Obsession of the Week: Breath

In all lines of work, we can form obsessions. I’m not talking big, unhealthy obsessions, but little ones, tasks or concepts we relish because we believe they are the key to so much more. In my previous career as a fundraiser, the database was my baby — I developed an actual passion for getting data squeaky clean.  I love these little passions — they give us a point of focus, keep us ticking.

Lots of massage therapists are prone to this kind of focus. Absorbed in the work of a good massage, the bigger release that comes from unlocking a particular muscle, say, or the discovery of a new way to use forearms, can seem downright critical. I’ve seen a number of people develop a bit of a psoas obsession (you know who you are). There are times when releasing the scalenes seems like the most important work in the world. Muscles I’ve highlighted on this very blog — pecs and quadratus lumborum come to mind — illustrate some obsessions of my own. This is not to say that we then only use that new forearm stroke or declare that the psoas is the key to all lower back pain to the exclusion of what’s going on with your unique self or spend the whole massage digging into your pecs and QL. But these are things we think about when we are not actively practicing massage, picturing the slant of the psoas connecting lumbar spine to thigh, spinning out from that the whole world of the hip and lower back, viewing posture through that lens. I may have a week when I think about the role of the lung in eastern medicine, how it can impact posture, breath, emotion. I may think about the role of sub-occipitals in alert response as well as headaches.

And through it all, I think about breath.

Is there anything more vital to life? I think not. I could write a hundred posts about breathing — the way we hold breath when afraid or anxious, how muscles of inhalation and exhalation get stuck over time when breath is chronically shallow, how focusing on deeper breathing slows heart rate and improves, well, everything. I stumbled upon an article in the Huffington Post this week about breathing as a healing exercise, and it felt particularly timely as I am taking a class this week on myofascial release of the ribcage, abdomen, and pelvis. We will undoubtedly discuss intercostal muscles and diaphragm. I have wanted to take this class for years, to better understand restrictions that keep us from breathing deeply, to learn more about release and better breathing.

I am very much looking forward to getting back into the classroom, and I will report back soon on new tools to improve breath and healing. In the meantime, on this here spring equinox, I wish you deep breaths and much oxygen as we move into a new and brighter season.

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