I had heard of belly breathing, or diaphragm breathing for years over and over again. When I tried it, it didn’t work. I was so tense and out of sync with the natural flow of my breath that I dismissed this breathing technique as ‘that’s not for me.’
Last year I came across a YouTube video by Bob van Oosterhout explaining natural rhythmic breathing (his term for diaphragmatic breathing). He explained the basic functions of our autonomous nervous system and I FINALLY GOT IT. I understood why belly breathing is such an efficient tool to release stress and return to a natural state of balance.
Please let me share with you what I learned.
In my case, I did more belly breathing after I understood its benefits, but I wasn’t motivated enough to really make it a priority. That changed a couple of months ago when I was faced with extremely stressful life circumstances. That’s when I put my knowledge into practice. I made BB a priority and it worked like a charm. I could sleep again. I could move through an extended period of high-level stress with relative ease. This stress period ended a week ago and I am amazed to experience how balanced and lighthearted I am. There is no residue of the stress I experienced in my body or mind. It’s an amazing feeling that makes me a strong and passionate advocate for Belly Breathing.
I’ve had some deeply spiritual experiences in my life, but they never included meeting an elder, a wise woman or man. I often found the right book or information when I needed it on my journey of self-discovery but not until a couple of weeks ago had I had a truly magical encounter with another person.
For the past seven months most of my energy was focused on a new love relationship. I knew from the beginning that the relationship wasn’t going to be easy, but I was confident I could handle the upcoming challenges.
I made some significant changes in my life. I gave up my source of income in Canada and followed my sweetheart to New Zealand. New Zealand enchanted me with its beauty. The rolling hills, long sandy beaches, ocean swims, and hot spring soaks deeply nourished me. I thrive being in nature. Feeling the earth under my feet and the sky above me I feel connected to the source of life.
The relationship part had been very tumultuous and challenging. At some point I became aware that I was re-enacting some aspects of early childhood trauma. Having explored practices of self-regulation and having learned valuable lessons about healing of trauma through Peter Levine’s work I knew I was engaged in healing some deep and old wounds.
One evening after a relaxing day at a hot springs campground I was in the warm water of the pool the sun was setting and I saw an elderly woman trying to enter the pool. The water was to deep for her. Her feet couldn’t reach the ground and she couldn’t swim, that is what she told me. We effortlessly engaged in a conversation at the steps leading into the pool. I am an introvert and usually avoid talking to strangers but what she shared fascinated me and I felt deeply engaged. She told me about her family and background. Being Maori meant for her to be deeply connected to the land, to her extensive family and her ancestors. Her parents had four children of their own, she, being the oldest, and adopted 15 children into the family. Now those children had children and she enjoyed the multi generational and multicultural family life they shared.
Our conversation flowed and touched on the topic of race, racism, the sense of rootedness and belonging, and our purpose of being here on this earth. I told her about my children who have their roots in Nigeria and Germany and the problems that has created for them. In the end I told her about how I have struggled with the sense of not belonging. Having been born in 1961 out of wedlock and being separated from my mother after birth for 6 weeks, had a deep impact on me. Growing up with an alcoholic step father intensified those issues and I felt like living in a milky glass bubble. I was inside the bubble, imprisoned and isolated, life was out there for other people to engage with.
When I told this beautiful Maori woman about my struggle her face lit up with warmth and compassion. She reassured me that I am a precious gift for the earth and that I have a right to be here. That I can now leave this old wound behind me and move forward and that she wanted to give me a blessing in her language, Maori.
The two of us were sitting in the hot spring pool with other people around us, but it felt as if we were the only people present at this moment, deeply connected on a heart level and involved in a sacred ceremony.
She stood up and gave me her blessing in Maori. I couldn’t understand the words, but I could feel a gentle wave of compassion and healing washing over me. I was sitting in the water that came out of mother earth’s depth, hot and enriched with minerals. I could feel how special and sacred this moment was.
After a couple of minutes, the Maori grandmother finished her blessing and acknowledging that this was a very special encounter for both of us, she walked away with a smile and a wave of her hand to say good bye.
My life is changing now, I’m on my way to leave the relationship I was in, I’m on my way to leave beautiful, enchanting New Zealand and I’m on my way to fly to Germany to live with my family for the coming months.
But most of all I am on my way to walk differently on this earth, walk with a lighter, and more joyful heart. This encounter with the Maori grandmother has shown me that I was still suffering from an inner sense of homelessness. I have been on a healing journey for many years now, but deep-rooted issues show up in layers. When one level is addressed and healed a deeper aspect can show up to be addressed and healed.
I am deeply grateful for the blessing I got from the Maori grandmother and I feel deeply blessed to be on this journey we call life. May we all walk softly on mother earth. May we all live with a sense of belonging and worthiness.
May we all be at ease and at peace.
This blog is a transcript from a 20 min speech I gave a couple of weeks ago. It's about the challenge of reclaiming my voice and power.
We woman are often conditioned to be sweet, kind and silent. It has been a long journey for me to reclaim my voice and finally take a stand for what I believe and what I love. Reclaiming the Yang aspect of my femininity has been a crucial and challenging part of that journey.
Here now the transcript:
Life has its beauty and challenges. My life has its beauty and challenges. What had been adversities on my life journey turned out to be stepping stones. It brought me to where I am today. It's a good place.
I feel blessed to live here in Victoria. I love the ocean. I love nature soooooo much.
Here is a little poem by Chief Dan George that I recently read and that reflects how I feel about nature.
The beauty of the trees,
the softness of the air,
the fragrance of the grass,
speaks to me.
The summit of the mountain,
the thunder of the sky,
the rhythm of the sea,
speaks to me.
The faintness of the stars,
the freshness of the morning,
the dew drop on the flower,
speaks to me.
The strength of fire,
the taste of salmon,
the trail of the sun,
And the life that never goes away,
They speak to me.
And my heart soars
My heart has many opportunities to soar; it soars easily. I live at West Bay Terrace now. Just below the parking lot the Songhees Walkway starts and I can walk all the way along the ocean to Fisherman’s Warf. I love it. I fell blessed. I feel fortunate and privileged.
However, being here and living here comes with a price.
My mother and two sisters are in Germany. My daughter, her husband and their 5 children live in Germany. My 2 sons and 2 step-sons live in Germany and Aji my other grandchild.
Being here means I am not in Germany. I see my children and grandchildren most of the time on Skype and once a year when I go there for a month to visit them.
It’s a price I pay for being dedicated to follow my calling, to grow into and express more of who I really am. This calling has brought me here. It hasn’t always been an easy journey. Lots of expanding, exploring and healing needed to be done. I truly enjoy the lightness that comes with the expanding, exploring and healing. I truly enjoy the maturity that comes with aging. I truly enjoy mid-life. Yes, there are physical issues that appear and have to be dealt with. One of them, I lost 4 teeth last year. Huge ouch!!!
In my experience, expanding, exploring and healing happen mostly outside of my comfort zone. In the comfort zone I had settled with survival strategies that I adapted early in life. Freeing myself from the constraints of limiting believes and habits has been my focus for many years. Reclaiming my joy, my wholeness and my feminine power has been a blessing and a challenge.
My 50th birthday had been a turning point in this regard for me. Something broke open inside of me. I developed a deeper connection to the earth, to Gaia and I could feel her in a way I never had before.
I want to share a poem with you that I wrote 6 years ago. The title of the poem is “A Call to Awaken”
I was a dreamer, dreaming along
till I felt a gentle touch on my shoulder
it was as if Gaia touched me
I heard her voice deep inside of me
hey, it is time, she said,
you are a part of the change
you are needed in the process
you are an awakening woman,
find your voice
speak your truth
add your flavor,
your flower into the cauldron of transformation
be an active part of the change
everyone, every woman and every man
counts and is important
it is now,
it is urgent,
don’t hesitate any longer
it is not about you
we have passed the 11th hour
it is time for you to step into your power
be the change you want to see in the world
do your part to heal the world from inside out
it is time for deep love in action
Back then I felt the urgency of this call and this feeling of urgency has never left me. However, speaking up, showing up is a huge challenge for me.
Hiding and being invisible was my personal safe space.
Yet, my pain, grief and indignation about all the suffering we create for the natural world, for each other, for ourselves and my love and passion for the beauty of the world, my love and passion for wanting to be a part of the change was compelling me forward. So, I offered a class and thought I could start my work 6 years ago.
It turned out that I had to do a great deal more of expanding, exploring and healing.
I want to tell you more about an specific issue that came up for me when I started to find my voice … one issue that had quite an impact on my journey to reclaim my wholeness and my feminine power.
It was around the same time when my connection with Gaia transformed, that the relationship I was in started to fall apart. I was told that I was to overpowering. I knew I was changing and growing, but overpowering, I wondered about that. I looked deeply and tried to make sense of what was happening.
A couple of years later, I was camping with a friend and unexpectedly for me she burst out: ‘You are so controlling!” I grappled with that and looked deep inside to see what she meant. How was I controlling or overwhelming?
The relationship with this friend never recovered. That camping trip was the last time I saw her.
A couple of month later a man came into my life and it didn’t take long until - there it was again - ‘you are so controlling - you are so controlling - you are so controlling. Something was going on here. I really struggled to understand it more deeply. I looked at my other relationships and they were developing in a beautiful way. My relationships with my children for example despite the physical distance between us - our emotional distance melted away, the relationships became so much more loving and trusting. I was doing very well in that regard. And I asked them for feedback. I asked different friends to get feedback and more perspective on this issue.
One friend said that it is a good and effective way to control a woman by accusing her to be controlling. I could see the point. We as women are easily labeled as bitchy or pushy when we are not sweet, nice and silent.
The story didn’t end for me there the issue re-emerged. Back then I served as vice president on the board of our community and some issues showed up. It was a difficult situation and I did the best I could. And after all the efforts - there it was again - the accusation “You are so controlling and manipulating”
Wow - I sought advice from a friend who knows me well and was a professional in the mental health field. I trusted her wisdom and expertise. She told me that sometimes even if an issue shows up over and over again it might not be our problem. She assured me that I have a strong voice that I have strong opinions but she couldn’t see that I was too controlling.
After this episode I came to the conclusion that the real issue might not be that I am to controlling, overpowering or manipulative but that I need to own my power more fully. As long as I am not comfortable with my own power, others might not feel comfortable with me being strong or assertive.
Befriending my power as a woman meant to become comfortable with the yang aspect of femininity - the pushing power.
The yin aspect of femininity I call the holding power. Holding space, nurturing reflection, embracing the dark and unknown, caring for self and others are yin aspects of the feminine.
The womb holds a protective and nurturing space for the unborn child for 9 months. But when it is time for this child to come into this world another power of the womb is needed. It’s the pushing power that collaborates with the child’s energy and pushes it out into the world.
Every creative act needs both qualities, the reflection, the gestation of an idea or project, the preparation and then when the time is ripe we also need the pushing power to birth whatever the project is.
Every seed that sprouts in the dark earth, needs pushing power to brake it’s hull, to break through the earth and start its life cycle as part of the natural world.
I believe that for us women to befriend our pushing power, is not just a personal issue, I see a strong collective component in this as well.
At a symbolic level the Earth is our Mother, and as a collective, humanity is raping her. (Tom Kenyon)
There is a great bias against the feminine or yin principle of life. We call it patriarchy. However I strongly agree with Ashley Judd that:
Patriarchy is not about boys and men. It is a system we all participate in.
I strongly believe that in order to create a sustainable, socially just and spiritually fulfilling future on this planet we need to bring the yin and yang energies into balance. There is a lot of work to do for us individually and collectively.
I believe that befriending our pushing power is a part of the work many of us women have to do. The topic is complex and it might be messy. It easily triggers fears that are related to emotional hurts, cultural biases, taboos and all kinds of issues. However, facing those issues is a part of the healing that is so desperately needed. Staying in the comfort zone might not even be an option. Things are changing so rapidly, even our nearest future is getting more and more uncertain.
I see live as a dance, a dance between the polarities of duality, a dance between control and surrender, flexibility and assertiveness. There are no easy answers, no easy to follow guidelines, no one-size-fits-all formula. It’s a dance I want to embrace more and more wholeheartedly. I am passionate about the beauty of life, the beauty of nature, the outer nature and our true inner nature. The future has lost its certainty but that makes every moment so much more precious. I see every day as a gift, I marvel at the many blessings that I have in my life, I soar often and willingly.
Living with an open heart makes live deep and rich, it transform the ordinary into the marvelous miracle that live is in its very essence. Living with an open heart is also challenging because I feel so much more than I ever did before. There is so much suffering that is going on, so much cruelty in the way we treat ourselves, each other and the natural world, so much abuse that is happening on so many levels. It is hard to see and feel that. It’s a struggle. But the pain I feel comes from the love for live, from my passion for life and my deep commitment to be a part of the change, be a part of the solution in whatever way possible and I hope that my contribution is that of a whole person.