Consciously focusing on your breathing has been a tool to feel better since ancient times. And, I was fascinated to learn that the Latin words for breath and spirit are the same. Breathwork utilizes conscious controlling of breathing patterns to achieve specific desired results. In this intriguing interview, we explore Biodynamic Breathwork with expert Jennifer Prema McKeever. Prema is a body-oriented therapist and educator who combines more than 20 years of experience in Eastern medicine, meditation, emotional release work, and body-mind therapies. Listen to the complete interview at www.UnderstandingAutoimmune.com/Prema
SHARON: Let’s talk about what trauma is and then we’ll go to how breathwork works with trauma.
PREMA: That’s a great question. Often, there’s a misconception that trauma is something like a car accident or falling off our bikes or falling off a ladder or something like that. But trauma really is anything that happens to us that is too much and too fast that our nervous system cannot adequately process; and, as a result, the charge of it, that sympathetic nervous system activation or the dorsal branch of the nervous system, that freeze, get stuck in our system.
With trauma, we have the sympathetic charge, all that adrenaline and cortisol that our body releases as well the freeze that comes in from the dorsal vagal branch of our autonomic nervous system.
And so, trauma really can be anything from stress that we undergo a lot as children. Maybe we grew up in a household where our needs were not adequately met; it could be really busy parents who weren’t available and the child often felt isolated.
Unfortunately, what happens which is way too common today is the bullying that happens at school or out in the neighborhood. And, of course, it can be all those physical types of traumas we’ve heard about before as well.
The common denominator is that our nervous system undergoes tremendous amount of stress and activation and it doesn’t have a way to process that out and let it release from the body. And that processing out and letting it release from the body is what we do with biodynamic breathwork and trauma release.
SHARON: Just for a little overview here, when we talk about the word “freeze,” that comes from the concept of “fight, flight, or freeze.” Oftentimes, we hear “fight or flight” and we don’t hear that third part of it. There’s a freeze part that happens.
PREMA: Yes. And that freeze part is a huge part of trauma because if we’re able to successfully move through the traumatic event and if we are able to successfully fight and defend ourselves, there’s no reason to freeze and there’s usually much lesser currents of impact after the event, less of a traumatic stress impact upon us.
It’s when we’re unable ─ if we’re too small, if we, obviously, and we can’t leave home, if something is happening to us and we can’t leave and we can’t fight, our body goes into a freeze response and that freeze response can be anything from a mild dissociation, kind of a numbing out to as far as actually fainting and passing out. There’s a range within it. There’s a continuum within that freeze response.
The thing is, we don’t get to choose that response. Our nervous system will automatically choose whatever response it thinks will help us most likely survive the event. And for many of us, if surviving that event meant that we kind of numb our feelings, we dissociate a little bit, our body was there but we that’s what is seen as the best possible way to get through a really difficult time.
SHARON: Other common things or other physical symptoms are often seen. Sometimes, you can get a sudden attack of diarrhea. A common problem is maybe holding it in and having constipation, stomach pains, and stomach cramps. So it doesn’t have to be just some of the things that you might consider as “emotional” such as dissociation. It actually can appear within your body as well.
PREMA: Absolutely! The freeze response is mediated by the dorsal branch of our vagus nerve; and that dorsal branch of our vagus nerve innervates our entire abdominal organs.
It’s going into our digestive system. It’s moving throughout our abdominal cavity innervating many different organs down there and it’s sending most of its information from our belly area back up to our brain and then some information goes from our brain back down to our belly through that vagus nerve.
But the digestive impact is profound. All sorts of autoimmune diseases, as you know, have a digestive component to them. The fact that our vagus nerve, that dorsal branch in charge of the freeze, moves through our entire digestive system, exactly as you’re saying, moving into that freeze state has a profound effect on our internal organs.
SHARON: If you’re thinking, oh, I haven’t had trauma, sometimes, we tend to bury trauma especially if it’s the kind that you’re saying more of ─ a freeze ─ where it’s not something we can run and hide or we had to escape or a sudden car accident but, perhaps, ongoing kinds of traumas ─ the bullying, the belittling, maybe even the stares or what have you.
Those kinds of things impact us greatly that, oftentimes, others, as well as ourselves, tend to diminish at the time of impact.
PREMA: Absolutely! A child grows up thinking it’s normal for the parents to be not really attuned to their needs. And it happens more and more. Both parents are working. It’s not like they’re trying to, somehow, be neglectful to their children. But, in so many cases, people grow up without really feeling that kind of connection and bonding they need from their caretakers.
So it doesn’t even have to be overt acts of hostility. It doesn’t have to be overt acts of neglect. It can just be a chronic consistent misattunement to our needs and not feeling that we’re really being properly seen or held or nurtured within our home life growing up.
There doesn’t have to be physical abuse involved at all for there to be an underlying impact on our nervous system causing this dysregulation that can affect us for years and years well into adulthood.
SHARON: One of the things that I found profound during our event was ─ I’m aware of many of them. I’ve done a lot of different types of therapies and works to process everything. I don’t think anybody gets out of their childhood and early adulthood unscathed.
I’m aware of many of my triggers ─ that were triggers ─ and things that had happened that I’ve processed through. However, when we started doing our experience, they were things that I thought I had processed that came up as well as things that I had just pushed down so far I didn’t remember.
Let’s talk about what breathwork is and then we’ll get into the kinds of things that people might experience.
PREMA: The Western tradition of breathwork really owes a debt to the work of Dr. Wilhelm Reich. One of the things he said was you don’t actually have to take a client’s history that walks into the room with them. Meaning, our history is really in our bodies. It’s stored in our bodies; and, exactly what you just said there, it’s stored often in layers of suppression.
When you think about it, when we’re stressed out, our breathing gets shallow. We get kind of tight in our neck, tight in our shoulders, and tight in our back. Perhaps, you see I’m a little hunched over right here. A lot of tension forms in our body.
A child does the same thing. If a child has the impulse to cry if something is really hurting and they want to cry ─ and crying is one of the ways our body naturally processes high emotional intensity situations. It’s one of the ways that our body releases stress hormones through our tears. It’s one of the ways that we are able to discharge some of the pain and sorrow and grief inside of us that we may be experiencing.
So, let’s say, a child has the impulse to cry but the message in their family system is very much “Don’t cry” or “If you cry, I’ll give you something to cry about,” whatever the message may be, and if that child wants to hold back their tears, what are they going to do?
They’re going to tighten up their belly. They’re going to restrict their breathing.
Breath is related to our expression of emotions. The more we are able to breathe, the more we are able to deeply breathe, the more we’re able to get in contact with our feelings; and then, we open up the space with our breath for those feelings and to finally be able to move through and out of us.
As children, we tend to, instead of letting things move through and out of us, hold it in. We hold it in if there’s not enough support in the environment to really help us process it. I mean, it’s a big deal if you’re a child. It’s not easy.
SHARON: This has just been awesome. Thank you so much. I encourage you all to visit her website to get a deeper understanding of the amazing power of breathwork and the biodynamic breathwork that she does.
Everyone, check out her site because I truly say my experience with her was transformational.
Everyone, have a great week whatever your adventures. Join me next week for another brand new episode. And if you have an idea for a guest, drop me a quick not at UnderstandingAutoimmune.com. Contact us. It’s always awesome to find out the things you’re wanting to know as well.
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