Healing Emotional Trauma Through Deep Breathing and Visualization

Monk: “Did you feel hurt by what he said?
Disciple: Probably.
Monk: “Was it his ‘fault’ that you were hurt?
Disciple: No.
Monk: Was he the ’cause’ of your hurt?
Disciple: No
Monk: You are right. He simply ‘reminded’ you of the sensitivities from the past that you carry within you. Be thankful for people like him. They are your teachers, messengers. They show you what you think and feel and believe to be true about yourself. If these sensitivities did not exist within you, you would not have reacted as you did. Release the physical tension that you hold around these learned sensitivities. Breathe and let oxygen release the tension, remove the friction around these nerve endings. The deeper the breath, the better the outcome or result. Breathe deeply and often.

Breathing is so natural to us that we forget that breathing can affect how we relate to situations. We can change how we breathe to relax the body, center our mind, lower stress, and change our emotions. Breathing is vital to the self-healing powers of our body, especially with regard to emotional trauma. This is the subject of my post today.

There’s nothing better than a story, to show you what I mean. I recall a particular experience in graduate school that exemplifies the lesson offered by the monk to his disciple. As part of the graduate training curriculum, students were required to participate in group psychotherapy with fellow students. Although expecting future psychologists to undergo therapy is a good idea, requiring them to undergo it with future colleagues is a very, very bad idea. It was an emotional powder keg, rife with competitive strivings and fear of exposure. Students searched out and found scapegoats in order to protect themselves from psychological scrutiny. It brought out the worst rather than the best in people.

It was only week four of group therapy and members were already establishing alliances and drawing fierce lines between friends and enemies. It wasn’t long before tensions in the group rose to the point of conflict. Accusations flew, feelings got hurt, and many people walked away feeling very wounded. I can’t recall exactly what set off the feud between us, but what matters to today’s talk is really its aftermath.

Within a few days, most group members were over it. However, some of us felt anxious to return and shaken over what had happened. In the weeks that followed, I tried to make sense of my reaction to this situation. For me, the conflict between group members felt like a West-Side Story rumble between the Sharks and Jets. The heated words and accusations felt like knives to me. No matter how well my mind understood what was happening, my bodily ‘sensitivity’ to the uncontrolled anger and scapegoating could not be suppressed or denied.

I needed to move this negative energy out of me, to free myself from the physical stress that I felt.  The only thing that made sense to me was to treat my tension at the body level. I had already been meditating to music for over a year. For days, sometimes hours at a time, I meditated to Steven Halpern’s Inner Peace audio cassette. Halpern, a pioneer in healing through sound, creates melodies made up of specific musical tones and vibrational patterns to alter brain functioning. I knew well how such practices helped to restore calm and peace of mind by inducing deep states of relaxation through breath control. What I was about to discover, however, was the power of deep breathing to heal an emotional trauma completely.

One morning, I readied myself for my usual meditation practice. I put on my headphones, inserted my Halpern audio tape into my cassette player (no iPods in that day), and sat quietly in a lotus meditative position. I let the musical tones deepen my breathing and move me into a steady, deep state of calm and inward focus. Then, I began to visualize that stressful day in group therapy. I let deep calm replace the feeling of threat that I felt that day. Time seemed to have stopped. I felt a warm rush of energy move upward from my spine to my head. My body made a snap-like jerk, as if something had loosened. I felt a deep inner shift toward relaxation that was different from anything that I had experienced before.

In the days that followed, I tried hard to reconnect with my anxiety around this situation. I could not, however. It was gone. My body just couldn’t get wound up enough to let me go there. Wow! I knew what it felt like to lower body arousal through a relaxation technique, but that relaxation could completely resolve an emotional issue was something new for me. I wanted to understand more about this process. After years of studying and practice, here’s what I found out.

Healing Through Deep Breathing

The Science

Not all responses to threat are innately wired into you. Some of them you learned through living experiences. These ‘learned sensitivities’, as the Monk rightly calls them, vary in emotional intensity and level of threat, depending upon how much they challenge the integrity of your being.

An emotional response that involves physical symptoms and behaviors, such as fear, anxiety, and aggressive or withdrawing actions results from a stressor that has somehow psychologically threatened you. It’s difficult to treat emotional reactions that have physical features through talk therapy alone. Talking through problems may help you understand your reaction better. But, you will need therapies that use the breathing apparatus to lower arousal and calm the brain and body, in order to be able to change your physical response to the emotional trauma.

Deep breathing opens the door to brain processes involved in the fight-or-flight response to stress. Through slowing the rate of nerve firing, heart rate and blood flow, and minimizing muscle movement, deep breathing calms the body and mind. Now, you can retrain your body to respond less fearfully to the emotional trauma. You imagine the stressor through a calm mind and body. It is the pairing of a deep state of relaxation to a new response scenario that begins to loosen the nerve connections that reinforced your fear response at the body level.

If you practice enough, you will start to alter the nerve connections that reinforce tension in your body. You don’t need a dramatic release of tension for change to occur within you. You just need repeated practice. My regular meditation practice prepared me for the release of blocked energy that I felt that day. These types of experiences can feel mystical. But, they are really the practical result of reprogramming your physiology through deep breathing.

Deep Breathing

The Key

There is sound science behind many of the body therapies that treat psychological problems. Don’t let the softer, Birkenstock, granola-crunching image of some followers deter you from testing out their true helping powers.

If you decide to try out one of these therapies, I recommend that you get professional guidance. There are many certified and licensed practitioners of these therapies. Deep relaxation therapies, meditation, yoga, healing through sound, and the muscle manipulation therapies, like massage, Rolfing and Reiki are the most direct way to heal the physical aspects to emotional trauma.

It takes practice to see the full effects of these treatments. Additionally, you have to be prepared that there may be some unpleasant side effects of mood and health, as you start to physically heal.

If you like my post today, please say so by selecting the Like icon that immediately follows. You can also Tweet and Google+1 today’s post, to let your family and friends know about it.

I welcome your thoughts, experiences and comments, as always. Have a beautiful day. Breathe deeply and do it often. Warmly, Deborah

Featured Image: Deep Breath by Melanie Weidner (2005) www.listenforjoy.com



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6 Responses to “Healing Emotional Trauma Through Deep Breathing and Visualization”

  1. Deborah,

    Great story from your group therapy experience! I too find it quite valuable to meditate.

  2. avatar hafiz wasi says:

    good recipe for quality life

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Hafiz, I like how you say it. Yes, these exercises are a good recipe for living a quality life. Thank you for seeing this. Talk with you soon. Warm regards, Deborah.

  3. avatar Tahir says:

    Thank you mam for your posts.. these helps everyone who have a problem.. I also find them very useful.. This is very useful artile… Like it and try to make use of it…

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      You are very welcome Tahir. I’m so pleased that they are helpful to people’s lives. Thank you for taking the time to comment today. Take good care. Warm regards, Deborah.

  4. avatar Karen says:

    Thanks! Just what I needed!


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