"Tension and stillness in the body feed the contraction, and its appetite is large. In whatever shape or pattern it appears in you (we all have unique ways in which we hold tension in our body), the contraction can always be felt to interfere with the free flow of breath. Built of residual patterns of tension and holding, it is the confining force behind the still places in your body that don't move as you breathe.

"Exploring the koan of breathing through the whole body in the context of sitting meditation helps soften the contraction. Gradually, breath by surrendered breath, it can start releasing its hold, loosening its grip, revealing, at the level of both body and mind, what it has been holding back all this time. Breath by breath, places in the body with little sensation start coming back to life. Breath by breath, areas of the body that don't move start moving again. Breath by breath, tensions in the body start relaxing. A muscle in chronic tension keeps firing unending signals of contraction in very rapid frequencies. As the tension relaxes and releases, the body becomes calmer, less agitated.

"Calming the body of its tensions helps heal the body of its pain. As breath starts breathing through more and more of the body, it becomes a direct agent of healing, massaging and helping to melt any areas of tension it touches into and moves through. In the same way that a bodyworker's hands are able to touch you from the outside in, a breath that keeps the body in unending motion massages you from the inside out, breath by breath, stroke by stroke. You can feel it working on you internally, probing into areas and recesses of tissues that the bodyworker can't put her hands on. Everywhere the breath penetrates, every place it touches and presses into, it activates sensations and promotes the release of tension. Like a current in a river, confronting a logjam, the force of breath pushes up against tension's walls in hopes of dissolving its barriers, turning tension in the body back into shimmer, and contraction in the mind back into presence.

"The open dimension of being (sunyata) that Mahayana Buddhism promotes as such an important value is the polar opposite of the closed fist of the contraction. For body and mind to open, the tendency to contract needs to be offset by a gesture of letting go, releasing whatever you're holding so tightly to yourself, transforming imploding compression into a relaxation that keeps radiating outward. Exploring the possibilities of a breath that can be felt to breathe through the whole body lets you start opening up, coming out of your held shell, emerging from the shadows cast by contraction's mass."