It’s not uncommon when I’m working on a client, to come across a knot – a little spot in the belly of a muscle that somehow missed the message that it doesn’t need to contract anymore, and is stuck in a state of tension. What I notice, when I start going to work on these knots, is that my client will hold their breath. Their reaction to my locating this often painful, bean-sized offender will range from, “Ooh!” to, “What is that?” and sometimes even, “There it is!” And whether these are spoken or silent reactions, the natural accompanying reaction is to hold one’s breath, and wait for it to go away.
My job, then, becomes to remind my client to breathe. Long, deep breaths, down into the belly, bringing oxygen into the body, expelling the carbon dioxide trapped in the deep reaches of the lungs, providing fuel to the blood and the tissues. Not only does this help me relax the knot, it just feels good. How often in our day do we take a good deep breath? It’s a conscious effort, one that seems so simple, yet we forget to do it. Moving at the speed of life has made us shallow breathers – we’re hunched over the computer, seated at a desk, spending up to an hour or even longer commuting and doing errands, gripping a steering wheel, shoulders rolled forward, back arched uncomfortably, unnaturally. Poor posture constricts the diaphragm – the bellows-style muscle nestled in the abdomen, which expands and contracts to pull air down into the lungs and expel it again. In our day-to-day activities, we are rarely in a position to take a deep breath, even if we want to.
Now add stress into the mix. Cortisol, that lovely hormone once reserved for those fight-or-flight moments where a quick, possibly life-saving decision is necessary, is now abundant in our daily life. We’re a society of rushed, anxious, multi-taskers, intent on the concept that if we’re not accomplishing a dozen things in a few minutes’ time, then we are falling behind, late, failing. Rarely are we content and present in the moment because we are so consumed with the next 20 tasks ahead of us. With this kind of pressure upon us, is it any wonder that we suffer with depression, anxiety, blood pressure issues, sleep disorders, digestive problems, headaches?
When in doubt, breathe. Few things will reset your mind and body as quickly and effectively as stopping everything, closing your eyes, and breathing for a minute. Practice a simple 4-7-8 rhythm: breathe all the way out, then breathe steadily in through your nose, using your diaphragm to expand your belly and silently count to four. Then hold your breath for a count of seven, and exhale fully through your mouth for a count of eight. Repeat this for a few cycles, then sit quietly for a moment, breathing normally. Do this a few times throughout your day. See if you notice a difference after a few days, or a week, or a month. You might be surprised at the difference in your daily state of mind. You might even notice that you have fewer knots at your next massage.