Within this space, you will often find me writing about self-empowerment and ways I have discovered through my years as a clinician to help people step into their power. It’s been my observation that the lower three chakras prove to be the most troublesome obstacles for most people in terms of being able to access and address life from a place of empowerment. That’s because the first through third chakras are typically “messy”, as they are associated with topics most humans have core issues facing. Issues like family and “tribe” (first or root chakra), sexuality and creative expression (second or sacral chakra) and assertiveness and self-esteem (third or solar plexus chakra). Issues that for many may have been out of balance so long they have no concept of what it feels like to have loving family ties, a satisfying sex life or true confidence.
Yet it’s been my experience that it really doesn’t have to get messy or uncomfortable to begin reclaiming all the blocked energy in the lower chakras. If you are willing to work with a tool as simple as your breath, I can help you use breathing as a key to unlock your personal power and start to move through the world in a more loving and self-assured manner. Subsequent posts will address more specifically the second and third chakras. But for starters, let’s examine family first and how family dynamics shape our relationship to our own power.
Throughout Atlantis Writhing, a common theme is personal power and how balanced – or imbalanced – one is within that power. Gadeirus is a glaring illustration of power out of balance, and yet that type of example is more familiar to us in this culture than Alaric, who mostly exhibits balanced power. In beginning to understand self-empowerment, it’s important to grasp how and where we first learn about our power. And that always begins with our tribe. With the people we were raised by. With our parents, or their metaphorical equivalent, if we are brought up by grandparents or under other circumstances.
The way we first learn about power is primarily through our interactions with our parents, as they set the stage for how we learn to move through the world by the examples they hold for us and the support they provide. Through love, which is the nurturing we receive from archetypal mother, and through approval and healthy boundaries, which comes to us archetypally from father. In Chinese medicine, archetypal mother is associated with the spleen and stomach. These digestive channels are of the earth element, and can be described metaphorically as the soil where seeds are planted and then held and cared for. . . allowing the seed to burst forth and rise up through the dirt, unfolding into an ever-growing and developing seedling. Just like with seedlings and how the quality and quantity of nutrients received from the earth determines the resulting vibrancy of the grown plant, with children it is the quality and quantity of love and nutrition received from “mom” that yields a healthy start in life. . . or a disadvantaged one.
Chinese medicine teaches that breastfeeding is the healthiest nutrition a mother can impart to her infant, and yet if the mother is anxious or angry, those emotions are also fed to the baby along with her milk. This emotional transfer is not isolated to breastfeeding, however. The emotions of whoever is holding a bottle for a baby are also easily transmitted. And so from the beginning, a baby can learn that nurturing/feeding/love is associated with anxiety or anger. . . which, if not balanced, can lead to grown men and women choosing life partners who are anxious or angry because the child’s earliest associations with love were mixed with these imbalanced emotional states, and the child learned to equate love with anxiety or anger. Children with “nervous stomachs” in all likelihood were nourished early on by someone who was nervous. Whereas if a caregiver is primarily in good spirits, that type of “feel good” energy is passed along as well.
Yet how well we are nourished is only half of how we learn to move through the world. The other major component is how much approval and structure we are given, which builds self-confidence and a sense we are “enough” and that we are always held safely and gently. This type of assured acceptance comes primarily from archetypal father energy. Mind you, mother and father roles are not gender specific, nor are they mutually exclusive. Plenty of single parents wear the hats of archetypal mom AND dad and do it well, through awareness and a commitment to the importance of such care. From a Chinese medicine perspective, archetypal father is associated with the lung and large intestine or metal element, which is like the wire cage surrounding a young tomato plant. . . forming a solid and dependable support upon which it can grow. Metal can be a vessel for holding water or it can be an ax blade, ready to chop down an overgrowth of brush. Metal’s ability to hold (lung) as well as its penchant for pruning/being able to let go of what no longer serves (large intestine) are the two essential qualities needed to establish and maintain healthy boundaries.
And so in an ideal world, earth nurtures and loves while metal holds and supports. In an ideal world, mom and dad are balanced and mindful. And we grow up ideally nurtured and loved and held and supported.
Yet most of us grow up in less than ideal circumstances. With less than ideal parents.
Most of us, by the time we are five years old, have experienced some form of “less than”. And we learn to respond to “less than” by disrupting our breath as a protection mechanism. Because the lung is the mechanism that controls the boundary between external air and internal physicality. So when we experience trauma, the body’s first line of defense is to restrict the breath. Clinically, I see this pattern of disharmony all too often. We stop breathing properly, which short-circuits the body’s entire energy flow. From a Chinese medicine perspective, the lung has the most powerful descending force in our bodies, and it needs to “hand off” our qi to the liver while connecting with the kidneys so energy can move evenly throughout. Much like an ungrounded outlet in a home, which can result in power arcing and sparking inappropriately, a body powered by shallow breathing isn’t grounded down through the leg’s energy channels and so much of a person’s energy then tends to pool in the head, leading to overthinking and worry that taxes the earth element. And so in this way, disrupted metal leads to imbalanced earth. . . which can be thought of metaphorically as a disconnected dad leading to a malfunctioning mom. . . thus we first need to begin breathing properly in order to begin supporting and self-nurturing ourselves.
The best way to begin the art of breathing properly is to bring awareness to the breath. We have to breathe 24/7 and so it seems logical we should restore the lung’s function as a helpful tool in grounding and reviving our power. It takes 21 days to form a new habit, so if you begin practicing deep belly breathing now several times a day (I often suggest at breakfast, lunch, dinner, bedtime and anytime you come to a traffic light while driving), it will become your natural, habitual way of breathing in approximately three weeks. If you need an example of what it looks like to breathe properly, take a look at toddlers. They run around with their bellies sticking out – not because they are fat, but because they intuitively know how to deep belly breathe. For us to begin the process of reconnecting to our power, we need to first reconnect our breath. Deep breathing expands and energizes the power center – called the Lower Dan Tien – located just below the navel. In order to assess how you are breathing, look in a mirror as you inhale. If your shoulders rise, you are a shallow breather. For most people, taking a slow, deep belly breath feels unnatural because we are conditioned to breathe from the diaphragm up. To engage the lower lung, it may help to envision your lungs as water balloons, which fill from the bottom up. Practice deep breathing by placing your hand just below the navel and have your abdomen expand outward instead of allowing your shoulders to rise. By remembering how to breathe in this way, you will stimulate the lung and large intestine meridians and thus bring more energy and awareness to your body’s natural ability to create healthy boundaries. And by energizing the pathways that create healthy boundaries, you begin to strengthen your body’s capacity for holding appropriate structure in your life…which makes it that much easier to develop other healthy habits like exercise, proper diet and drinking enough water every day. That’s why in my acupuncture practice I have always encouraged people who are looking to make positive changes in a number of life areas to begin always with the breath, so the other changes will come that much more easily.
In Atlantis Writhing, Elysia and Alaric illustrate how deep breathing grounds and strengthens the body, resulting in one who is much more powerful than all shallow breathers put together. Are you ready to see for yourself all the wonders you can begin to bring about in your life simply by returning to a self-empowered state through breath? I encourage you to place your hand just below your navel. And simply breathe. . .