June 14, 2017

Your Breathing Body: The Healing Power of Breath

Today, we continue our series with, Ewa Litauer. In this post she shares how the use of breathing techniques can help us calm our nervous system and reconnect with our bodies.


I am often asked for a simple way to describe how a Reiki treatment makes everyone feel better. And one of the first things that come to mind is the breath – and coming back to the awareness of your own breathing body. 
After a Reiki treatment people leave breathing easier and lighter, often walking lighter, feeling calmer, brighter and refreshed. Many of my clients come in for a first Reiki session after having experienced trauma and report that receiving safe healing touch allows them to become present with the body and their emotions in a non-judgmental way. The Reiki touch induces a relaxation response in the body allowing the receiver to come back to their own natural breath.
Our breath is our most direct connection with the world – we enter the world and we start to breathe. Breath is life force in the body; breath brings life to the body. And the way we breathe affects our nervous system, our heart, our brain, our concentration, our digestion and our sleep. 
Even at times when we feel isolated or disconnected from the world we are in, we are fundamentally connected to and sustained by the world at every moment through our breathing. Our breath can help us cultivate a sense of being in the world and in present time.
For survivors of trauma and sexual abuse certain experiences or stimuli, like smells or sounds or being yelled at for example can trigger memories and involuntary stress responses in the body that connect back to the past and the time of the traumatic experience. 
Those who are affected by PTSD (Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder) can use the breath as a first tool of self-regulation to directly impact their physiological responses to internal or external triggers. Over time we can cultivate a deeper relationship with our breath and notice when we need to make adjustments, take a cleansing or refreshing breath and bring ourselves back to the present moment, free and safe.
A quick breathing technique to use when you are triggered or experiencing a flashback:
  1. Breathe in for a count of 4.
  2. Hold your breath for a count of 4.
  3. Breathe out to a count of 4.
  4. Hold your breath to a count of 4.
  5. Repeat this sequence 2-3 more times.

This helps interrupt the fight, flight or freeze response of the autonomic nervous system and allows you to get grounded to the present moment.
But apart from triggers, when we generally experience ongoing stress or pain in our daily lives, physical or emotional, our breathing is easily affected, becoming habitually restrained or blocked, shallower and barely moving the chest or nourishing our cells. When we become disconnected from our bodies, the breath is a great tool to bring us back to the present and to our felt experience, back into our bodies.
  1. So, start by noticing your breath right now. We always begin where we are. Just observe.
  2. Become present, even curious, to the movement and sensation of your body breathing in - and out.
  3. When you watch your breath you are giving your mind a focus to become still.
  4. Notice if you are judging and come back to the breath.
  5. Breathe in and notice the sensation in your nose, mouth, throat, chest, . . . notice if you’ve felt some judgment in response to judging yourself earlier. You may even say to yourself ‘how interesting‘ and come back to your breath and the rhythm and sensations moving through your body.
  6. Now, invite in some deeper breath all the way down into your belly.

Abdominal breathing has a calming and relaxing effect and can help us add more life energy. We absorb more oxygen and release more waste products with fewer but more effective breaths.
In fact, our breath doesn’t actually need our attention, as it is controlled through our autonomic (involuntary) nervous system, which means it happens independent of the conscious mind. But since we can also use our voluntary system to influence our breath, we can think of the breath as a connecting bridge between the conscious and the unconscious mind. 
Of all the various functions of our autonomic nervous systems, from heart beat to hormonal release, the breath stands alone as the only subsystem the conscious mind can put into ‘manual override’.
So imagine, since breathing in and out is something we do on average 17,000 – 30,000 a day, we have all these opportunities to bring our presence to the breathing body and an invitation to take in the nourishment that the oxygen provides with a conscious awareness. And so it is through manipulation of the breath that we can recalibrate the entire system.
  1. Turn your attention back to your breath now. Take a moment to adjust your posture so you are comfortable or take up a familiar meditation posture.
  2. Breathing in, become aware of your face. Breathing out, become aware of your face.
  3. Stay with your breath as you scan and move through your whole body this way.
  4. Stay with each area until you feel you have made some contact with that part of the body.
  5. Notice what is happening on a physical level and on a feeling level.
  6. As thoughts come up, notice that and recognize them as distractions and come back to the breathing body.
  7. Once you’ve scanned your entire body, become aware of any areas that feel tight or tense; notice, be curious maybe and come back to the flow and the rhythm of your breath as you bring a gentle attention to any sensitive areas.
  8. Listen for any parts that may have something to say.
  9. Breathing in, you can encourage a sense of spaciousness or softening. Sense your breath moving in, creating space, breathing out, releasing toxins.
  10. Feel what areas need more attention and enjoy making contact.
  11. Come back to a general awareness of the whole body and the rhythm of the breath and expand your attention to the space and room around you. Become aware of the street or trees, your environment, sounds, smells and just sit for a few moments, feeling yourself part of this, here, now.

During a Reiki session, you come back to your own most natural breath by becoming aware of your breathing body. And whether you have experienced a Reiki treatment before, are new to Reiki or are a Reiki practitioner yourself, you can place your hands one on your chest and one on your lower belly, enjoying your conscious breath and it’s nourishing and cleansing effects that are already happening thanks to the body wisdom, your innate intelligence; breathing in oxygen and out carbon dioxide for the plants to absorb and transform back into oxygen for you to breathe in and so forth, participating in life around you, in and off this world and time.

Enjoy your breathing body!
Ewa (pronounced Eva) Litauer works as a Certified Clinical and Medical Hypnotherapist (CCHT), Restorative Yoga Teacher and Reiki Master Teacher in the Usui Tradition.

Ewa brings a transpersonal approach to her therapy and teaching work. She draws on various systems of energetic healing, spiritual and meditative practices and a deep foundation in feminist psychology, blending them into a unique model of empowerment to assist everyone in bringing out their best selves. Compassionate, respectful, and caring, she is passionate about guiding people toward greater health and well-being by connecting them to their inner resources. 

Ewa offers workshops, classes, and her one-on-one services to various medical and health clinics in the Bay Area, as well as in private practice in SF and she is available for private sessions worldwide on Zoom or Skype. In 2011, she assisted with a study with the University of California investigating the benefits of stretching and Restorative Yoga for the Metabolic Syndrome and she is bringing Restorative Yoga and Reiki workshops to various studios in the SF Bay Area.


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