- in Self-Care
Conscious breathwork has been used in different cultures for thousands of years. Many mind-body healing traditions are used in combination with the breath. Breathing is one of the oldest and best-used tools for cultivating awareness, wellness, and connection to universal life force or energy.
At a fundamental level, breathing is about receiving energy.
Women in the West have generally been socialized to receive nourishment with hesitation. We witness these patterns in our breath. Most of us take tiny little inhales and receive only enough air to keep us going, not nearly enough to fully oxygenate our cells, tissues, organs, and muscles.
If you notice this kind of restriction as you start to consciously breathe, ask yourself what it would be like to breathe in life more fully.
Along with taking in fuller inhalations, you can begin the practice of receiving in many different areas of your life.
Explore whether you can more easily receive a compliment. Observe whether you can completely receive a gift from a friend without worrying about obligations or becoming embarrassed. As you begin to inhale more deeply and easily, you will become more comfortable receiving love, energy, abundance, and nourishment in your life.
Just as we accept on every inhalation, we let go with every exhalation.
Exhalations release stale air and free our outdated understandings or paradigms of who we really are. Each exhale liberates that which we no longer need, letting that energy pass back out into the universe to merge with its source. I encourage you to allow all of your inhalations and exhalations to flow naturally into one another without holding your breath, to help you develop the healthiest breathing patterns for lifelong health.
Breathwork for Uterine Health
In modern society, most people predominantly breathe into only a small area of their upper lungs and chest. However, to nourish the pelvic organs it is necessary to also breathe deeply into the middle and lower lungs to activate the diaphragm.
When you practice this kind of deep diaphragmatic breathing you will be able to feel the air that you breathe inflating your abdomen. It is also possible to focus the deep breathing so that it expands your lower back and waist, but for most people it is easiest to start focusing deep breathing toward the belly first.
As an initial step to improve your uterine health, try to become more aware of integrating diaphragmatic breathing into your daily life. Diaphragmatic breathing massages the abdominal muscles and tissues. It supports the pelvic muscles, connective tissue, and joints, and aids in the circulatory drainage of the pelvic organs. This results in improved digestive and endocrine function and greater oxygenation for the uterus.
Deep breathing has been used extensively to decrease pain and ease childbirth.
Research also shows that slow, deep abdominal breathing considerably reduces hot flashes in menopausal women5 and when combined with meditation can improve PMS symptoms by 57 percent.6
It is important to continue to breathe into your chest (and upper back) some of the time. Breathing into every area of the lungs is essential for wellness and is one of the most effective stress-reduction tools available. Improved breathing not only strengthens the respiratory system but also relaxes muscles, supports immune function, improves mental capacity, balances the nervous system, and reduces pain.
Follow the guidelines for diaphragmatic breathing in the next section daily to nourish your uterine cells, increase uterine function, and ease pain.
To begin a deep breathing practice, choose an occasion when you will not be pressed for time so you can fully relax. Dress in loose-fitting clothing. Find a comfortable place to lie down, recline, or sit in a quiet area of your home.
Conscious breathing may cause your body temperature to fluctuate, so consider having a blanket near you in case you cool down. If you tend to heat up while breathing, feel free to dress more lightly.
Begin by receiving some long, deep breaths to relax your mind and body.
You can breathe in and out of your nose or your mouth—choose whichever is easiest for you. Breathing in and out of your mouth can be an effective way of quickly transforming your energy during conscious breathing exercises. However, breathing through your mouth all day long can cause imbalances, so normally breathe through your nose except while practicing conscious breathing. Breathe deeply and observe your breath.
Focus on your breath and notice how your body melts away any tension as you extend your inhalation to a duration that is comfortable for you.
At the end of each inhalation watch your breathing flow naturally into your exhalation without holding your breath. Exhale deeply, letting go of all the air your body would like to release. Breathe deeply like this for several more breaths.
To commence diaphragmatic breathing, you will breathe into the lower and middle areas of your lungs.
Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Breathe deeply and see if you can breathe into the lower portions of your lungs to expand your belly like a balloon while your chest remains relatively stable. Notice how the hand on your abdomen lifts up as your stomach fills with air while the hand on your chest remains relatively still through this exercise. Take several inhales and exhales while you practice extending your breath more completely into your abdomen.
Experiment with lengthening your inhales and exhales as you become more relaxed in the breathing process.
Learning to breathe into the lower areas of your lungs can take practice. Remind yourself that if you continue breathing consciously you will eventually breathe more easily. Even people with respiratory problems can achieve substantial benefits from learning how to breathe more deeply. You will also improve your uterine, digestive, and immune functions.
If you want to include your entire lungs in your deep breathing, you can combine diaphragmatic with chest breathing by slightly altering the preceding practice.
Keep one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest. On your next few inhalations, direct your breath into the bottom of your lungs, then to the middle section of your lungs, and finally to the top of your lungs.
Use this same pattern during your exhales, emptying the air from the bottom of your lungs first, then the middle, and finally breathing out fully from the top part of your lungs. When you do this you will feel your abdomen and then your chest inflate during your inhale and contract while you exhale. Both of your hands will move as the air flows to the different areas of your lungs.
For this exercise you can use whichever of the preceding diaphragmatic breathing practices is best for you.
Just make sure to engage your diaphragm and abdomen with your breath whenever you focus on your uterus. If it is comfortable for you, breathe in and out of your mouth during this exercise.
Breathing through the mouth is an excellent tool for transforming the energy in your body, but I have some clients who become light-headed during this process.
If this happens to you, breathe in and out through your nose. Whichever method you choose, make sure you receive full, long inhales and relax completely as you let the exhale fall out of your body without holding onto it.
Breathe deeply into your abdomen and lungs and start directing your breath into your uterus or, if you have had a hysterectomy, the area where your uterus was.
Focus on your uterine area for every inhalation and exhalation.
Imagine that the air you are breathing in is flowing directly to your uterus or pelvic region. Feel that stale air or energy release from your uterus or pelvis with every exhale, making more room for the next inhalation.
Let go of any judgments and enjoy the sense of peace you may feel as you begin to fully oxygenate your uterus and pelvis, increasing its function and circulation by breathing directly into it.
You may notice sensations of discomfort, tension, or fear coming up in your awareness, your uterus, abdomen, or in the flow of your breath.
If so, give yourself permission to become conscious to your breathing pattern for your next few breaths. Observe your breath and let yourself know that breathing is not creating this discomfort; rather, it is only bringing it into your attention so that you can heal it.
If you begin to cry, let the tears flow while you continue breathing.
Crying is simply an expression of energy, and deep breathing can help you release any energy and emotions that have been bottled up inside you. Likewise, if you start to yawn while you breathe, know that yawning is also an energy release, so let yourself yawn as you receive full breaths and big exhalations.
Continue breathing deeply while you watch what is coming up in you, returning to your breath and uterus or uterine area with every inhale and exhale.
Permit yourself to fully feel this emotion or energy. Accept that this feeling is inside you, knowing that it will not overwhelm you and that you have the power to let it go if you so choose. You do not have to identify with this energy. Simply observe it while you stay with your breath and keep focusing on your uterus or the area where your uterus was.
Breathing helps you become aware of the patterns inside you.
You may prefer to continue this practice in the diaphragmatic breathing style described earlier. If so, know that simply being more present to your uterus will provide you with the insights and knowledge to heal yourself and create wellness throughout your life. Recognize that you may want to continue this breathing practice on a daily or weekly basis to support your uterine health.
If you would like to bring additional traditions to this breathwork practice, you can focus on transforming the energy you feel when you breathe into your uterus or pelvic region.
Conscious breathing helps us access feelings and experiences we were previously so afraid to feel that we repressed them in our bodies.
As you accept the feelings that come up for you during your breathwork process, reflect on the energies and beliefs you would like to bring into your body and life to replace that which is surfacing during your breathing.
The uterus holds our core beliefs about sexuality, creativity, relationships, and being a woman.
If any of your beliefs or experiences about womanhood, femininity, feminine power, relationships, responsibility, creative freedom, and sexual pleasure have been too difficult to be present to, chances are you have buried them in your uterus or pelvis.
This breathing practice is moving them to the surface to be examined by your conscious awareness. You can use transformational breathing to let go of non-nourishing beliefs and the feelings and energy they create in your being, and to open up to the truth about who you really are.
Continue breathing out these old frameworks that shaped your reality with pain, fear, and limits, while you inhale the beauty of your essential nature.
With every breath, feel more fear and confusion empty out with the exhale while you breathe in love, health, and power with every inhale. Imagine beneficial energies flowing to your uterus and pelvis as you start to truly receive in each inhalation. Also, envision that any energy you want to let go of completely releases from your body, life, and home and goes out into the earth to transform into joy and light.
Breathe in and out of your uterine areas until you feel completely nourished. Most people will need to breathe for twenty to forty minutes the first time they do this exercise.
Explore what your new beliefs feel like during your everyday life.
What is it like to have a greater sense of freedom and safety in your uterus and pelvis? What feelings does being in your power as a woman evoke for you?
You may also want to use the Second Chakra Breathing exercise on page 129 and the Endocrine Restoration Breathing exercise on page 194. All of these breathwork techniques are usually practiced lying down in a peaceful setting. For some, breathwork can induce sleep, which can be beneficial in certain circumstances.
However, if you tend to become drowsy or fall asleep during these breathing exercises, sit instead of reclining. You can also apply the concept of transformative breathing easily into your daily life. It can be used during meditation or even during activities in which you are physically active, like cleaning your house, exercising, doing yard work, or gardening.
Experiment with conscious breathing anytime you want to, throughout your day or evening.
Research shows that just ten deep breaths several times a day can help you relax and improve your immune function. However, I recommend that everyone practice conscious breathing for ten minutes or more every day to let go of stress and fully relax. To decrease pain and accelerate uterine healing, use the conscious breathing exercises in this book for twenty minutes daily for at least three months.
Combine your deep breathing with visualizations or intentions to breathe in qualities that you are welcoming into your life, such as wellness and vitality. Then use your exhale to let go of qualities you no longer want, such as powerlessness or disease.
Visualization, also known as guided imagery, works by using sensory impressions to produce peaceful feelings. It can be performed in as little as five or ten minutes, yet it engages all the senses and creates powerful instructions and memories for the body.
Guided imagery is an important technique for uterine health because it is such an excellent way to initiate positive changes in your body’s biochemistry.
Your brain does not differentiate between visualized sensations and the experiences you have in reality, particularly when the envisioned images are focused on in a relaxed state.
In both cases, whether stimuli are imagined or actually experienced, images cause your brain to send specific hormones to the different cells of the body.
Thus effective imagery can lower your heart rate and blood pressure and reduce stress in just a few minutes. Through frequent focused visualization you can strengthen your nervous, endocrine, and immune systems, and create improved uterine health as well as emotional wellness.
Guided imagery relaxes your body and mind and connects you to your creativity, emotions, and inner wisdom.
The deep state of awareness attained during visualization actually shifts your brain wave pattern out of the habitual, fast-paced beta rhythms and into the more calming alpha or theta levels. Alpha and theta waves are connected to right-brain utilization, the typically underused hemisphere of the brain that directs visual creativity and intuitive abilities. Alpha rhythms connect us to visual images; theta waves are associated with emotions, creativity, memories, and intuition.
Guided imagery engages your right brain to tap into these important inner resources, enabling you to become aware of perspectives that you would not generally be able to access with standard left-brain thinking.
Guided imagery is particularly effective for reducing uterine pain. New neuroscience technologies have allowed researchers to understand why visualization helps alleviate many different kinds of chronic pain—even those that don’t respond to standard medical treatments.
Acute pain is seen in the regions of the brain that are directly related to injured tissue. However, long-term pain shows up in the limbic system and prefrontal cortex, areas of the brain concerned with emotions and memories. Emotions and thoughts literally establish neural pathways in the brain.
With chronic or cyclical pain, people’s recurring emotions and thoughts about their discomfort strengthen these pathways, creating more pain in the body.
In some cases, the pain can remain even if the tissue is healed, because pain impulses continue to move along these well-established nerve routes.
One gynecologist I interviewed suggested that much chronic uterine pain persists after surgery or pharmaceutical treatments because the nerve pathways are so “well worn” from years of distress. He explained that just like people who still experience “phantom limb” pain in an arm or leg even after it has been amputated, women still have pain impulses firing in their brains even after the damaged uterine tissue is repaired or removed.
Visualization and the other techniques in this chapter are excellent tools to stop this pain cycle because they help create new neural connections that bring pleasant rather than uncomfortable sensations to the body.
Saturating yourself in good-feeling emotions through visualization will condition your nerve impulses to mainly travel along the new beneficial neural paths, eventually diminishing the chronic pain corridors in your brain.
Along with minimizing pain, visualization can have a powerful impact on the physiological aspects of uterine processes. One study used guided imagery to help college students lengthen the number of days between menstrual periods, in order to lessen problematic symptoms.7
Visualization is effective at producing a wide range of desired physiological changes, such as accelerating weight loss, decreasing cholesterol, reducing recovery time from surgery, and lessening anxiety.
Research in New Mexico demonstrated that during the postpartum period, women who used guided imagery for just four weeks scored higher on self-esteem measurements and significantly lowered their anxiety and depression.8
Visualization has also been shown to help people consciously balance their hormones.
An investigation at the University of Miami determined that healthy adults can regulate hormone levels, improve mood, and reduce cortisol levels, depression, and fatigue by using visualization for three months.9
My clients have successfully used guided imagery in combination with other strategies in this book to decrease hot flashes, alleviate fibroid pain, balance menstruation, and become pregnant.
The chapters in part three present visualization scripts that can assist in improving menstruation, endometriosis, fibroids, fertility, and menopausal symptoms as well as surgical outcomes.
Even if you are not a highly visual person, you can use visualization.
I have conducted thousands of guided imagery sessions with my clients. Some people connect most vividly to sights, others to sounds, taste, touch, scents, or simply through “knowing.” It doesn’t matter which sense you use to connect with your imagination, as long as it produces vibrant feelings for you.
Allow yourself to be present with your process in a nonjudgmental way and discover what emerges. Focus on a feeling, sensation, image, or memory that creates positive feelings in your body and mind.
Visualization Rules of the Road
- Sense in the way that is the most natural for you.
- Allow yourself to truly feel whatever energy you want to expand in your life.
- Trust yourself and your ability to visualize.
5. R. R. Freedman and S. Woodward, “Behavioral Treatment of Menopausal Hot Flushes: Evaluation by Ambulatory Monitoring,” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 167 (2) (1992): 436–439.
6. I. L. Goodale, A. D. Domar, and H. Benson, “Alleviation of Premenstrual Syndrome Symptoms with the Relaxation Response,” Obstetrics and Gynecology 75 (4) (1990): 649–655.
7. M. Groer and C. Ohnesorge, “Menstrual-Cycle Lengthening and Reduction in Premenstrual Distress Through Guided Imagery,” Journal of Holistic Nursing 11 (3) (1993): 286–294.
8. Barbara Rees, “Effect of Relaxation with Guided Imagery on Anxiety, Depression, and Self-Esteem in Primiparas,” Journal of Holistic Nursing 13 (3) (1995): 255–267.
9. C. H. McKinney et al., “Effects of Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) Therapy on Mood and Cortisol in Healthy Adults,” Health Psychology (4) (July 1997): 390–400.
Reprinted with permission from The Uterine Health Companion by Eve Agee, copyright (c) 2010. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.
About the author
Eve Agee, Ph.D. is a medical anthropologist and life coach whose passion for mind-body medicine was sparked while learning about the healing traditions of indigenous cultures. Eve shares this global wisdom and her holistic health expertise in The Uterine Health Companion: A Holistic Guide to Lifelong Wellness. Eve has conducted research on women’s health and healing in the U.S. and abroad, served as a political appointee in the Administration of President William J. Clinton, and taught at the University of Virginia and at the American Cultural Center in Lome, Togo, West Africa. A personal transformation expert, Eve has extensive training in whole foods nutrition, guided meditation, energy restoration, and intuitive medicine.
To know more Dr. Eve, visit her website www.eveagee.com.