Breathing is fundamental to life itself. It connects us to every living, breathing being-other humans, plants, and animals and yet it is something that we so often take for granted. The simple act of filling up our lungs with oxygen to then release carbon dioxide plays such an incredible and important role in our lives. Breathing not only provides us with insight about the state of our current selves, but focusing on how to work with the breath itself, can serve as an important and transformative tool to help us regulate our nervous systems and improve our overall psychological and physical well being.
I had the opportunity to connect with Michele Meehan, a registered psychotherapist and shamanic practitioner, who uses integrative breathwork to help individuals integrate all parts of themselves- body, mind, heart and spirit. In her work, Michele draws upon various tools such as breathwork, relaxation, visualization, ritual and other Shamanic practices to help individuals deepen their self-awareness, heal from trauma, reclaim disowned or unloved parts of themselves and reconnect to their purpose in the world and with nature.
The Journey: Breathwork and Emotional States
I asked Michele a bit about her own journey as a healer and what led her to study integrative breathwork and Shamanic practices. “When I started working with people as a counsellor, I found that all the standard tools, such as straight talk therapy, was very limiting. I’d get people describing to me what they needed to do and how to do it but then having difficulty moving into action”. Without a doubt, many of us have the tendency to do this. We have the awareness that we would like to improve our habits or lifestyles but then get stuck moving into action. She then told me that while she was a counsellor, a good friend of hers was studying hypnotherapy and helped introduce her to the importance of working with the subconscious mind. Michele noted that often it is important to work with the subconscious to help peel back the complex layers of our psyche and understand some of the barriers that may be holding us back and preventing us from taking actionable steps.
After completing a 2 year internship in hypnotherapy and working with a wide range of conditions, Michele continued to expand her understanding of the human experience and was led closer and closer to more spiritual experiences and practices which then led to her engagement with Shamanic studies, where she could examine the role of spirituality in well being. As her journey continued, she went on to study integrative breathwork as a psychotherapeutic technique. In her practice, all aspects of the Self are welcome, and she supports people to embrace the intersection of personal, psychological and spiritual growth. “Breath is the thing that literally bridges the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of our beings. Each session working with the breath can reveal where healing or integration is needed”. Michele explained to me how the breath tends to mirror our emotional states, as well as our defence patterns which may arise from perinatal (early life) to about the age of 6. What she really loves about working with the breath is that it is an organic process driven by the breather's breath. Her role as a facilitator is to provide support and encouragement when resistance comes up and to follow the client’s breath to see what it may reveal about their state of being. We then spoke about the experience of anxiety, which can keep individuals very much so in their heads and which perpetuates shallow breathing. Other difficult emotions, such as anger, sadness, or grief, can also disrupt healing breathing.
Several of us have developed poor methods of breathing, as a result of coping with long term anxiety or emotional distress. It is unfortunate that most of us were simply not taught how to work with the breath as this abundant source of medicine. Michele mentioned that during this COVID pandemic, she has witnessed quite a lot of anxiety among clients in her practice. The uncertainty of these times and the anxiety and fear that accompanies it, has left a lot of people living up in their heads, trying to imagine a different future and spinning various narratives as a way to cope with the unknown. Michele equates the state of anxiety as being similar to creating “castles in the sky without a solid foundation”. In her work, she helps clients combat anxiety by teaching them how to really ground and settle into their physical bodies by guiding them through specific grounding techniques and helpful breathwork practices.
After I began to feel more solid within my body, Michele brought my attention to my breath. Without trying to change it, she encouraged me to notice my breath and notice where I felt movement in my body, perhaps in my chest, belly or both. She asked me to notice if the exhale was the same, longer or shorter than the inhale. “Notice if the breath seems generally long or short and notice if it seems even or if there are places where there might be a hitch or a pause in the breath”. Michele then guided me to gently deepen the breath, allowing it to become slow, full and even. Without stressing or straining my breath, she encouraged me to really feel myself breathing so that my lower belly expanded on the inhalation and deflated ever so slightly on the exhalation. After enjoying a few more soothing deep breaths, Michele guided me back to my sitting bones on the chair beneath me and encouraged me to really feel that my body was supported by this surface and by the floor underneath me. Gradually, I returned my awareness to the room and gently, in my own time, allowed my eyes to open.
After the breathing exercise, Michele asked me about the experience. I reflected and noticed a few interesting things. I seemed to have no issue with my exhalations, in fact, it felt quite cathartic to release my breath. However, I also noticed that my inhalations were much more challenging. Sometimes I found myself struggling to take in a full, deep breath, noticing hiccups along the inhalation. Michele replied, “Since breathing is a metaphor for life, sometimes noticing the breath can inform us of certain things”. She then asked how receiving was for me? At first, this question took me by surprise. I replied, explaining that receiving was often difficult for me. I was always a natural giver, even at a young age. I was always able to identify suffering and dis-ease and found it much easier to support others than to really receive support or support myself in the same capacity. I explained that this was something that I’ve been working on within the last few years and that it was so interesting to see how my breath mirrored such specific aspects of my emotional life. Michele equated the ease at which I was able to exhale, with my capacity to support others effortlessly and again noted that the hiccups I experienced during my inhalations, reflected some of the challenges I face with regards to receiving. I then told her about some mantras that I have been saying to myself lately to assist with this. One of which goes, “It’s safe to stay open, it’s safe to receive”.
It is so incredible that our bodies can reveal so much to us, if only we take the time to tune in, listen to and honour all aspects of ourselves. Michele works with individuals on every level-mind, body and soul and incorporates not only breathwork into her practice but also several other tools, many with roots in Shamanic practices. Michele reminded me that it is so important to be gentle and supportive of ourselves, to express ourselves authentically and to give expression to the primal aspects within us. When we allow what needs to come through us without judgement, we can then move that energy and really hold curiosity for all that is showing up for us. Michele uses her gifts to help people unblock stagnant energies and bring emotions into expression in a safe and healthy way. She helps individuals reconnect with themselves, integrate mind, body, heart and spirit and provides a safe and sacred space where clients can embrace their complex human emotions and move forward in their lives with more compassion, forgiveness, grace and kindness.
Connect with Michele
If you are interested in learning more about Michele and the work that she does, I encourage you to get in touch with her directly by following the below link: https://www.innerartscollective.com/michele-meehan.html
You can also contact Michele at (416) 762 - 8054 to schedule an appointment with her
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257 Danforth Ave Toronto