Conscious movement and breath are part of the emerging blend of mind/body/spirit work. The goal is awareness of spirit, being present for ourselves, and awakening spontaneous healing. Much of this work includes reconnecting to such ancient modalities as Tai Chi, sacred dance, and primal movement. New modalities are also emerging–such as Transformational Breath, Holotropic Breath, Rebirthing, dance and movement therapy–which speed our process of healing, and of finding the connection with spirit we seek. The term “conscious” signifies that we do this work with an intention to be guided from within, and to reach deeper levels of awareness. We do the work with intention to awaken inner healing, and to open to awareness of our connection with spirit.
There is a gentleness and efficiency to this work. It deepens our awareness of who we are. It helps us to release and integrate the power of all of the unprocessed thoughts and feelings which have accumulated in our life. Conscious movement and breath brings joy back into our bodies and lives, and unleashes the creative power of being fully in our bodies.
In older cultures, the healing and spiritual centering of conscious movement and breath had already been practiced for thousands of years. The breath and movement system of Chinese Medicine’s Tai Chi ; the pranayama (breathing) and asanas (body postures) of yoga; the ecstatic dances of African and Native peoples around the world–all reflect the universal benefit of inner guided movement and breath.
In the the modern west, we can directly trace this work back to the middle 1800s, when teachers of the Gymnastik movement in Europe and the U.S. discovered that treating people as whole, rather than separating body and spirit (as the emerging modern biomedicine was doing), brought profound healing. While biomedicine was focusing on disease, and external threats to the body’s well being–these teachers quietly addressed healing using movement and breath. They discovered unity in body structure, health, and spiritual consciousness, and treated that unity. The Feldenkrais Method, the Alexander Technique, Rolfing, and eventually our current movement and breathwork modalities grew out of this movement.
Medical science is empirically (through scientific method) proving as fact what people have known intuitively for thousands of years: the body really is energy; the body is a creative expression–and part–of the mind; thoughts do manifest in our bodies. Conscious movement and breath bring life into our bodies, release suppressed energy, and bring our waking awareness into each cell of our being. This is where meaningful healing occurs. This work provides benefits on the physical, emotional, and spiritual levels.
The modern world often demands rigidity in behavior and lifestyle in conflict with our true nature. In an office, women might be expected to wear pantyhose, tight skirts, high heels; men are required to wear the uniform of jacket, belt and necktie. How does this attire feel to your body? Do you feel restricted? Out of touch?
I have spoken with many people who say they feel cut off from who they really are. By cutting off our awareness of our body and emotions, we may deal in the moment with a stress, but in the long run lose our relationship with who we are, the most intimate and important relationship we can have. We begin to perceive our body as an object; we become numb.
This lack of body awareness is what I call being “out of body.” In our society there is a separateness, a lack of integration of our bodies as part of our whole selves. When we lose touch with our body, a distance is created which we may try unsuccessfully to bridge with drinking, drugs, obsessive eating, exercise, or sexual gratification. Conscious movement helps us to restore our awareness of our body and self.
Healing the Body
There are many physical reasons why conscious movement and breath support our healing process. It can tone our muscles, restore circulation, and detoxify blood and tissues. We can feel the tension in our muscles draining, leaving the body through energizing breath, and sense the flow of our energy systems (meridians in Traditional Chinese Medicine) clearing. Much of this would happen automatically if we breathed and moved fully and naturally, but most of us don’t. Oxygen feeds the cells and most people are starving for oxygen. No wonder so many of us feel tired so much of the time.
According to recent studies, effective breathing decreases the heart rate, metabolic rate and blood sugar levels and, in the process, lowers pulmonary stress and fatigue, increases lymphatic flow and the transfer of oxygen to tissues, decreases cardiovascular risk and normalizes blood pressure. Researchers have also proven that hypertension and anxiety can be relieved with deep, full breathing.
The results that people receive from this work, however, indicate an even deeper healing at work. It has been shown in recent mind/body medical studies that there is an ancient, pre-conscious part of our brain which, unlike our conscious brain, communicates directly with the body’s systems. We can access this deeper level through conscious movement and breath, and establish a dialogue with it. At this level, we hear our body’s needs, and can allow healing to flow to where it is needed.
Christiane Norththrup, MD, a leader in mind/body medicine, acknowledges this inner dialogue as essential to healing. “Only our connection with our own inner guidance and our emotions are reliable in the end. . Science must acknowledge truthfully how much it doesn’t know and leave room for mystery, miracles, and the wisdom of nature.”
Many of us believe, also, that through this work, we open channels to the healing power of the God/Goddess within ourselves. Having been fortunate to witness the profound healing that many people have received in this work, I can believe nothing less.
Moving and breathing with the intention of experiencing consciousness on a deep, cellular level invites “miracles” of physical healing because we are connected with the wisdom of our own inner healer, guiding and directing us from within.
Integrating Energy and Emotions
Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches us that our bodies are flowing with a life force called “chi.” According to this ancient science, the act of thinking is physiological, and draws the chi from other parts of our body to our head. Do you ever find yourself feeling like you are stuck “in your head?” In terms of our energetic essence, this turns out to be an accurate description. Thinking turns out to be a very effective way to not be present for ourselves or our life experience.
Many of us learn early in life that we can lessen the intensity of our emotions by cutting off awareness from our bodies. Do you remember holding your breath when you were scared.. years ago?… last week? This is another way we put off experiencing and integrating our responses to physical and emotional stress. Some of the latest work of Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, physiotherapist and researcher, shows that stimulus and reaction, once routed to the brain–if not processed–routes right back to its original site. In this manner, energy held in past events are stored in our body and psyche. They need only to be tapped to be released, integrated, and used. We can tap into the energy and experience–without even being aware of a specific event–by moving from our inner guide, and through breath techniques designed to take us there.
The body’s holding of experience works against us when we don’t go back “inside,” to experience, release, and integrate the energy of these events. It may arise again as distress or illness.
Another body of work which shows us the interconnectedness of our mind/body, is that of leading research neuroscientist, Candace Pert, MD. Her work with neuropeptides, the “biochemicals of emotion,” reveals that we feel emotion and think throughout our body. With this information, it makes perfect sense that by releasing and integrating stored energy, we get in touch with
Dieting, rigid exercise, overwork, addictions, dependency on others, and not drinking water or going to the bathroom when we need to–all are ways that we try to bridge the gap we feel when our inner essence is being ignored or repressed, or when parts of ourselves are locked into old events.
Often when you are doing intuitive or sacred movement or intensive forms of breathwork, you will sense that you are moving through an important stored event, but you will not know what it was. You feel the feelings, but don’t have the memory. Just be with the feelings. Through integrating these pieces of yourself, you will achieve the levels of awarenesss you are seeking.
With movement and breath, many times clearing happens on a subconscious level, so you don’t even need to fully understand what experience you are releasing. What matters is how your body feels afterwards. If the experience integrated, you will feel more relaxed. Turn on some resonant sound, and let your body move the way it wants to. In large or small, smooth or staccato motion. You might be able to feel a release of energy right away, and heightened awareness and joy.
It’s a wonderful experience in these workshops and classes to watch the joy and passion which become part of people’s beings when they are given the space and support to tap deep within. The energy in the room can be intoxicating.
Seeking the Spirit
Although many of us seek relief from some physical or emotional ailment when we begin using these movement and breath modalities, we soon learn that it is really the experience of our spiritual “Self” or “God/Goddess” for which we thirst. We move and breathe not just to clear emotions, but to have an experience of Self. For example, in Soul Dance class, we find allowing ourselves to dance freely and spontaneously can clear emotional and physical blockages, and put us in touch with an energy that flows deep within us, lifting us to ecstasy.
The work of Felicitas Goodman, PhD, a cultural anthropologist studying ritual body postures of ecstatic trance, highlights the link between movement, breath, and spirit. Working with tribes, indigenous people, and charismatic religions since 1961, she discovered particular rhythms and postures (most of which had correspondences in ancient artwork) which led to specific spiritual experiences.
When we are deep inside the inner realms of who we really are, movement and stillness are no longer distinct, and the mind is no longer in charge. Our awareness drops completely to the present, and is filled with sweetness and satisfaction. We move from the essence of who we are, and transcend structured reality to a space in which even the structure of time melts.
In our society today, there is a tremendous emphasis on personal power. But true personal power comes from our heart and soul. When we are in this deepened awareness there is a power previously undreamed of. And paradoxically, it is the power of surrender. The experience of moving/breathing through a difficult block or state of mind takes us there. We surrender to a force greater than ourselves that is more loving, more powerful than what we have known. And we bring this experience into our lives so that the lives we live become more powerful and more loving.
Movement and breath also help us to open to our intuition–our inner guidance. Once in touch with that, we find it is easier to stay in the flow of surrender, because we are open to receive guided messages from within. Decisions become easier and we find a sense of purpose and direction.
Breath and Movement Facilitators – Moving and Breathing with Awareness
Many of us find ourselves guided to explore conscious movement and breath on our own. We put on Gabrielle Roth music; or possibly something with the resonant undertones of tribal song; turn down the lights, light a candle–maybe a stick of incense–and move! Possibly our inner guidance takes us into spontaneous movement or deep breathing during meditation.
Many of us, however, seek a the extra support of an invidivual or group to work with. We find that it can be easier to drop into deep levels of awareness when a space is cleared and held by a skilled facilitator. There is also just the energy and support which is raised when people do this work together. A movement therapy, intuitive or sacred dance, or breathwork group can be a great way to explore these modalities and what you have to gain from them. In breathwork, where subtle shifts in technique make all the difference in the results, we need someone to teach and guide us through the before we can effectively practice it on our own.
Conscious movement and breath are part of the emerging transpersonal (psycho-spiritual) paradigm, in which we are being given tools through which to achieve levels of inner healing and awareness which had been out of reach for most of us. So much of this work is done on levels beneath the conscious mind and emotions. Because of this, the level of awareness of the facilitator is critical to the effectiveness of what they provide. If you are interested in any of the forms of conscious movement and breath, ask your inner guide for help in finding the right path or facilitator for you. Talk to people on the phone, ask questions, ask them how much inner work they have done, and what their inner journey has been. And above all, have fun! Feel joy.
Nini Beegan is an ordained minister and certified transformational facilitator with the International Breath Institute. She facilitates Soul Dancing and Transformational Breath in the Baltimore area.
Breath and Movement Facilitators (part 2 of this article)