In my last e-news, I talked about the research that proves dance makes for healthy brains. Lately, I've been interested in research that supports the healing effects to our emotional brains and bodies through the work I do and teach. By the way here's a link to the podcast I did for Kripalu, Kripalu Podcast So, last week when teaching a YogaDance class at Kripalu, I noticed a man in his 50's having the greatest time dancing (he stood out in the class both from the sheer joy he had dancing and the fact that he's a man, a rarity in YogaDance classes). By the end of the class I realized it was Bessel van der Kolk, one of the leading pioneers in body-centered therapies for trauma survivors. I ran into him a short while after the class (actually, I ran after him as I saw him walking outside) and introduced myself and told him of my interest in his research and his work. He invited me to attend his workshop--he wanted more male presence (there were no men in his workshop--apparently, men are rarities there too). In attending his workshop, I appreciated the incredible breadth of knowledge and experience that Bessel brings to this field of body-oriented therapies for trauma survivors. I felt honored and a bit shy as Bessel, many times during the workshop referred to his experience in YogaDance and how important experiencing joy is for healing trauma.
Since trauma is experienced and held in the body, being aware of our body or feeling the feelings of our body when we've been traumatized is avoided. Activities that open up our joy within our body combats the experience of the body as pain or danger. This in itself is extraordinarily healing. I also learned how research has validated the importance that the story of traumas be felt and not just told as individuals learn to modulate the charge of the body memory. Additionally, research shows that the breath is one of the key emotional body regulators. We learned how one of the best physiologic interventions upon stress or trauma is accomplished through a regulated breathing. When Bessel mentioned the power of our breath upon our emotional brain-body experience, I remembered my first introduction to Body-Centered Gestalt Therapy 25 years ago when the therapist told me to "breathe into the emotion" I was feeling. At that time, as a Kripalu resident for 5 years and seasoned in "breathing into my body"--specific muscles that are stretching or contracting within a yoga pose I thought myself a pro at breathing into my body. In fact, I remember dismissing this idea as cliche and that "I'm beyond this breathing into my feelings"--a touch of my defense as arrogance. Well, after studying and practicing that Body-Centered Gestalt Therapy for over 10 years, that I poo-pooed 25 years ago, I've come to appreciate the power and simplicity of breathing into distressing feelings. Bessel spoke about the immense health value that regulated abdominal breathing where your exhalation lasts at least two times longer than the inhalation and fosters a coherent heart rate variability pattern. HeartMath research also heavily focuses on this type of cardiac wave pattern. I appreciate when science helps to validate things we can do that help cultivate our experience of well-being and empowers us to be involved in our own health and healing. So, my take home invitation to you is the next time you feel distressed about something, notice the distress in your body and actually name the emotion that you are feeling and its location within your body. Then breathe! That's all. Bring your attention to your breath and specifically your exhale. The exhalation is linked with our parasympathetic nervous system that helps us relax and recover from physical and emotional stress. Imagine you could bring some "breathing space" around the uncomfortable emotional sensations, just like you would breathe into tight hamstrings when you are doing a forward bend stretch. Do this for a few minutes and notice the shift in the energy and feelings in your body and mind.