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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.














Crazy Thoughts

July 16, 2016 • Lisa Perry

Personally, I think we’re all a little crazy. Why do I think that? Because I’m human and all humans are vulnerable to crazy thoughts… at least some of the time.

Have you ever paid attention to your thoughts? I mean literally. Have you ever observed the exact phrases that run across your mind? Have you ever noticed that sometimes – maybe not all the time – but at least sometimes – that what you are thinking is not actually based in fact?

Definitions of Crazy

What is crazy anyhow?

The Definition of CRAZY according to Merriam-Webster include terms such as:

  • “full of cracks or flaws”
  • “being out of the ordinary” and
  • “distracted with desire or excitement”

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I think we all need a little more extraordinary in our lives. Sometimes we need to get away from logical and practical and actually get more into our “right minds”. And haven’t you ever noticed the beauty in imperfection? Check out a plant or a tree. If you look closely, do you see the marvelous cracks and flaws?

Where do my crazy thoughts come from?

Our thoughts can come from so many places. We can pick up thoughts from images, emotions, dreams, memories, conversations, media, our senses, etc. The list goes on. We can pick up stuff from almost anywhere. After all, we are all connected. We can hear something on the news; We can remember something from our past; We can “hear” things that have been “recorded” into our memory banks, this list goes on.

Be kind to your crazy human self

Shame never helps. Shame only makes us feel more alone, and dare I say, crazier. How would you treat a loved one if you knew they were struggling with feeling a little crazy? Would you shame them or would you try to help them out? Perhaps you’d even relate to what they are feeling. What would you want if you were in that same space?

Have a sense of humor about crazy

Have you ever noticed that comedians act a little crazy? It’s funny. It’s fun. Sometimes we are laughing so hard it hurts. Sometimes what we laugh about is actually what we find to be the deep down truth. It’s all mixed together somehow – in this big crazy life.

Be creative with your crazy self

Sometimes crazy can be just the right fertilizer to produce wonderfully juicy fruit. Creative problem solving always calls for Brainstorming. We are told to allow all thoughts and ideas flow during the process. Divergence comes before Convergence. Amazing music can come from experimenting with unusual sounds; Great art can come from combining different kinds of media, Compelling stories can come from trying to connect two seemingly disconnected words. Just like there is no stupid question – there is no truly crazy idea.

Choose crazy and Enantiodromia

Anything taken to its extreme turns into its opposite. Sometimes you just have to go with it. Find a safe place and let it out. You can tell yourself “I’m choosing this right now”. That way you can feel just a little bit more in control.

Set “safety” parameters for crazy

When choosing to go with crazy, set some parameters that make you feel safe. For instance: if crazy might be loud, you can choose a place that allows for sound without feeling embarrassed or like you are bothering somebody else. If crazy might be physical, you might choose a place that has objects that won’t hurt yourself or others or things that have value. If indulging crazy may lead to tears or strong emotional expression, you may want to schedule a crazy time with yourself that gives you time to transition to something else. You may consider having your social supports in the wings.

When to call a counselor

If you are feeling overwhelmed or if you just want a little extra guidance and support from an expert, seeking help from a qualified counselor can be wonderful too.

Lisa T Perry Counseling in AshvilleLisa T Perry, MED, LPC, CCMHC, VMT-R is a Licensed Professional Counselor who can find the silly in the serious.






Categories: Expression, Mind-Body, Voice

Rolfing, body awareness and the counselor

July 16, 2016 • Lisa Perry

Years ago, when I was in sales, I went to see a “Rolfer” for some body work. A coworker had told me it was “really cool”. I was in my 20’s, I had extra cash at the time, and I thought it would be fun.

When I arrived at the practitioner’s office, he sat me down before starting the work and said to me: “This work is going to change your life and you need to take responsibility for that”. I thought he was being a bit dramatic. I laughed and said: “whatever” (in my head). Funny thing, within 3 months I had decided to change my career.

When I was on the table, I remember him saying things to me that sounded very foreign. He would say things to me like: “be in your body” or “when you drive home – just drive your car”. I remember driving home having absolutely no idea what he was talking about.

But I also remember becoming increasingly sensitive to what my body was telling me. This was actually all very new to me. I did not realize it at the time, but in many ways, I had been living my life separate and apart from my body. I would not have scored particularly high in emotional intelligence at this point in time in my life.

Now, years later, I could hardly imagine what it would be like to experience myself apart from my body. I could not imagine what the state of my psychological nor physical health would be, if I had not made this vital connection.

Body awareness and counseling

As a counselor, the mind – body connection is a core part of my work. I tend to think that we wouldn’t even know we had emotions if we didn’t have bodies. As a former teacher of mine used to say: “Our body is like the car we use to drive ourselves around in through our lifetime.” We need to listen to it. We need to take care of it. Truly, we are inseparable from it.

Next time you feel an emotion, take the time to do a “body scan”. That is, focus in on your body at the time you are feeling this emotion and scan our body throughout. You will most certainly notice at least one (if not more) physical sensation. This part of your body will be speaking to you.

Literally, it could be any part of your body. You may notice muscular tension. You may notice changes in your breathing. You may feel hormonal surges, changes in temperature or changes in your heart-rate. The list goes on.

Often it is healing just to pause long enough to acknowledge this sensation. To honor and “sit with” the felt connection between your emotion and this sensation. Just to taking the time to breathe into the felt sensation can be a profound experience and the catalyst for change.

Many of us have learned to disconnect ourselves from our bodies and our emotions. We walk around in our heads. When asked how we feel, we state our opinion or what we are thinking about instead. Cognitive Therapy techniques can also help us make a clearer connection between our thoughts and our emotions. Since we carry our emotions in our bodies, we can then linkup many of our thoughts to our physical reactions as well. It’s all connected anyhow.

25 years following my first Rolfing session, I still greatly appreciate the work of a good “bodywork” practitioner. True, I decided to study “the mind” when I first went back to school, but it was my body that brought me to appreciate the workings of my mind.

Lisa T Perry Counseling in AshvilleLisa T Perry, MEd, LPC, CCMHC, VMT-R is a Licensed Professional Counselor who loves working with the mind in harmony with the Body.





Categories: Mind-Body