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Breathing, Imagery and emotions

July 16, 2016 • Lisa Perry

Everyone knows that our emotions and our breathing is connected. We’re often advised to “take a deep breathe” when we are upset. Classes in Yoga and meditation have sprung up everywhere we look. But very often, we are given seemingly simple advice to “just breathe” and we don’t know exactly where to go with that.

About 15 years ago, I was taught a simple breathing exercise by a singing instructor. Over the next few days, after practicing this way of breathing, I experienced very strong memories and emotions. I developed a severe sore throat and I even came down with bronchitis. I had no idea what was happening to me. Although very unpleasant at the time, this experience led me down a very positive and life changing path.

How we feel affects how we breathe

We sense that how we feel affects how we breathe. We take note of more rapid and shallow breathe when we feel anxious. When shocked or surprised, we may suddenly suck in our breath. When frightened, we may hold our breath. When tired, we widen our breath into a yawn. We may sigh when exasperated or relieved. Strong reactions like nausea, fury, sexual stimulation – all evoke changes in breathing.

How we feel affects how we hold ourselves

Our emotional reactions greatly influence our body in other ways as well. Our muscles tense and relax and form different postures in relation to how we feel about ourselves and others. We may find ourselves stiff and tight or more relaxed and flexible. Our posture may be leaning towards or contracting away from a particular person or situation.

How we use imagery can change our breathing

We can focus our attention and use our imagination to influence how we hold our body. Any muscle that we focus upon can be relaxed and/or tensed. In doing so, we can change the shape of the instrument that our body breathes through. For example, just like we can choose to squeeze and then relax our fist, we can also choose to squeeze and then relax other muscles that support breathing. We can experiment with muscles in our stomach, chest, back, sides, neck, throat, shoulders, pelvic floor, etc.

We can create more subtle shapes and varying levels of tension with more holistic images. If we use our imagination, we can breathe through so many different shapes and sizes. If we use our imagination, we can breathe into and touch many parts of the body that may normally be guarded and protected.

Culture and Breathing

I remember learning about a tribe that believed their lungs were in their thighs. Could you imagine how they might have experienced their breathing? I dare you to walk around for a while and try this out for yourself! It really is quite astounding.

For purposes of survival and to fit into our societies, most of us have learned to hold ourselves in ways that can be habitual and limiting. Most of this is not in our awareness. We just walk around the way we do. We just hold ourselves the way we do.

If you were to observe an infant, you might notice the way they breathe is very different than the way we have learned to breathe. For example, have you ever noticed the uninhibited expansion and contraction of the belly? How many among us fly so freely as we “mature”?

Breathing the tube

Imagine you have swallowed a very flexible and malleable tube that extends from your mouth through to your “bottom”. (See how my words are affected by culture here?) This tube can have different lengths and widths. You can tighten it to make it rigid or breath into it to expand it outwards like a balloon. Try out some different images:

Piccolo or Flute – Shorter or longer and very narrow.

Saxophone – Very long and very wide.

Breathing and Emotion

When you have some quiet time, allow yourself to really breathe the entire instrument of your body. You can play with different images. When we explore different ways of breathing our body, we wind up expanding into areas that we don’t typically reach. Sometimes this can bring up different emotions.

For instance, you can imagine your body is like an accordion. The accordion can start in the position of a fully exhaled rigid structure. In this position, your body is more collapsed inward and there is limited space to breathe from. Notice what this feels like. Does it remind you of anything?

You can imagine this accordion expands all the way to its widest and fullest position. You can breathe your entire body, noticing what every nook and cranny feels like. What does it feel like to breathe all the way into your back? What is it like to expand your mid chest fully? What it is like to explore the dimensions of your body 360 degrees around like you are a full sphere?

If you are feeling courageous, playful or just plain curious, you can expand the breathing into sound. You are now playing the instrument you had been breathing. When we vocalize we:

  • extend the breath out more fully
  • experience more vibration and felt sensations
  • engage another part of our brain where emotions lie even more closely

So, next time someone tells you to “just breathe”, you might have some more ideas about how to do that!

Lisa T Perry Counseling in AshvilleLisa T Perry, MEd, LPC, CCMHC, VMT-R is a Licensed Professional Counselor who simple cannot separate emotion from the body. She likes to incorporate breath-work productively into her counseling work.














3 Ways to Avoid living life; Waking from depression

July 16, 2016 • Lisa Perry

Depression can be sneaky. It can disguise itself as Self-care, “Me Time” or even a sense of being responsible. When you sleep extra late, Depression can tell you: “Everyone knows that it’s important to get good sleep”. When you are binging on Netflix, Depression can whisper in your ear: “It’s not healthy to be productive all the time”. When you carry your phone with you at all times or leave it on while engaged in another activity, Depression could say to you: “I’m just making sure I’m available in case of an emergency”.

3 ways to avoid living life fully:  

   1. Turn your phone into your new best friend

You can keep your phone with you at all times. You can keep it handy when you’re in the bathroom, you can leave it on when having dinner with family or friends and you can leave it by your bedside at night when you go to sleep

   2. Watch TV

When you first wake up and before you lay down to sleep, check out what’s on the tube. You can even sleep with it on. Make sure it’s on in the background when you are cooking, taking a bath or cleaning your home.

   3. Sleep all day

With the phone by your bed and with the TV on in the background, you can drift off to dreamland. Pesky demands just disappear. That is, until you wake up from a nightmare.

Of course you know I am being a tad sarcastic. At least I hope you do! And, we all struggle with these kinds of habits, at least some of the time. But when these habits take over our life, we need to look a little deeper. We need to venture out from our comfort zone, even if just a little bit and with baby steps at first.

Strategies for waking up from depression

Anyone struggling with depression knows that it can be extremely hard to make the transition from bed to life. It feels safer somehow under the covers. Facing the challenges of the day can feel impossible. A sense of meaning may be eluding us. But what if you could create light from out of the darkness through gentle expression and creativity? What if you could take a dream and turn it into art.? You never know, you might wind up creating a poem, a song, artwork or even a new dance. Here are some ideas for Waking up from sleep and getting out of bed.

  • Write it down

Upon awakening, or even after coming out from a dream, do some free-writing for 5-10 minutes. Fill up at least one page. Then, without a lot of thought, underline some passages (word, phrases or sentences) that call out at you. Take these underlined passages and transfer them onto on a new page. Wallah! There’s your poem.

If you are ready and want to take this a step further, read your “poem” aloud. Feel the words you are reading. Now you’re a stand-up poet and ready for poetry readings.

  • Color it out

Place some crayons and a short stack of blank paper by your bedside.  Upon awakening from a dream, and without a lot of thought, pick out some colors that resonate with your dream and how you are feeling right now. Perhaps you may choose a different color for each of the characters in your dream.

Again, without a lot of thought, use these different colored crayons to scribble or draw as you are waking out of that dream still. You may press the crayon with great strength or with minimal force; your scribbles can be large or small, with straight lines or curvy. The images can be abstract or look like real life. You can draw stick figures; there may be no actual figures.

  • Relate to your created images

You can choose to devote one piece of paper for each character or feeling that you experienced upon awakening. After having created these images on paper, you can place them side by side on the floor. If you are not ready to get out of bed, you can place these papers on your bed. Place them in relation to each other. Notice who or what is closer or farther away from you. Notice how you feel when you do this. Move the pages to different spaces in relation to you and each other. Again, notice how you feel.

You can scan your images and see if there is one that, for whatever reason, makes you feel more courageous. You may choose to keep that image close at hand. You may look at or consult that image when you think you would like to get out of bed.

You can scan and notice if one of these images scares you. Know you are safe under your covers while you attempt to look or stare at this image. Try to see it for who or what it is. Or you may turn this piece of paper over for now; or put it into a drawer if you’d like. You can always choose to take this image out at another time and stare it down later.

Ways to gain independence from your phone

Just for kicks, consciously turn off your phone for 1 whole minute. You can set a timer if you’d like. While you are doing this, notice the sensations in your body. You might notice the sensations before, during and after.

Choose one of the sensations you identified to focus upon for 15 -30 seconds. Notice if the sensation shifts or changes over time. If you are feeling ready, give it some more time and see if the sensation continues to change. It might strengthen or weaken. It might disappear or turn into a new sensation.

Sense in to this discovered sensation to see if you can identify an action this part of your body seems to want or need. If it feels safe to do so, indulge this action. It might want to make a sound. It might want to tense up. It might want to move in a particular direction. It might want to be held or massaged. It might want to dance – you never know!

If you are ready to try turning you phone off for 5 – 10 minutes, you can try writing down a full page of unedited thoughts that come to mind while doing so. You can try this 3- 5 times over the next week and see if you notice any themes.

If you are not ready to turn your phone off at all. You can try this one. Take your phone and place it in different locations – near or far from yourself. Compassionately observe your reaction to the distance between you and your phone.

Ideas for waking up from your TV

Try an instructional You Tube video. You can still be sitting in your favorite seat. Play around searching for “how to” ideas you think might be interesting or cool to learn about. Perhaps you’ll discover a video about something you actually want to do.

Perhaps you’ll land upon something you know you need to do – but you haven’t gotten to it yet. Maybe when you’re watching this instruction video, you’ll notice how you already know how to do this. You might think: “Heck, I can do this even better than that!” Or you might think: “Hmm I didn’t really realize how easy this actually would be to do!”

Imagine how you might have room for one of these projects in your life. Think about the resources you always own or have and which projects actually match a resource you already have.

If you don’t currently own a necessary resource, think about items (within your budget) you would need to buy to do one of these things. Consider putting this item on your shopping list. Perhaps one of these items can be borrowed short term.

These are just a handful of thoughts about waking out of your comfort zone. But when your comfort zone turns into habits for hiding from life, it’s important to take notice. It’s important to try something different. It’s important to stretch yourself and experience some discomfort every once in a while. There are many ways to safely move from living in a dream to living a more full life. If you are having trouble with depression or feeling stuck or blah in your life, you might consider seeking a counselor for more targeted support.

Lisa T Perry Counseling in AshvilleLisa T. Perry, MEd, LPC, CCMHC, VMT-R is a Licensed Professional Counselor who enjoys finding creative and meaningful ways to transform depression into life.


Categories: Depression

How to Face your shadows

July 15, 2016 • Lisa Perry

We all want to be accepted. It can be  hard to make peace with our shadows. So we try to push our ugly bits down. Sometimes we can pretend, even to ourselves, that they don’t exist.

But shadows don’t just go away

Ignoring our shadows do not make them go away. Sure, they may go underground for a bit. But they always return in some form at some time. Sometimes they lurk just barely below the surface waiting for the opportunity to come out. Some of our shadows have been so “successfully” banished that they disguise themselves in very different forms – unrecognizable to us. So then, what do we do?

Make peace with your shadows  

It’s important to recognize what exists, no matter how we feel about it. Does hating the rain make it go away? Does fearing disease eradicate it from our lives? Does dirt magically disappear without cleaning?

If we don’t recognize what exists – we cannot deal with what exists. We cannot take action. We cannot prepare ourselves. We cannot make peace with ourselves.

Honor your shadows

Have you ever considered that your shadows might actually have something important to say? Have you ever considered that your shadows might actually have something positive to bring to the party? How would you know what it has to offer if you have spent all of your energy trying to avoid it, ignore it or banish it?

Okay, so what if I do admit that my shadows have some power in my life? What if I do actually admit that they have gotten my attention? How exactly do I interact with them? If I invite them in voluntarily, will they take over my life? Will they cause me more harm?

Shadows are alive and well in the Arts

Have you ever noticed how we appreciate shadows when they are expressed through the arts? Don’t we just love those dark characters we see in the movies? Aren’t we brought to howling laughter when we listen to the rantings of a good comic? Haven’t we all been moved by heart wrenching vulnerability expressed through music? Haven’t we actually found our lives elevated from such experiences? Aren’t we actually touched by elements that we find so familiar to us? Don’t we often find we are in the presence of “truth” itself?

Give audience to your shadows

Perhaps the enemy we know is better than the enemy we don’t.  Perhaps a form of contained dialogue is the answer. Perhaps there are venues for powerful entities to express themselves without doing any harm.

For example, we create safe containment structures for housing fires. When we do so, we quite enjoy and benefit from the power and the glory of this fiery presence. Instead of being burned alive, we receive warmth or the means for safe food preparation.

Give voice to your shadows

We can journal our darkest thoughts and our greatest fears. We can write with abandon within the privacy of our own audience. No one is hurt for this act. We can get our thoughts and feelings out and sorted. We can have a conversation with our shadows. We can listen with respect and engage in a dialogue for our well-being. We can write poetry or create songs.

We can listen to stormy music. We can vocalize with words or through growls, moans, sobbing or mad hysterical laughter. We can collaborate with others to create music together. We can normalize our emotions and experience community while expressing our angst, our yearnings, our desires and our passions.

We can use our hands and feet. We can draw. We can use powerful fiery colors. We can create and wear scary masks. We can create sculpture or woodwork or even clear a stumpy, weedy hill in preparation for a garden. We can dance. We can pound the ground with our feet and shout to the sky.

In other words, Don’t fear the shadow. It is a part of us .

And remember, There is no light without shadow.


Lisa T Perry Counseling in AshvilleLisa T Perry, MEd, LPC, CCMHC, VMT-R is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Registered Voice Movement Therapy Practitioner practicing in Asheville. She would love to help you make peace with your shadows.



Categories: Depression

Meditation, Depression, and your eyeballs

July 14, 2016 • Lisa Perry

You may have noticed that where you place your attention totally affects your mood. Did you know that Meditation can be defined as “focused attention”? If this is the case, then couldn’t meditation be a great tool for dealing with depressed moods? I think so. You can totally benefit from using meditation for dealing with depression.

But often I hear clients say: “I’m no good at meditation” or “I can’t do meditation”. I find myself wondering what they have been told about meditation and if they are holding themselves to an impossible standard. If meditation is a practice, then doesn’t it make sense that one may start as a novice and only improve over time?

I was taught there are many way to practice meditation and I was supported to choose a form of mediation practice that “worked” for me. Fortunately, I was not straight-jacketed by a bunch of “shoulds” about the practice. When I asked for help with challenges, I was not repeatedly told I was doing it “wrong”. The practice was kept simple.

Depressed moods and focused attention

My husband claims, a good strategy for depression is “to focus your eyeballs outwards”. He notes how depressed moods are often accompanied by an “eyeballs inward” focus. I have taken to observing where my “eyeballs” are when in a depressed mood. I have then tracked how turning my “eyeballs outwards” impacts my mood. I think he is on to something!

Lest anyone thinks I am being highly literal, let me explain a bit:

“Eyeballs inwards” would be akin to spending a lot of “time in the head” disconnected from other realms of existence. You might be worrying about some imagined future, repeatedly replaying a past interaction, or spending time in self- focused observations that don’t connect to things outside oneself.

“Eyeballs outwards” may include things like: really seeing the environment around you (while also feeling your feet below you) when you take a walk , noticing and then filling your cat’s empty water bowl, playing an instrument with intention, washing a dish (just) until the grease is actually gone. In all of these situations, you remain a part of the interaction, but you are not lost in the self alone. You are present with yourself and the object of your attention at the same time.

Try out this mediation for depressed mood

Next time you find yourself lost in a depressed mood, see if you can inch yourself towards – or throw yourself into – an activity that takes you out of an “eyeballs inwards only” place. It might be as simple as changing your posture and noticing how that shifts your connection to an object you are touching. You could move to a different room and notice how the colors, smells and sounds are different in that room. You could step outside and sense how the change in temperature feels on your skin. The meditation might take the form of doing “just one thing” with your full attention.

You can ease yourself into this shift by setting a goal that doesn’t overwhelm you. For instance, you can set a timer for 1 minute of practice. You can shift your focus of attention to one thing only, without even moving an inch from your current location. If you really want to challenge yourself, you can play with your cat for 3 whole minutes. If your cat begins to purr, you succeeded to practice meditation and you achieved empathy!

Lisa T Perry Counseling in AshvilleLisa T Perry, MEd, LPC, CCMHC, VMT-R is a Licensed Professional Counselor. She has been helping people cope with depression for over 25 years.



Categories: Depression