Are There Tensions Hiding In Your Body?


Check for these 3 subtle tensions that cause shallow breathing and learn how to let go of them with these 3 effective tips.


I don’t mean to be rude; it’s just that your butt muscles were not intended to be tense 24/7, and believe it or not, a good number of us are going through life with a tense butt and we don’t even know it! Any tension in the gluteus shortens our breathing. It’s one of the ways our body gets stuck in “fight or flight” mode. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and try it. Grip your buttocks muscles and then try to take a deep breath. Our diaphragm muscle is not free to descend into the body as long as our butt cheeks are tight. If your butt is even slightly tense, you are unknowingly preventing your body from breathing well.

TIP #1
Close your eyes and actively try to completely release your butt muscles. Imagine that the deepest layers of muscle are relaxing; the ones right near your butt bones. It may help to visualize these muscles as a fisted hand that is slowly unfurling each finger until it becomes an open palm. Visualizations are a great way of connecting the mind to the body. If you can discover and let go of any tension in your seat, your inhalations will become deeper and fuller.


Jaw tension is a syndrome that plagues many of us and unfortunately, tension in the jaw is always accompanied by tension in the throat and the back of the neck. It’s a fact that even our smiles can be a form of jaw tension. According to the book The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris, the baring of teeth in simians is a fear response. Even when we are nervously smiling and not really feeling happy, we create jaw tension. When muscles connected to joints get tense, we can find ourselves, once again, inadvertently stuck in our “fight or flight” response. One of the main reasons jaw tension creates such a problem for our breathing is that any time the upper body becomes locked, so too does the lower body. Our cranial and sacral nerves signal our parasympathetic system; the system that tries to help our bodies get through the “fight or flight” response with as little damage as possible. If you grit your teeth you will feel a corresponding sensation of tension in your lower body. The good news here is that if we can begin to release our jaw tension then subsequently the rest of our body will relax. We can reverse the negative domino effect, bring back peace and restore deeper, fuller breathing.

TIP #2
I have found that the most effective way to soften the jaw hinge is to imagine that the muscles from the temples to the jawbone have gone completely limp. Ideally you want to create a feeling of complete softness that pervades the entire head, in particular, the back of the neck, the jaw and the throat. If you’ve ever received Novocain at the dentist, then that sensation of complete and utter numbness will come in handy. The idea here is to allow your jaw hinge to literally be hanging from your skull and then observe your breathing body. Observe any differences in your breaths ability to affect movement in your lower body. Gradually bring your jaw back to a more normal position but without the tension.


Your heart resides under your breastbone and this area of the body is very susceptible to emotional wounding. When something takes our breath away, it has either offended our soul or reminded it of its origins. The holding of the breath from emotional wounding can cause a permanent tension in our chest. Even with all the attention being given to deep breathing these days, I find that many people are trying, but not succeeding, because of hidden tension in the chest cavity. Our chest contains our most precious internal organ. When we feel emotionally wounded, our breathing becomes shallow. If we were never afforded the opportunity to release that hurt, then it’s likely that our breathing is still being affected by that moment in time.

TIP #3
Place your hand over your heart and let out a long sigh. Sighs, are exhalations that soothe, and are wonderful for restoring movement to our chest cavity. It’s not just the belly that should be moving when we breathe. Even our most gentle breathing, as when we are resting or wrapped up in a good book, should involve subtle movements throughout the body. Good breathing is a holistic experience.

And so, in a nutshell, these three tips will help all of your muscles, joints and organs reap the benefits of good breathing. When a body breathes well, the natural movements that occur, promote oxygen-rich blood flow to each and every cell and in turn keep our muscles and joints strong and supple.
With a little attention and practice, our breathing is really the ultimate gift that keeps on giving. The difference between breathing and good breathing is the difference between being alive and truly living life.

Breathing 101


“Learn how to exhale” has always been my #1 tip as a breathing instructor.

In the practice of deep breathing, your inhalation can only be as good as your exhalation.

Extending exhalations for as long as you comfortably can and learning what muscles are involved is a great way to build awareness.

A purposeful exhalation requires a gentle pressure. Our abdominal muscles come into play, first automatically and then through our deliberate efforts. Practicing emptying the lungs in this way, without strain or struggle, is a good way to build strength in our breathing apparatus, slow down the pace of our normal breathing, and build lung capacity.

When we exhale, our diaphragm muscle relaxes but our abdominal muscles are working in order to expel the stale air from our lungs. Most of the time we are unaware of the role the abdominal muscles play in our breathing, but with practice we become engaged in this activity. In deep breathing exercises it is good to consciously work with our abdominal muscles in order to comfortably squeeze out as much air as possible from our lungs.

Learn how to release the abdominal muscles in a wave-like motion and the inhale will take care of itself.

Our respiratory system works by way of a vacuum effect. By releasing all the effort that was required for exhalation, the air automatically comes flowing back into your body; however, this releasing motion requires practice.

Trying to take in deep, full breaths without letting go is counterproductive and creates tension. Full, yet relaxed inhalations require good letting-go skills. I know none of us normally think of letting go as a skill, but it really is something that we can participate in and become skillful at doing. Think of it this way: Relaxing after a long day is something we gradually work toward through an unwinding process. It doesn’t just happen when we sit down and stop. It is the same with the letting go motion of inhalation.

The fact that it happens in only a few seconds actually makes it a bit more challenging, and this is why it takes practice. A good inhalation is not a tanking up of air but a gradual motion of release that results in a satisfying fullness. By learning how to exhale well you become better at breathing deeply.

Working with your breath this way can help you free your body of tension. Many of us are unaware of the tensions that are with us 24/7. Our breathing is designed to help us release any tensions that have become so much a part of us that we no longer sense their presence.

A long, slow even, relaxed and steady exhalation and a wave like release is deep breathing at its finest.

Feelings Old and New

I recently saw two people bump into each other. One person knocked into the other as they passed on the sidewalk.  The person who was not paying attention immediately started to apologize profusely; but it was obvious the moment their bodies made contact, that the person who had been knocked into was transported back to another place and time. His face and body energy were in no way related to the actual moment because the bump was not that harsh but his face was full of fury and frustration. Poor perceptions, unresolved anger and pain are the cause of many, many misunderstandings and can be so potentially damaging.

It’s safe to say that all of us have had our ability to perceive, compromised in some way. Have you ever found yourself thinking about the past and saying to yourself, “Why did I over-react?” Or, have you ever been in a conflict with someone that seemed irreconcilable? The reason for times such as these is that somewhere, at sometime in the past, important emotions were blocked; it often happens from childhood conditioning. Family patterns of behavior often deem certain emotions ugly, wrong and unwelcome. If in the past, feeling afraid or angry proved to be futile, or worse, had the potential to bring on punitive words or physical punishment; well then, the price of allowing ourselves to feel was just too high.

So what happens, if in the past, we were frightened, angry or sad, and were forced to suppress those feelings? Well, this is what I would call trauma. Traumas are not only horrific moments in life. An emotional trauma is any past incident in which you were forced to bypass your feelings.

The following is an example: A child is running in the playground, falls, and severely scraps a knee; it is frightening and painful. If no one empathizes and validates the fear and sadness; no one offers the hug and the soothing words; or if, worse yet, the child is in any way berated or chastised for having fallen; then the fear, anger and sadness are buried. In fact, it’s commonplace for a child who has had an upsetting experience at school, to immediately play out the emotions once within the safer, more nurturing environment of home. I’m a mother, I know.

The consequence of emotional trauma is that it causes all kinds of problems in the present. I have been working with people long enough to know that any interpersonal, irresolvable conflict, occurring in your present, is a repeat of an unresolved, unprocessed trauma from the past.

The problem with suppressed emotions is that they seriously limit our ability to be fully present. The words psychologist Frank Hannah MS,  give more weight to the theory when he writes, “The feeling brain stores the memories, acquired knowledge and beliefs acquired over a lifetime, holding them in readiness to influence, if not determine all of our thoughts, behaviors, feelings and emotions.” So the feeling brain’s memories can and often do, override the present realities.

When emotions are overwhelming and arguments turn messy and frustrating, it is an indication that one or all parties are not fully in the present. The circumstances and people are new, but the feelings they stir up are old. It’s an interesting phenomenon. Somehow, the old, unresolved conflict shows up again as an opportunity to process and heal.

So, when conflict arises in the present what can we do to rectify? First, you need to get quiet and ask yourself, “When in the past did I feel similarly?” You then, need to go back and replay the scene; only this time, you get to express everything you felt. The whole healing process can be done through visualization. Once the suppressed fear, anger, and sadness have been expressed, it is very important to follow with comfort and relief. Just like the child who fell and needs comfort, I advise my students to visualize someone who can offer empathy. Bring one of more individuals into the scene, and allow yourself to be comforted; immerse yourself in that comfort, and actually feel the relief in your body. Imagining allows the body to feel whatever the mind creates and your muscles, bones, cells and systems are all affected as if it were actually happening.

The principle of mind/body oneness has been studied and documented in the work of Ellen Langer, a professor of psychology at Harvard University. In a recent radio interview, as a way of explaining the oneness of the mind/body, Ms. Langer spoke of a study done with actors. An actor playing a character, who is completely and utterly immersed in the role, becomes not only akin to the character in outward appearance but also altered on a physiological level (i.e. blood pressure, heart rate). The actor is not ‘watching himself’ be the character, but rather has merged completely with the role; the visualization technique works in the same, exact way. The mind believes, and the body feels and responds.

Discovering where the emotional conflicts are in our past is the key to resolving our present. The word resolve has its roots in the Latin verb resolvere, meaning to loosen. I find the definition particularly accurate when applied to healing the body. The repressed emotions make us tight and stressed, and by resolving the past, we literally loosen ourselves. It’s a shame to let stressful times from the past contaminate our present opportunities for connection.

Once we process any blocked emotions from the past, our ability to perceive is restored, all of our feelings are available to us, our breath flows freely and, we are finally returned to our senses.

Breathing Tips: Sitting at Your Desk

Did you know that the way you sit has a lot to do with the way you breathe? Over the years, I have spent a great deal of time teaching my students about the relationship between their posture and their breathing. Our posture and our breathing affect each other, and both affect our central nervous system. Staying mindful of how we situate our bones on our chairs can help us to breathe more freely and reduce stress in our day. Our bones and muscles are wired to our central nervous system; they communicate to our brain the state of our being. Proper alignment of our bones and the proper relaxation of our muscles also have an effect on our breathing. When bones are stuck in poor positions due to muscles that are chronically contracted, they can jeopardize the flow of our breathing and cause an overstimulation of the central nervous system. The work of Progressive Muscular Relaxationby Dr. Edmund Jacobson of Harvard University explored how our muscles communicate with our nervous system and how we can and should learn how to actively relax. If we are relaxed in our posture we can keep ourselves breathing deeply and our nervous systems running smoothly.

The pelvis is the foundation for posture, and when it comes to breathing we want to breathe right down to that base. I try to help my students find the “neutral” pelvis. When we are at our desks, the comfort of the lower back, proper spinal alignment and quality of breath are all determined by how we are sitting. A relaxed pelvis can ensure that your diaphragm, the muscle that pumps your breath in and out, is able to have its full range of motion. Yourdiaphragm is attached through a network of muscles to your hips and lower back, and so tension in those muscles can prevent the diaphragm from moving freely. By finding a balanced position for your pelvis you can ensure that your hips and lower back are relaxed and that your diaphragm is free to move. Tilting your pelvis forward will arch your lower back, and tilting it backward will round your lower back. Fortunately, a relaxing position between those two possibilities does exist. It is one that will make it easier for your body to breathe deeply. Finding this balance could take a bit of time, so check a mirror, because people who habitually arch when seated will feel rounded when they relax their lower backs. If after you check a mirror your back is in fact rounded, you may have to prop up by sitting on a book. Next, completely relax your gluteus muscles. This is important, because many people are unaware of how the subtle gripping of these muscles tightens and shortens the breath. If you don’t believe me, try purposely gripping your buttocks while attempting a deep breath.

Once the pelvis is neutral, the back muscles and hip bones should feel free from tension; pay attention to how your inhalations are now able to move your lower belly and gently stretch your lower back.

When the pelvis is in a neutral position there is an element of balance. If you find that you can easily tilt your pelvis forward or backward, you have found the proper alignment. Developing mindfulness of our posture helps us to connect with our bodies and can make us aware of subtle tension. When we use only the muscles necessary to maintain our posture our breathing can become more relaxed and more efficient. When our muscles and bones are in balance, so is our breathing.