Healing Touch, The Pace of Bodywork, and Your Breath

Being a massage practitioner by trade, I'm a firm believer in healing touch. Get yourself some bodywork as soon as you feel you can. It's as crucial as anything else you might do for your body. There are likely many modalities of healing touch where you live, from massage to Reiki to Shiatsu to Feldenkrais Awareness to Reflexology, Somatics and beyond, available from many wonderful, loving and experienced practitioners. Talk to five friends, and you are bound to get a practitioner recommendation, either first or second-hand.
Bodies need to be touched -- loving, safe, healing touch. Touch is as important as breathing or exercising. Being touched with healing, honouring intent encourages the body to thrive and want to live, and live fully. Being touched aids in warding off depression and is a wonderful preventive for the dis-ease and dis-comfort that untouched bodies sooner or later manifest.

The Pace of Bodywork

The ideal pace for the body to receive healing touch is very slow. Bodies can move quickly, yet speedy physical movement can be a sign that one is in one’s head. Bodywork can literally allow greater embodiment, in part by encouraging us to slow down and merge with our physical self. Chronically moving too quickly can convey a sense of rushed anxiety and even injury. This can become a self-perpetuating cycle.
The massage table is a perfect place for body to cycle down and become re-impressed with the health benefits of deliberate movement. Ideally, a healing touch practitioner aids this slowing down process with an unhurried application of the hands. Don’t let guilt, caretaking, or habit prevent you from switching practitioners, even if the relationship is long-term, if your practitioner does not help you adjust the pace of your life downward (or for any reason at all).
Becoming a good receiver is crucial to maximizing the pleasure and health benefits of bodywork. No matter what modality an optimal bodywork session is one in which you the client are loosely, non-mentally focused and aware inside your body, particularly allowing that loose focus to rest upon the part of your body being touched at the moment, while maintaining a background awareness of how the rest of you is responding.
To facilitate this “locus of focus”, talking should be kept to a minimum, and should be centered on moment-to-moment needs and requests. Feel free to make lots of those! A bodywork session is a time to allow all your immediate physical needs to be addressed. A good practitioner welcomes your petitions for water, kleenex, a lighter touch, or another moment or two on that foot. If your practitioner initiates conversation and you notice that you are not as able to stay present in your body because of it, let her know that you are finding conversation distracting. If she persists, make that session your last with that person. A bodywork practitioner must aid you in becoming more embodied, not take you out into your head.
Do you find yourself endlessly spinning thoughts and visions during your session? It’s an organic occurrence, as bodywork connects the mind, spirit, emotions and body more efficiently than usual. As best you can, remind yourself that you can pursue that picture of the ideal job possibility or work through that tough issue with your spouse after your treatment, and return your awareness to your body, breathing deeply. Slow, effortless breathing, especially extending the outbreath, aids in muscle relaxation and is most called for during deep tissue massage of a particularly tight or painful muscle. I’ll talk more about deep breathing later on.
My first masseur (the masculine form of the popularly but often inappropriately applied feminine form ‘masseuse’) back in the late 80’s gave me a guideline that I continue to repeat to my clients to this day: “Never help the practitioner”. Raising your head or your legs to aid in pillow adjustment is a no-no; the worst case scenario has just-released muscles going into spasm worse than before from being compelled from a state of deep relaxation to one of sudden contraction. Become “heavy-limbed”, and allow the practitioner to move your body parts for you – practicing surrender of control does a body good.
Sometimes a bodywork session will stir old emotions as a result of a particular area being touched, rocked, massaged or otherwise manipulated. I recommend taking advantage of this by fully allowing vocal, non-verbal expression in moans, sighs, cries, tears, and involuntary jerking (also known as kriyas). A sensitive practitioner will ride this wave with you, compassionately yet matter-of-factly supporting you in those moments. If this is not the case, you have another reason to switch practitioners.
Nearly every recipient of non-sexual, healing touch finds her or himself at one time or another experiencing a sexual response. This can be embarrassing or confusing, but such a physical response is perfectly normal. Significant sexual energy is stored in hips, buttocks and legs and can spontanously begin to flow during a session when those areas are addressed. If this happens to you, continue to breathe deeply, stay in your body, allow your response to run its course without comment. The responsible practitioner will do likewise.
No spare cash, you say? An ongoing trade with a non-professional bodyworker friend can work, depending on how his or her touch feels to you. In some instances, approaching a bodyworker with a few creative ideas for full or partial barter can result in a win-win. If you need and desire bodywork, you will find it and manifest it.

Breathe, Breathe In The Air

We live in a culture of shallow breathers who have forgotten that breathing is meant to be a conscious activity. Shallow breathing starves the cells of our body and leads to all sorts of long-term nasties.
You can go a few days without water, weeks without food, years without exercise but go a few minutes without oxygen and you will die. According to my research, as far back as 1947 there were studies done that showed that normal cells can easily convert to cancer cells when chronically starved for oxygen. Lack of oxygen resulting from an overly rapid and shallow breath rate can contribute to heart disease, strokes, depression, sleep issues, fatigue, premature aging and nearly every malady known to humankind.
The stress and pace of modern life, as well as its conveniences, have in many of us led to decreased outdoor activity and increased work inside the home, coinciding with an increase in exposure to pollutants. Restrictive clothing such as tight waistbands, belts and bras compromises the ability to breathe fully and effortlessly and can contribute to digestive, elimination or gynecological issues.These factors combined with the subconscious fear of triggering the emotions stored in our body help create shallow/rapid breathing patterns. Cultivating an intent to face the emotions that can be stirred by continuous proper breathing helps.
Oxygen is the key component in the production of ATP, the chemical basis of energy production in the body. Deeper, slower breathing increases production of ATP. Increased oxygenation also improves blood quality, aiding in the elimination of toxins. It especially improves overall brain function and pineal/pituitary gland rejuvenation. Skin becomes smoother and stress load on the heart is decreased (thanks in part to greater lung efficiency), resulting in lower blood pressure. Increased diaphragmatic range of motion “massages” the heart, liver, pancreas, stomach and small intestine, stimulating blood circulation in these organs.
The website holisticonline.com describes the “perfect breath” in good detail. It starts with a “lower” breath inhalation that begins in the belly, and proceeds upward through a middle, intercostal breath (the lower ribcage expands to the side), completing the inhalation in an upper or high-ribcage chest expansion. Exhalation reverses this direction, and ends at the bottom of the exhale with a key component – what I call an inner hug, where the lower ribs give a gentle squeeze to the diaphragm. This squeeze not only eliminates the last bits of old air in the bottom of the lungs, but when the ribcage relaxes, the next breath begins automatically! This is where effortlessness can begin. Be in no rush to begin the next breath; pausing at the bottom of the breath for a few seconds brings its own benefits, particularly the resting of Body’s systems. Although oxygen uptake occurs on the exhale and thus slow outbreath is recommended overall, sometimes my body likes to just “let go” the air all at once, without pushing. Allow Body to do either, just because you feel to in the moment.
If executed properly, this breathing style is effortless. Strain and deep breathing do not go together and will likely result in significant “forgetting” or a subtle giving-up by Body if you are pushing yourself. Practice and perseverance will help turn relearning into a new integrated Body function with a huge upside. Try taking the breathing test a few times across time out on breathing.com, another “inspirational” resource, and see if your scores improve. Mine have.
To remind myself to breathe I made a bunch of coloured art focused around forms of the printed word "Breathe" and taped them up around my place. We need to breathe more fully and deeply, all the time and create a newer, healthier habit for increasing our body's vitality than the one we were raised on: subconscious, shallow breathing. It's a process. You will forget many times a day to breathe fully. It's alright.


Don't want to exercise? Don't "should" on yourself. Follow your body's urges as unconditionally as you can, and pay attention. Ask your body if s/he wants to go to that dance, or hike the mountain today. Ask, and listen inside. If the answer is no, follow that -- don't let your mind lead. Mind has led the way long enough. Body has rarely if ever been given the chance to lead! If the answer is yes, go for it. Every body's need is different, there isn't any "right way". Yet, muscles need to be worked, and finding a balance between rest and activity should be a conscious endeavor. Seeking ways and regular opportunities to move your body can do more to attain vitality and a sense of well being than many other avenues combined.
Can't tell what your body wants, and feel frustrated with that? Accept that about yourself, that you can't hear clearly from your body right away, in that moment -- and ask again later.

Author's Bio: 

Peter Cloud Panjoyah is a healing facilitator whose main client is himself. He began writing the articles on this blog, one per month, for his local monthly in February 2003. He is also a lover, father, bodyworker, poet and musician. He is a songwriter and co-founder in the B.C. folk-rock band TreeRoots Revolution who have released their first album “Deeper Than Grass” in 2006. He appreciates feedback of any kind at pjtree@island.net.