Tag Archives: Anxiety

The Downs of Stress Breath

bellowsMy client had tremendous pain – 12 on a scale of 10 – in the area between the shoulder blades. She begged for deep pressure massage, and that did lessen it temporarily. But after 2 days the pain remained a 12.

How many times has a client begged for a tough massage in hopes of relieving pain? And how many times has that solution been temporary at best?

Upon this client’s return visit we had a talk. I explained that no amount of pressure would budge the pain pattern because it was originating from the front – the area where the rib cage meets the sternum — the costochondrals.

A leak had been discovered in her condo and a fairly heated fight had ensued with the homeowner’s association over who was responsible. It was several weeks before repairs were finally done. My client had been breathing shallow, from fear of mold spores, and fear of a huge repair bill.

After many massages, therapists come to understand how fundamental relaxed breathing is to health. Clients who are stressed breathe less deeply; they develop problems over time from shallow patterns of breath.

My acupuncturist friends tell me that in terms of energy, the diaphragm is the bellows of the body. If it is tight or dysfunctional, the energy stagnates. Acupuncture looks to relieve the traffic jam and restore the diaphragm’s natural movement.

If this seems technical or not applicable to most massages, think of the upper posterior serratus right at the apex of the shoulder and neck…how many times do people seek massage for distress in that area? I can’t imagine the last time a new client didn’t point to that spot.

Stress breath is what we treat whether we are doing basic Swedish or more complex massage techniques. It’s all in the core of the body’s energy.

My client, by the way, was much relieved by massage of the sternum, costochondrals and rib cage. (This is done with proper draping and avoiding the breast tissue.) Perhaps next time she might even let me massage the diaphragm.

Peace Be With You: Using Guided Imagery to Promote Relaxation

Like many of my clients, I have had trouble in the past with stress, anxiety, and insomnia. I tried many things to combat these problems, some with more success than others. And I have to say that one of my favorite methods by far for reducing stress and promoting peace in my life is guided imagery.

I first encountered guided imagery several years ago in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where I was working with a psychiatrist who practiced hypnotherapy. One of her techniques for relaxing clients was to have them close their eyes and breathe quietly and regularly while she painted a soothing picture with her voice. The goal was to have the client mentally insert herself into that peaceful picture and relax, as relaxation can make hypnotic regression processes, etc., much more effective. Often, she would record that part of the session so that the client could go back and listen again for further relaxation purposes.

I was so impressed with how much guided imagery calmed me, that I began to look for more variation in my diet. For the last several years, my two favorites have been Tuning Your Chakras (from the Edgar Cayce Pre-Sleep series) and Hara Breathing Meditation (by Iona Marsaa Teeguarden).

I suggest such CDs for client use (particularly at bedtime or naptime), and I also use very simple guided imagery in massage sessions. For example, when I have a client who is extremely stressed or whose purpose in massage is deep relaxation, I will sometimes end with a general Polarity Energy routine to rebalance the chakras. In beginning this, I will simply ask the client to breathe and relax as much as possible while we “go away somewhere.” Occasionally I ask the client where she wants to go, but generally, I pick the place according to whatever occurs to me at the time, and tend to go with my gut instincts for guided imagery travel. For example, as the weather has improved in Seattle, I have been doing a lot of walking around Green Lake. A few weeks ago, the cherry trees were in bloom, and as I walked, I watched the breeze shake them down like pink snow. And so in my session, I painted the scene of the lake that day: pink snow, dandelion seed parachutes, bright kites, and a tiny Chihuahua in a pink coat. “Can there really be anything too bad or scary about a world where Chihuahuas wear pink coats?” I asked. My client smiled, and the body under my hands instantly relaxed.

Sometimes we need to get out of our daily lives or at least change the scenery in our heads to achieve peace: guided imagery is a great, easy way to do this.