by Catriona Murray
Breath is important. In the last newsletter we touched on how important an awareness of breath is – especially when stressed – and how we can use “3 deep breaths” as a way to consciously calm, ground and center in moments of anxiety.
But we can use breath in so many other ways. It is the cornerstone of many health-giving practices, from yoga to Qi Gong, from singing to pilates.
Sometimes we can even just focus on breathing and forget the physical movement, and still feel a benefit …
My Dad discovered this on a family holiday in the US. We were visiting Sedona, which, we belatedly discovered, is not only a beautiful canyon, but is also a huge spiritual mecca. Wanting to do something ‘typical’, we booked ourselves in for a yoga class.
The wonderfully welcoming ‘Korean Power Brain Yoga’ group were doing a special session on chakra cleansing (we didn’t know what they were – if you don’t either , click here for more info!). We had to yell in Korean, intone ‘I love my beautiful body’ and imagine we were cleansing our chakras from bottom to top, all while indulging in various contortions.
My Dad, who can barely touch his knees on a good day, but who is nothing if not competitive, practically had an aneurysm trying to to hurl his legs behind his head in a misguided attempt to achieve one of the more advanced poses. Fortunately, another teacher in the class took him aside and explained that it ‘is all about the breathing’ and, ‘why don’t you try lying flat on the floor, focus on your breathing and imagine you are doing the exercises?’. … My Dad, a buttoned up Scottish male of the old school, followed the instructions and had an almost transcendental experience. He was completely converted!
But how is this relevant to shiatsu?
Well, in our own work on our body, whether as practitioners, or as receivers, we can use our breath in an imaginative way to help our physical body. This can be by breathing into a tense muscle, smiling as you breathe deeply in, imagining the breath warming and relaxing the muscle, then breathing out and imagining the tension ebbing away into the ground.
Or, just as an athlete in pre-race training prep, breathes and visualises a winning race, so you can focus on your breath and visualise your own muscles, or even your entire body, as relaxed and fully healthy.
And I know this works … from my own personal experience … As a keen marathon runner, I once found myself unable to run (for a protracted period – nearly 3 years) or take exercise. I had relied on physical exercise to keep me both fit and sane and now I would come home from work and just have to lie down, whether weekday or weekend: I discovered that deep, focused breathing and running the canals, paths, beaches of Edinburgh and Leith in my mind could achieve similar levels of calmness, relaxation and positive mood to a 24-mile run, without the shin splints!!
For an Eastern take on breath work, try the ‘Qi Gong Inner Smile’. And … if you’d like to strengthen muscles, but are unable to actually do the physical exercise, I like to hold the muscle with my hand (if you can reach) and imagine that I am doing the exercise. My favourite is the imaginary situp, but don’t tell the gym that!
Originally posted on the Edinburgh Shiatsu Clinic website in March 2014.
Find out more on the Shiatsu Society website.
What is Shiatsu?
Shiatsu translates as ‘finger pressure’ and is based on traditional Japanese massage. Combining acupressure, massage, flowing movement and joint rotations helps to disperse tension, reduce pain, promote relaxation and healthy functioning of the body systems (circulation, breathing, digestion etc.). Shiatsu therapists are guided by their experience & knowledge of physiology and traditional Chinese medicine and apply pressure using fingers, thumbs, palms and elbows and combine it with other techniques.
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