I met a man in France who suffered from depression. He was isolated for a long time in a forested milieu, struggling to make ends meet, pining for his lost family life, his daughter and lover. Work was an effort because it paid badly, family and friends were around only in the summer and he existed with the snow, eagles and loneliness of a remote valley. He had a lower back that was pulled in by his upper back being rounded and pulled up. The trapezius was pulled up in a permament state of contraction. As a result, his chest wall was collapsed. This impacted on his diaphragm, which was severely atrophied. Breathing was mainly from the intercostal muscles, and every breath caused his sternum to collapse even more as the upper back became more rounded. I see this a lot. He was breathing shallowly, and the pattern resembled that of someone who was anxious.
As a result of this constant shallow breathing, he was permanently angst-ridden, and his upper back muscles were badly inflamed. The muscle bags that gave him his hunch and grinding lower back ( he had an L4-L5 disc issue) were glued together, so changing the structure was going to take a long time. But even after a few weeks, he started to feel better, because the diaphragm was beginning to function. All of the major benefits of deep diaphragmatic breathing began to kick in: activation of the parasympathetic nervous system; reduction in blood pressure due to carotid sinus recognition of increased oxygenation; organ massage and freer flow of interstitial fluids; lymphatic drainage; lower back relief due to the globular pressure on the abdomen from the breath; alkalinisation of the blood; more energy from increased oxygen and, perhaps most importantly, a calming of his mind.
Breath has always been used as a gateway to the mind. It is always there, so can be used as a rhythmic constant to keep the mind moored to the moment. He began to improve, this quasi-Quasimodo, he pulled up the front and the back receded down near to its proper configuration. As usual, like me years ago, he asked how he could know what the “correct” structure was. As I mention elsewhere, this Zero Point is difficult to reach, but can be achieved with practice of Feeling and getting pressure through the system by getting the scapula and neck in a better position.
He overcame his depression eventually because his mind started to go inside in a different way. Instead of going mind-mentally in, he went mind-physically in, began to sense the cauldron of bubbling, seething fluids, the rivers of blood that cascade through the millions of pipes and channels, the nerves picking this bass beat up and bush-telegraphing to the brain, which then strained to hear the static and the low-frequency hiss and fibrin-fidgeting inside the deepest of muscles that held the oldest tension with familiarity, like Golum caressing his Precious. He told me, over the months, that he never felt so relaxed in his life and other elements in his life were beginning to resolve themselves, like a photo appearing in a dark room redlit pool.
To truly relax, the mind’s radar has to sweep the dark recesses and caves in the muscles we share as mammals, the lost Latin sirloins that cleave to the bone, known only to surgeons, pathologists and bodyworkers- the peroneals, the extensor digitorum longus, the psoas and the collagenous cage of fascia they bed down in. Feeling the body is not normal in our insane society. Distraction rules, ignoring pain is the norm, bulldoze through the signals, “be a man”, stick it out-until you get irremediably sick. Muscular tension leads to high blood pressure, stress exhaustion, and coupled with shallow breathing and a mind that is constantly envisaging the worst possible outcome to any situation, usually involving some kind of social humiliation -for if you truly didn’t care what others thought, why would you worry about most things?- you have the elements of a short pale life lived in constant fear of living.
Children are ruined by the stagnant, bedesked necessity of daylight drudgery called “School” and “Job” that benights cities and countries in our modern societies. The carapace of hunched habit crusts willowy youth into aged curmudgeonly crabs, prey to degeneration and illness, their arteries plaqued as they eat dead food, nutrient-pale, pesticide-drunk; as they breathe stale indoor air, exist starved of wildness, stars and adolescent rituals. We are a decadent child species with terrifying power.
Qi gong and tai chi have been maps leading me back to those yore days, when semi-hemi-wildness still existed near my house in the suburbs near the sea, where owls and kingfishers clung on by their talons. I do believe, and still believe though, that if you have not been exposed to nature as a child, if you have not stepped into the hushed moment of the presence of a wild animal, all senses throbbing, breath kept, an intense melding of consciousness between you and the creature; if you have never had that, you will never really care for wildness, or the environment, except maybe vicariously through television. The stillness I have achieved in my practices, both physical and meditative, have chimed with deep memories from those days, when the avian otherness of birds led me away from the deadening distress of my home and school life.
We have a long way to go to restore ecological balance, to redress the tree razing, the predator wipeouts, the fish shoah. Though this Frenchman lived off organic foods, surrounded by wildness, his mind and body were wracked from postural stress and endless negative brooding.
So you need to start with your inner wilderness, start with learning to respect your own physical and mental nature, and the nature of your earthy human body, born of supernova dust and the salty internal sea of our primordial past by giving it the physical poise it needs to be a balanced being, at home in itself, connected with not itself via right brain empathy with that which is; ingesting whole foods free of toxic chemicals; making a living wilderness inside, a soothing black silence that we can draw deep upon during the shrill assault of fetid city stress; the mountains of the back, the Richard Crookback we have become, can be smoothed over, we can make you whole again, a pyramid of taut tentness. From the base camp, ascent to higher summits is possible. Physicality can breed mentality which exhales spirituality.