Over the years, I have been exposed to many systems of breath work for healing. Holotropic breathing. Vivation therapy. Circular breathing. Alternate nostril breathing to balance the brain hemispheres. Continuum, which is movement exploration coupled with deep breathing. Various kinesiological tests to check to see which aspect of a person’s breath is not working properly. I have learned body work techniques to release the diaphragm and intercostal muscles so that people can actually take deep breaths. And of course, many varieties of pranayama from yoga.
In my mind, it all goes back to yoga breathing, which is the most advanced system of breath work in the world.
One time, years ago, I was in a one-on-one Holotropic breath work session and I basically passed out unconscious.
At the end of the hour, the practitioner woke me up and said, “That will be 110 dollars please.”
I felt cheated and ridiculous, but I paid the person anyway as a matter of courtesy.
Another time, a friend invited me to accompany her to a private session of Continuum with an advanced teacher in Santa Monica, California. We started deep diaphragmatic breathing and once again, I went unconscious. There I was with one of the top Continuum practitioners in the world and I could not stay conscious long enough to be even slightly aware of what was happening.
Another time, in Canada, I traded a beautiful necklace I had made from a chandelier teardrop for breath work sessions for a friend and myself. That practitioner had us dance around, getting our heart rates up before we lay on the ground, hyperventilating. I did not actually pass out during that session as I was so irritated by the music the practitioner was playing.
During my current yoga teacher training, every Sunday morning we go to the yoga studio early for pranayama.
I used to joke that I could never lead this style of yoga because I would fail the blanket folding portion of any exam on the subject, as all the heavy wool blankets have to be folded just so and then stacked in a very particular manner so that you lie on the ground with your spine totally supported, your chest lifted and your body completely enveloped so that your nervous system can totally relax.
Even though I have done this blanket folding thing a time or two, my right-brained nature of just wanting to wad things up gets in the way and I have to get one of the other teachers to remind me.
Try as I might, every time I lie down to do pranayama in my yoga class, I fall asleep within a very short period of time. Apparently this is the case because the other teachers report that I am snoring.
I do just fine as long as we are practicing pranayama in a seated position.
For the past two mornings, I have been determined to break my pattern of going unconscious during supine deep breathing.
I lay on a bolster in my small yellow yoga room next to my bedroom. I wadded a fluffy blanket and stuffed it under my head. After all, this is my house, and I am not being tested on my blanket-folding ability at home!
I set my iphone timer for 30 minutes.
My dog Belle snuggled next to me.
Then I lay there practicing ujjayi breathing, which sounds like the ocean.
For at least part of the time, I kept my eyes open to avoid my pattern of going unconscious.
I felt calmer and more clear-headed both days I practiced my pranayama. Less tense, for sure.
By the end of my sessions, I was easily inhaling for a count of 10 and exhaling an equally long amount of time.
Breathing in this way balances your nervous system. If you exhale too long, that is a sign your nervous system may be in a state of depression. If you inhale too long, your nervous system may be overstimulated. Many people fail to exhale hardly at all, and this is a pattern very common in high blood pressure. I have helped many people heal their high blood pressure naturally simply by fixing their breathing! And of course, many people neither inhale nor exhale very well at all. This happens when we are unconsciously holding on to our emotional stresses.
Whether you are practicing yoga, qi gong or tai chi, learning to breathe through your challenges is one of the simplest ways to discover how to expand your ability to handle your own emotions.
When you can tolerate all your own emotions – even your anger, anxiety and depression – you will no longer be an addict.
You won’t need to take a drug – legal or illegal. You won’t need to overeat, overwork, over exercise or run away from your feelings.
Many people who smoke are actually not breathing properly at all. They are unconsciously using cigarettes as a way to help themselves breathe.
I worked on a little boy (age 2) this morning. He has been refusing to stop breast feeding, which has been a great source of frustration for his mother. When I looked at the root cause, it was because he wasn’t breathing properly. He had completely integrated the rooting and sucking reflexes. It was just that breast feeding was helping him to breathe.
“You are right,” his mother said to me. He had been taking infant swimming lessons, and his swim teacher noticed that he wasn’t breathing properly in the pool, which was holding him back from progressing.
I taught his mother a simple breathing technique that she and other people in her family could practice with him at home.
He could do a miniature version of cobra, lifting his head as he inhaled, relaxing down as he exhaled. This is a developmental movement that most babies go through naturally.
No matter what our age, we can receive great benefits by practicing breathing exercises. Deep breathing connects our body with our emotions and our entire being with our soul. The trick – at least for me – is to stay awake!