumption.

As therapists we have to be cognisant of dominant narratives and certain expectations that influence our ideas regarding models of ideal health which include; particular attributes relating to body size, shape and ability, as well as behaviours and other socioeconomic factors.

These unconscious and conscious biases inform how we process information that informs our thinking and thus the assessments that are made about our clients.

It can’t be assumed as a given that somatic training automatically eliminates these biases or blind spots. This always needs constant reflexive work and active attention. However somatic practice does specifically focuses on bringing conscious language and embodied awareness to the therapeutic relationship that help minimise judgements or projections.

 

Summary
Connecting compassionately with clients, whilst at the same time meeting their needs using novel video technology, can be a daunting task for physiotherapists.

Clients may be experiencing increased levels of anxiety for a variety of reasons. Their dysregulation may include how they navigate the unfamiliar conditions of their physiotherapy interactions that are delivered in this novel form. The therapist too may also be experiencing a degree of dysregulation for similar reasons.

Utilising these specific skills can support any dysregulation clients or the therapist may experience helping to facilitate a greater degree of connection in spite of any physical distancing.

Bringing a somatic perspective can add value to the therapeutic relationship by being more conscious about how the interaction is taking place which remembers the body as central resource to the exchange.

Maintaining the client-centred connection and not just delivering a product/service remotely is perhaps most fundamental to clients, especially those experiencing vulnerability and an unusual disconnection from service providers.

Coronavirus Update: We’re temporarily moving our services online

 

We’re in an unprecedented moment with the Coronavirus pandemic impacting the global community at every level of society.

People are frightened and anxious about how the situation will evolve. There is a lot of uncertainty and misinformation. However it’s an opportunity to reassess our values.

The current health advice is to social distance and self-isolate where necessary and practicable to safe-guard ourselves and others.

Consequently, we at Integra Therapy have suspended face-to-face clinic services and are redirecting services remotely until further notice.

Andrea is offering online support via ZOOM or other video link tools where needed.

If you need advice for a new or existing condition, or therapeutic support to manage new symptoms, then get in touch with Andrea;

andrea@integratherapy.co.uk

Or call on 0776 037 6323 to arrange a session.

 

We’re working on providing online content that will help you manage stress, how to keep moving with exercise, advice and more.

Be well and look after yourselves and each other.

Who’s body is it anyway?

Isn’t that an obscure title for a piece? What do I mean by that?

A number of you may have formed an answer to the question; others may think that it’s a trick question; whilst some may wonder why ask the question in the first place, it’s obvious?

For a long time now, I’ve been exploring the boundaries of my own body, working with other bodies in different contexts; clinical practice, healing work, and somatic facilitation. Over time, I not only experience my own body differently, but have understood through scholarly, creative and spiritual readings, that the view of the body hasn’t a universal consensus.

Viewing the body through different lenses, means its representation and meaning shifts. It’s made complicated by theories, history, ideologies, lived experience and the dynamics of power, from the margins to the centre and beyond.

I’ve longed to understand the concept of the body more fully, transcending the biomedical model constraints of what my physiotherapy degree taught me. From its beginnings over a hundred years ago, the profession has somewhat moved on from these rigid models of materialism. It has embraced ‘biopsychosocial models’ particularly in clinical areas that are concerned with longstanding medical conditions and persistent pain. Physiotherapy is also showing positive orientations towards an integrated understanding and consideration of the impact of sociocultural influences on our bodies and health more generally. A welcome step in the right direction, given there’s a large body of research that demonstrates the social determinants of health cannot be ignored.

Our human condition vis-à-vis our body and by inference our health, is in constant demand; from our relationships, interactions, work, the environment and least not ourselves. The conversation around our multifaceted experience and the impact that has on our bodies and thus our wellbeing is well overdue.

I’m nervous having said that. I’m nervous because it’s a big undertaking. There is SO much to think about when one considers our sociocultural legacies, histories and contemporary life. I’m not an historian, sociologist, cultural critic or psychologist, so don’t expect complete analyses. I am however interested to tease out a more relevant and inclusive perspective. My hope is that in these musings I can grapple with ideas, unpick my own thinking, widen my understanding not only of my own experience, but be in a more informed place to meet the needs of people I work with.

I appreciate you staying on to read this.

Andrea

Who’s listening?

Here’s what happened today.

Disclaimer: This is not a post that is attempting to give answers or leave a tidy pile of information as a take home.

I dropped my car to the garage and decided to walk back the scenic route which has more green spaces on the way back home. For those who know Bath, I pass through the Hedgemead Park, a beautiful Victorian park cut along a hillside built in the late 1900’s. It’s hot and I’m sweating. For a moment I suddenly feel a light pulling, maybe enough to say an ache low in my abdomen. Hmm, I wonder? I’m not alarmed, but notice it and wonder what it is, why has it arrived, will it develop into something persistent? You know as you do when some unexplained sensations arrive in your body.

As I enter the park, the canopy of trees offers their shade. I’m welcomed by it as I notice my deep intake of air and long sighing exhale as the dark canopy covers me. After a few steps feeling this welcome coolness, I notice the sensation in my abdomen has largely disappeared. I continue walking and it doesn’t emerge again.

I sat later in Victoria Park and thought about that experience. I wondered about our individual experience, in particular sensations arising in the body. They’re generally thought of as isolated, individualised and self-contained. They belong to me. So here’s a thing, what if these responses were shared in some way, part of a conversation with the world, the environment? What if they were questions being asked or answers being given and how might that change our response to the original sensations?

I thought of Heidegger a 20th century German philosopher who spoke about human interconnectivity as ‘being-in-the-world’, a notion that we are entrenched and in a dynamic exchange with the world around us that shapes us as much as we shape it. And too Thich Nhat Hahn, the Buddhist philosopher and activist who wrote about ‘inter-being’, where we consider all beings, human and non-human having sentience and a responsive capacity in some way.

The notion of interconnectivity is not new. But imagining my experience as not being just ‘mine’ but part of a wider conversation with the world opened up the possibility of thinking differently about how my body expresses itself; that it may not only be something ‘wrong’ or a ‘problem’. This wider perspective was helpful as I wonder how listening and experiencing our bodies in different ways might support how we manage ourselves from day to day.

I had to smile to myself at the thought of my abdomen having a good old chat with the shade of the tree!

What ways do you listen to or with your body that are supportive to you?

What is the Integra Method System?

Some of you may know that I’ve been involved in my own independent research now for the last 14 years. It involves the development of a system (aimed at manual therapists and body workers but not exclusive to that population) that perpetually minimises the accumulation of physical stress on the body.

It allows your body to heal and redress functional and structural dysfunctions all through natural processes. It enables you to restore your vitality, reduces overall pain and gives you back the hope that your body will not ‘fail’ due to the physical demands of your work and lifestyle.

Receiving 2nd prize for research poster presentation at British Fascia Symposium 2016

Receiving 2nd prize for research poster presentation at British Fascia Symposium 2016

Over the last 16 years I’ve drawn on the work of fascia-informed manual techniques, contemplative practice, yoga and transpersonal approaches to human wellness to inform this novel piece of research.

Losing your physical capacity to continue working as a therapist? How to reclaim your energy and gain control of your health?

Is manual therapy taking it's toll on you?

Is manual therapy taking it’s toll on you?

I’m cutting straight to the chase here; working as a physiotherapist or manual therapist can be really taxing on our bodies! Let’s face it, we are using our bodies as our main vehicle to deliver our work and for most of us have done it 8 hours a day, five days a week for years. As I’ve discovered and other colleagues I’ve spoken with this is not a sustainable pattern. It’s no wonder by the time we reach our (I say ‘our’ because I’m old!) double-figured years of service we’re completely knackered! Spent out!

(Don’t) Take my breath away! Part I of a three part series on Stress

Recently I’ve had a string of clients who have come to me with issues that don’t normally fit into the musculoskeletal physio’s lexicon of conditions to treat, ranging from panic attacks, insomnia and a vague diagnosis of prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate) and chronic inflammation of the bladder. In all cases, what was common to each of them was the fact that they all experienced an increased amount of stress either from the ‘condition’ itself or the fact that they were so anxious for a diagnosis to explain their symptoms that they over-dosed on information on the internet searching desperately for answers.

In each of these instances I asked them what they thought they needed to help them at this time. And without fail the resounding answer was ‘to reduce my stress.’ So how can a physio help in reducing people’s stress and anxiety levels?

Firstly, I think I should say that this is perhaps not what most people think is in the skill set of a musculoskeletal physiotherapist, but one couldn’t be further from the truth. At its base, physiotherapists traditionally have been trained academically and clinically in a variety of medical disciplines that address a multitude of clinical issues including respiratory care both in the acute and chronic setting. Not only this, we have been groomed to have excellent observational and assessment skills to detect where dysfunction and maladaptive movement patterns occur. In this case, although long departed from the respiratory discipline, my specific interest and training in yoga and contemplative practices that enrich the art of breathing, self-observation and use techniques that foster a more relaxed state, have helped me maintain those skills.

Why stress over the stress?

Firstly we need to appreciate that stress is a normal response of the body. In fact it is a necessary trigger to protect the body and let us know how and what to respond to appropriately. This is what is known as self-regulation and it’s our body’s ability to do this constantly that is crucial for our health and wellbeing. Typically we are familiar with the adage ‘fight or flight’ which is the response that utilises adrenaline (hormone released from the adrenal glands) as an immediate response to perceived danger. So as modern humans, we would either run from the unleased pit bull on Hampstead Heath or stand to face it head-on! It is one branch of the body’s nervous system (autonomic nervous system – ANS, see Fig.1) that works without you consciously making a decision in that process –  which is really useful as it would require having super-human fast reactions and attention to be able to monitor and control all of those incoming signals in order to protect your body!

Fig. 1 Effects of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system on the organs of the body.

Fig. 1 Effects of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system on the organs of the body.

The branch of the ANS, the sympathetic nervous system controls our stress response through the organs and tissues around the body. When your system is under psychological or physical stress the sympathetic system becomes dominant in order to release energy to the tissues so you can respond appropriately to protect yourself from the perceived threat or uncertainty. Even in relatively normal stable conditions, the sympathetic system is more dominant and maintains a low level of physiological arousal (Thayer & Brosschot, 2005). On the flip side when the body needs to return to a more restful state it utilises the other aspect of the ANS, the parasympathetic nervous system which inhibits the stress response migrating the system to a more ‘rest and digest’ state (Fig. 1). The parasympathetic system has the opposite effect to an adrenaline rush in a stressful situation and this is what we want to promote when we target stress or anxiety.

What can be done to reduce stress in this setting?

One of the simplest and most accessible ways one can reduce ones stress response is by using the breath. There are of course many other ways at our disposal to reduce stress; activities that we enjoy engaging in, exercise, listening to or playing music or an instrument, walking in the countryside, reading etc. However the breath is one of the most potent influencers on the brains output to all the other physiological systems in the body. Extremely sensitive chemoreceptors (chemical receptors) in the brain detect changes in the mixture of gases dissolved in the blood and respond by sending signals via the ANS to either increase or decrease the heart and respiratory rate and accordingly, as well as effecting other systems of the body such as the endocrine system. In another blog in this three part series we will examine the effect of breathing on the fascial or connective tissue system. By working with the breath you have a very powerful means of controlling how you psychologically and physically respond to a given situation.

Here is what to do – Simple exercises you can do to help with stress and anxiety

It’s useful to be able to spot if you think you are anxious or under undue stress which we won’t go into here but this will be part of this three part series on stress. However, even if you don’t think you are, these are excellent techniques that you can use if you need ‘down time’ or want to just ‘relax and take time out’.

All you need is 10 minutes, a quiet comfortable space and YOU!

Step 1 – Noticing

Find quiet, comfortable, warm environment away from any distractions like the TV, small children and make sure your mobile devices are switched to ‘silent’ or off. You can dim the lights around you to reduce the light hitting the back of your eyes, encouraging a less aroused state. Find a lying position on your back, either on a yoga mat or equivalent or on a firm bed. Have your knees bent so your feet are flat on the floor (you can place a pillow under your knees to ease any pressure on your lower spine) or straight out in front of you. Place one hand over your chest and the other between your navel and imagined or actual bra line.

  • Now take a moment to notice all the contact areas of your body on the surface that supports you. Each side or body part may feel different from each other and this is quite normal. The idea here is not to make a story about ‘why’ it is as you find it, but rather taking in and openly accepting things as they present themselves.
  • Also notice the movement of both your hands as you breathe in and out. Do they move in the same way at the same time? Are you breathing in one area more than another? Often people don’t feel that they are breathing ‘properly’ and it could be that you feel hardly any movement in your chest or they don’t breath fully into the lungs and are only expanding the top of the chest with shallow breathing.
  • You should notice that as you breathe in, the chest and stomach move up and outwards, the hand over your belly will move first only a fraction of a second before the other hand on the chest moves. And as you exhale both your chest and stomach should gently fall back towards the spine.
  • Notice as you breath the sensations around the back, sides and top of the rib cage by your collar bones, can you feel these areas move too?

Repeat this a few times to familiarise yourself with the motion of normal relaxed breathing and discover what is true for you.

Step 2 – Taking a deeper breath

  • Now take a full breath in and exhale out. Repeat this a few times to familiarise yourself with this movement, remembering to keep as relaxed as you can; through your shoulders and arms, in particular around your head and neck. This shouldn’t be hard work.
  • Notice what happens to the movement of your belly-hand and your chest-hand. Do they move in the same way? Can you feel now more of the back, sides and top of your chest? Using your imagination as you inhale, can you begin to fill the base of the lungs, then the middle of the chest and then right up into the apex of the lung as your collar bones broaden? This is known as a ‘yogic’ or ‘three-part’ breath that enables you to use the full capacity of the lungs.
  • Notice if you feel you are not breathing into a particular area of the lung, for example into the base of the lungs. Can you direct your attention to that area visualising the air travelling there and actively inviting the breath to go there? What does that feel like?

Repeat this 10 times and return to relaxed breathing. How does the body feel now?

Step 3 – Controlled inhalation and exhalation

If you are comfortable with Steps 1 & 2 then you can progress to this stage.

  • This time remembering to keep as relaxed through the body as possible, inhale for a count of four counts, then notice a slight natural pause at the top of the in-breathe and then exhale for a count of six, again noticing the slight pause at the end of the out-breath. Repeat this cycle 5 times and then return to normal relaxed breathing. How does the body feel after that sequence?
  • If you’re comfortable you can repeat this set 2 or 3 times in total and/or extending the inhalation to five counts and exhaling for seven, resting to observe how the body is after each set.

Extending the exhalation is the key here as it serves to increase parasympathetic output and reduces the general tone of the tissue (i.e. you encourage a more relaxed response in the body). It also ensures naturally that you are ready to begin inviting another breath in to begin the cycle again. Many people who suffer with anxiety feel they are not getting enough air in and this increases their stress, where they begin to over-breath which in turn compounds their sense of panic. If you consciously exhale for a bit longer, the natural reflex of the diaphragm will take over and air will naturally rush in without any effort, reducing the perceived increased effort of breathing.

It’s comforting to know that by employing your breath in a more conscious way acts as a potent regulator of how you think, feel and thus behave. It’s free; it’s always there when you need it and wants to help you live a life less stressful. Go on; why not give it a go?

Next time in part II of this three part series we’ll be looking at how you might identify the signs stress and anxiety.

References

Thayer, J. F., & Brosschot, J. F. (2005) Psychosomatics and psychopathology: looking up and down from the brain. Pyschoneuroendocrinology, 30, 1050 – 1058.


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