Friday, May 06, 2011

Belly Breathing

"Well," he said, leaning into me and keeping pressure on my back with his forearm, "you get a gold star. I've done this for 20 years and don't remember the last time I felt anyone this tight." I laughed for a moment, breathing and trying to relax as I pressed my face into the cradle and wanted to purr with pleasure.

"Are you familiar with the concept of body armoring?" he asked, pressing and kneading and coaxing muscles to release their tension. When I said I had not, he explained that there are some theories that indicate muscles retain memory of trauma and cause chronic pain or discomfort.

"Like," he explained, "when a lion attacks a zebra. The zebra can fight, flee or freeze." Sure he was going to say 'fornicate' I scolded myself before continuing to listen. "And if the lion decides he's not hungry after all and releases the zebra, it plays dead. And after the lion leaves, it shakes itself off and goes on about its life. But we're not as good as shaking it off - we remember those times we were afraid and embarrassed or angry and our body absorbs that and can't seem to release it. Are you anxious?"

"Always," I replied, whimpering when he worked on my neck, calling a muscle 'squirrelly' when it refused to smooth into its friends, twanging like a giant band against the strokes and pressure. "And sad. I take pills."

"Does it feel like a constant conversation in your head?" he asked and I thought about it while he worked at my shoulder.

"It's not as bad as it was," I told him. "During my post-doc, I was very depressed and the sadness just drowned everything else. The anxiety and depression aren't nearly as bad as they were now that I'm medicated. So it's more like a low-level hum in the background."

"That's as much as I can get this time," he decided and had me turn over. He started on my shoulders again as I listened to the soothing music he played and the playing children at the playground outside. "Your body remembers all that pain," he said. "You want to let that go and wear your body more comfortably."

"My body just carries around my brain," I told him.

"So you don't like it," he clarified.

"Not really, I guess," I replied. "I remember I used to get terrible cramps growing up - stomach pain - and so I dissociated from it. It was happening to my body but not really connected to me. And now I just ignore it mostly - I don't like headaches or shoulder problems because they're close to my brain. But the farther the pain is from my head, the better I feel about it."

He made a sound of understanding.

"Plus, if you're talking about therapy, I was bad at it. It just hurt - I cried and ached and it didn't really change much. I like the drugs. Prozac, some anti-anxiety pill I take when I need it. Advil for headaches, Tylenol for other pain. Melatonin to sleep. Nyquil when I'm stuffy or coughing. Chemicals are awesome."

He warned me about Advil on an empty stomach, making me frown with stories of a friend who threw up blood. I sighed when he finished his story and he placed a hand on my collarbone.

"Do you feel how your chest moves when you sigh?" he asked and I blinked my eyes open to look at him.

"I guess," I replied, having never thought about it.

"Good, soothing breaths come from here," he instructed, touching my tummy. "Try to move my hand." After focusing as hard as I could, I was unable to breathe with my belly so I shrugged and nudged at his hand with mine. He grinned at me and demonstrated a proper breath, nodding encouragingly when I tried to mimic the inhale and longer exhale through the nose.

"Now try again - not from your chest but from your diaphragm."

"Ow," I protested for the first time in our session when he pressed gently below my breasts. I rubbed at the spot - it was viciously sore - and he looked at me calmly. "I put all the pressure I could on your back and you didn't make a peep. And you can't tolerate any pressure at all there?"

"Is that not normal?" I asked. "I always assumed everyone hurt there - like when my cat steps on me and it's a sharp, stabbing pain. Not everyone does that?"

"No," he replied simply. "Your system is all kinds of knotted up. This will be a craniosacral pressure. Breathe," he instructed and with a hand behind my back, gently nudged at my diaphragm with two fingers while I made faces at the ceiling.

"When you breathe properly, it's like a massage for your organs. They shift and nudge against each other and everything is flexible and fluid."

"OK," I said, wincing, "well, they appear to be scraping against each other now because this is unpleasant."

"We're done for now," he said and left the room so I could dress. I emerged a moment later, still rubbing just above my tummy and cocking my head at him.

"I'd like to come back," I said, feeling somehow peaceful and hopeful that he might be able to quiet my mind and ease the constant pressure and pain in my body. "What would you recommend?"

"For you? Right now? Every week," he offered. "And you need to breathe - lie down on your back and put a small weight on your belly and try to move the book. 10 minutes a day. And be aware of your body - just in small ways. Sit up straight so your shoulders don't ache. Drink more water. Take more walks. Something small so that you can begin your healing journey."

And while I normally eschew woo-woo approaches for chemicals in candy-coatings, I'm clear that my current operating mechanisms are ineffective. So let's try deep breathing and craniosacral massage and blending mental and physical therapy from a holistic center. I'll let you know how it goes.


Anonymous said...

Not sure if you've ever tried it before, but I highly recommend yoga. Not the "aerobic yoga" or the "hot yoga," but just plain old yoga. It teaches breathing, listening to one's body, slow stretching - all of which it sounds like you could benefit from and enjoy. AND, it's relaxing. One thing to keep in mind, if you do decide to try it out: if you go to a yoga class and you feel sore afterward, they are most likely teaching it incorrectly, and I'd recommend shopping around for another one.

Glad to hear this guy is helping you become more aware of your body. From one scientist to another: it is absolutely not silly to listen to what your body is telling you.


suzy pepper said...

Good for you for trying a different approach. Massage therapy helped me so much, and not just because my massage therapist was ridiculously hot.

Psycgirl said...

I'm so jealous Katie - I love craniosacral massage but can't find anyone here who does it :(

Jenn, PhD said...

Sounds like you found a gem of a person to help you out. Sounds like a wise man to me...

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