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Do sore, painful shoulders, stiff neck or tight chest sound familiar? Find pain relief with breathing. Part 1.

Ever wondered how the way you breathe is making your stressed-out shoulders worse? And how you can change those patterns simply? Read on…

The role of the breath.

From the first breath we took as a baby, our bodies stay alive by using our breathing to provide oxygen to our brains, organs and muscles.

But the role of the breath goes much deeper than that. It directly affects the mobility of many of our muscles. It is inherently intertwined with our body’s emotional responses and stress levels.

When we understand the functionality of the breath, we can form a connection with our bodies and our emotions, and begin an excitingly empowering path to self-healing.

Fight, flight or freeze – an easy explanation.

The breath forms an intrinsic part of a chain of events that occur during the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response. In this article, it is the activity of the breath during the ‘freeze’ response that we are most interested, as is directly responsible for stress-related muscular pain.

Let’s just imagine you are sitting in your cave, eating your dinner, and minding your own business. A Sabre tooth tiger strolls past the mouth of the cave, and you have 3 choices;

1. Run up, and punch him on the nose (fight)
2. Try to run past him and escape (flight)
3. Or sit very, very still, and hope he doesn’t notice you (freeze)

Now there has been much talked about the fight, or flight responses – blood flowing to the limbs and heart racing, as you get ready to meet a potential grisly death. But what is less talked about is the freeze response. Which, ironically, is the most common one experienced in the modern day workplace.

The freeze response

Let’s imagine it’s late afternoon on a Friday. You’ve only got a couple of hours left to work, before you’re due to head out for pre-planned, romantic date. Without warning your boss comes along, dumps a huge file on your desk, and asks for it to be dealt with before you leave.

What do you do?

1. Stand up, and without a single word, proceed to punch them in the head? (fight)
2. Grab your coat, and run out the door? (flight)
3. Or sit very still, and try to suppress the stress you have just been placed under? (freeze)

If you are the sort of person who took one of the first two options, you’re probably reading this whilst watching Daytime TV, and weighing up your recently-narrowed career options.

Most of us however, would have plumped for the last option. We freeze, and hope that we will survive this incredibly stressful situation.

So what’s happening to our body’s when we ‘freeze’?

Our breathing becomes shallow.
Our ribs barely move.
Muscles become extremely tense.

We are ‘playing dead’ – remember the Sabre tooth tiger? If he doesn’t see us in his peripheral vision we might survive!

When this is repeated day after day in our workplace, our muscles become semi-permanently locked in the same pattern, leading to pain and dysfunction. Typical complaints are tight, sore, frozen shoulders, stiff necks, neck pain, tight chest and sore backs. Sound familiar?

At the core of this frozen movement is one factor. Its the very thing that is suppressing a basic movement that will give us away as being ‘alive’.

Our breathing.


Find pain relief with breathing. Part 2. Exploring the breath; and the how mindfulness and deep tissue massage can work together.

© Jon Gee 2011

Jon Gee is the founder of City Sports Massage, a team of massage therapists in London who combine deep-tissue massage therapy with stress-reduction and body-awareness techniques.

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