One day, when I was 13 years old, I became paralyzed with fear. To my surprise, I found myself physically incapable of entering a piano class 10 minutes late. When I arrived to find the classroom door already closed, a strange panic spread throughout my body. I timidly tried to turn the doorknob, but I couldn't bring myself to do it.
I ended up spending the next 45 minutes hiding out so I could greet my dad when class was over without him realizing I had been too petrified to walk into class a few minutes late. While I waited out the clock, I berated myself for harboring these deep and intense fears that kept me from living my life.
I was mad at myself. I was confused. But mostly, I was ashamed.
That moment in my life has stayed with me, even though more than 20 years have since passed.
We all have upsetting childhood experience like these that continue to stir up emotional pain. Maybe it's the memory that our older sibling berated us or someone bullied us at school. Perhaps we didn't make a sports team or a family member yelled at us.
When we don't work to heal those distressing experiences, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, they become wounds we carry around in our hearts for the rest of our lives. All that negativity and shame leaves emotional imprints that make us feel unworthy.
This angelic breathwork exercise is what finally helped me move toward healing. Give it a try and see if it helps you do the same.
A breathwork exercise to release painful memories
1. First, sit in a quiet spot where you won't be interrupted. Breathe deeply and remember that unhappy time many years ago. Visualize every detail and recall all the uncomfortable emotions—the loneliness, fear, anger, shame, and anxiety.
Notice any resistance that may arise. When I completed this exercise, part of me wanted to forget the past, ditch this, and run far away. But I listened to the wiser part of me that was urging me to push on, reminding me that it's safe to look within and fully experience my emotions.
2. Take some more deep breaths and repeat affirmations like, "It's safe for me to feel all my emotions."
3. Once you're fully entrenched in those uncomfortable feelings, imagine that you are an angel going back in time to comfort your younger self. This angel embodies complete peace, tranquility, security, and, most of all, love.
4. Picture yourself as a child and see how vulnerable you truly were in that moment. As the angel, hover over your wounded self and bathe him or her in a soothing white-yellow light. Hug your younger self tightly and kiss him or her on the cheek.
5. Finally, say to your child self, "You are loved. You are worthy. You matter." I knew I needed to hear those words again so I could really feel the truth of them. "You are loved. You are worthy. You matter."
6. Take some more deep breaths, inhaling love and acceptance for yourself. And so much healing.
Now that I've performed this exercise for the memory of when I hid in a hallway instead of entering a classroom late, I no longer feel ashamed or angry. Instead, I feel complete and total love for that younger version of myself who was simply trying the best she could.
And, really, that's what we're all doing.