“I can’t do it!” my student cried.
We were at the end of one of my Chi Gong classes. Chi Gong, sometimes called the mother of Tai Chi, places great emphasis on full, but relaxed, controlled breathing. As I talked about breathing at the end of class, one of my students (to protect her privacy, I’ll call her Penny) said, with considerable frustration, that she didn’t know how to breathe deeply. “My yoga teacher said, ‘You’re not breathing right!” she told me. Her answer to him was, “I know! I don’t know how!”
She went on to tell me that she had suffered from severe asthma as a child. Due to her asthma, she had learned to breathe shallowly, from the upper chest, because that was the only way she could take a breath. Although she eventually outgrew the asthma, she did not outgrow that shallow breathing pattern, and had never been able to breathe properly.
As a biodynamic craniosacral therapist, I recognized Penny’s story as a classic example of something we BCSTs encounter frequently in our practices. It is very common for peoples’ tissues to organize themselves into patterns in response to injury, illness, or other stresses. These patterns may be useful at the time, but eventually outlive that usefulness, and can become harmful. BCST can be extremely useful in helping the body to let go of those outdated, now-unhelpful patterns, including those associated with breathing. I suggested that Penny see me for craniosacral. She readily agreed, and came to see me at my office soon afterward.
I approached her first session with modest expectations, thinking that we could get her body used to the work and lay a foundation that we could build upon in future sessions. This is how BCST often works; it tends to have a cumulative effect, especially in chronic conditions––and a condition that has persisted for about 40 years definitely qualifies as chronic!
We began the session with Penny lying comfortably on her back on my padded massage table, while I sat at her left side with my right hand under her shoulder and my left hand on her knee. This hold, which my BCST teacher, Ginger Crisenbery (http://craniosacralevanston.com) calls the Pieta hold, is a good one for getting in touch with the client’s craniosacral system and getting a general sense of what is going on. My plan was to stay in this hold for a while and eventually move on to some fairly deep solar plexus work, since the solar plexus is intimately connected with breathing.
What actually happened, however, was something quite different––and wonderful. After I had been in the Pieta hold for fewer than five minutes, Penny suddenly took a deep, full breath that expanded her whole abdomen. My eyes, as my mother used to say, got as big as pie plates. I sat quietly and watched Penny continue to breathe deeply and easily. She did this throughout the rest of the session. Eventually, I did spend a few minutes at Penny’s solar plexus, but that was superfluous; her system had already done the work it needed to do.
This was a powerful illustration of what we biodynamic folk call the inherent treatment plan.You have probably heard the saying, “Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.” Something very similar is evident in properly done biodynamic craniosacral work. We may go into a session planning to do some fairly specific things (extensive solar plexus work, for example), but once the session begins, all bets are off; the client’s system will often make it very clear that it has other things in mind. Rather than trying to impose a separate plan, the wise BCST will get out of the way and watch the inherent treatment plan unfold.
Penny’s session also illustrated another guiding principle of biodynamic work – namely, that if the client’s system knows what it wants to do and is ready to get down to business, it will go ahead and do what it needs to do, regardless of where the practitioner makes contact. The left shoulder and knee really have nothing to do with any of the structures having to do with breathing, but Penny’s system did beautifully productive work on her breathing anyway.
I will not soon forget Penny’s excitement when she got off the table at the end of the session and immediately exclaimed, “Did you see me? Did you see me breathing?” I assured her that I had indeed seen her breathing, and had the pleasure of spending a few minutes sharing her joy at the liberation of her respiratory system. Her session took place over 18 months ago, and she has been breathing up a storm ever since.
It isn’t every day that you get to see somebody take a deep breath for the first time in 40 years. Once again, I found myself left in awe of the power of biodynamic craniosacral therapy.
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