Psychotherapy and Qigong
In the last 10-15 years there has been an incredible shift in healthcare in the U.S.. Responding to the impact of managed care and people's increasing desire for a more holistic and preventative approach to their health, we have been pushed to look beyond our traditional approaches. One place we have turned to is the wisdom and knowledge of the East where civilization has had several thousand years to perfect different approaches.
The Eastern traditions have taught us the importance of the mind-body connection for optimal health. Deep relaxed breathing is the simplest and most direct method of connecting mind and body, something everyone is inherently able to do on his or her own. Internationally renowned Dr. Andrew Weil states it succinctly, "In just one breath you can begin to change your physiology, your thinking, and your emotional state." Research from Harvard to Beijing is showing us that learning, or relearning to breathe in a deep, slow, relaxed manner is one of the simplest and most effective strategies an individual can do to improve his or her health. And once it is learned, it is something a person can use for the rest of his or her life
Teaching your patients or clients the entire Spring Forest Qigong approach is rarely appropriate (although you may want to refer them to a class). What is helpful, simple and effective, is teaching a breathing technique and perhaps a visualization to accompany it. One can teach a posture to help them ground themselves or a movement that will help them focus on deepening their breath. By knowing and practicing qigong, you will know what the best technique is to offer your patient or client.
As psychotherapists, we look for expedient ways to help our clients. We know what our clients need; to get in touch with repressed emotion, face an aspect of their life they have denied, to learn relationship skills, or maybe reduce the stress in their lives. Frequently, the path to helping them accomplish their goals is long and costly, or short and of limited effectiveness. Consequently, an intervention or tool we have that is simple, easy to teach, and something they can take with them is very welcome. Teaching deep, relaxed breathing can be that tool. Breathwork is an intervention that is simple, easy to teach and a skill that clients can take with them. From Eastern religions to mind-body medicine, the importance of the breath is well documented and understood to be fundamental to health and well being.
In recent years, breakthroughs in neurobiology have led to a greater understanding of how stress responses can physiologically impair function or performance. We now understand that this happens in the therapeutic process as well. A few things that happen physiologically when the body feels stress are; breathing becomes shallow, less oxygen gets into the blood stream, muscles tense, and the artery to the brain constricts sending less blood to the brain. What we have in our offices then are tense clients, with impaired thinking, trying to process their issues.
Neurobiology has also given us to understand that as the body goes, so goes the brain. That is to say, when the body is stressed it is common for the mind to revert back to negative thought patterns originating from earlier stressful times. It is easy to realize then, that it is difficult to keep a mind open to change and to thinking positively when the body is suffering from stress. Too often, all this is working against the clients and our best efforts.
-- Guiding a client through a breathing exercise to help her be more present and focused in the therapy hour.
-- Understanding the reason for a clients' anxiety is frequently
very slow to curtail the actual anxiety; teaching him conscious breathing
can lesson his anxiety immediately.
-- Teaching a couple that gets tangled up in angry conflict to breathe can help them cut through hostility and get to the pain and longing they are defending against.
--Helping a client who is resisting her grief for fear of being engulfed by the emotions by using her breath to connect to her feelings, and then imagery to help her feel a sense of control over the flow of emotion.
--Teaching an abuse victim to use his breath and some guided imagery to diminish uncomfortable thoughts and feelings and reclaim psychic space and physical comfort.
Besides helping clients learn breathing and the use of their
mind, there are other benefits the therapist gets from practicing Spring Forest
Qigong that help during the therapy hour. Being grounded with deep breathing
and focused thinking affords one a quiet and subtle vantage point in the therapy
process. Watching when your breathing changes during a session may alert you
to some reaction the client is having that is nonverbal. Or, staying grounded
and calm in difficult sessions where a couple is on the verge of exploding
or a client is recounting some traumatic events, is both helpful to your clients
and makes it easier for the therapist to navigate the turbulent waters.
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