First things first, COVID-19 is real. There is a global pandemic. There has been an unprecedented loss of life. Countless jobs have been compromised. For many of us, life will never be the same. What can we do to provide some comfort and support for ourselves during these trying times? What actions can we take to enhance our wellbeing and create healthier habits?
What if we all had access to secret, omnipresent superpowers to instantly mitigate fear, quell anxiety and deflect the powerful forces working against us?
Let’s explore the world of breathwork — with a focus on specific ways to navigate these powerful tools to build resilience and mitigate the toxic environments all around us. Take a deep breath…let’s dive in!
*BEFORE YOU READ: If words like pranayama, holotropic, rebirthing, and conscious connected breath sound unfamiliar, I encourage you to check out this breathwork 101 article before going too deep.
What is Breathwork?
As described by Conni Biesalski, “Breathwork is an active meditation, in which we use the breath along with music to help the mind release and connect to the body. It is the practice of changing your breathing pattern to change your mental, emotional and physical states.”
Easy to intellectualize, yet still somewhat elusive — just like meditation and, to some extent, yoga. Why? Because people continuously have a tough time building consistent meditation practices because meditation is just simply HARD. The latest stats I found suggest that under 10% of humans meditate, and what’s most shocking is that for children this number is closer to 1%.
Mindworks defines meditation as, “a practice that helps us focus our attention on the here and now with goodwill and without judgment. The most popular forms of meditation include mindfulness meditation, spiritual meditation and mantra meditation.”
Where is breathwork in there? Missing?
Breathwork fits squarely in that definition! Jogging, climbing, biking, singing, swimming, gardening, cooking, playing with kids & pets, and surfing should also be considered as mindfulness practices. Why? Because they all incorporate presence, focus, space in between thoughts and, in most cases, are fueled by breath!
Like many of us who are feeling stuck, limited, or stressed by COVID-19, we shouldn’t deduct “points” for not meditating today or tomorrow. Instead it’s time for us to recognize that we have already planted the seeds of a mindfulness practice based on our current routines. And for those still searching, I encourage you to taste breathwork to see how it could be a gateway to more profound and grounding mindfulness practice.
Breathwork is Trending…and Trendy!
Yep, you heard that right. Breathwork is trending…big time. And, arguably it’s becoming increasingly trendy. The main article that most “breathers” and breathwork practitioners are hailing is Vogue’s recent publication describing how breathwork can help quell coronavirus-fueled anxiety. Even some news outlets are promoting breathwork through highlighting the benefits of lung exercises, which we all can acknowledge as essential during these challenging times. Most notable, perhaps, is that the New York Times plugged breathwork in this recent article highlighting the struggles of young, healthy people affected by coronavirus.
Is this truly the beginning of what Alan Dolan, the founder of Breathguru, recently coined the Breatholution?
Those who have experienced breathwork continuously share their deeply profound experiences, and often describe it as a key component in their evolution of mindfulness practices. Breathwork, which is a form of active meditation has become front and center of my personal daily routine.
Particularly, apps like Breathwrk and platforms like Breathpod have accelerated adoption by offering guided breathing exercises to help alleviate anxiety, fall asleep, get energized, and more. This is juicy stuff during pandemic times!
So…why not give breathwork a try? Here are a few ideas that may help guide you into the breathwork arena.
Self-Guided Breathing for Relaxation & Meditation
The Breathwrk app has many breathing styles and techniques available to address whatever you need in this bonus. And as a [semi-random] bonus, you can follow Jonny Miller and try his self-coined Espresso Breath, Dim Hof, and Fire Breath to help mitigate fatigue, anxiety, and brain fog, respectively.
A few of my favorite styles offered on the Breathwrk app include:
Calming: Box breathing — used by Navy Seals — is a powerful, yet simple, relaxation technique that aims to return breathing to its normal rhythm. This breathing exercise may help to clear the mind, relax the body, and improve focus.
Sleep-Inducing: Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4–7–8 breath. This breathing exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. Unlike tranquilizing drugs, which are often effective when you first take them but then lose their power over time, this exercise is subtle when you first try it, but gains in power with repetition and practice.
Awakening: The Breath of Fire — popular in many mindfulness practices, particularly Kundalini yoga — is a rhythmic breath with equal emphasis on the inhale and exhale, no deeper than sniffing. It’s done by pumping the naval point towards the spine on the exhale and releasing the naval out on the inhale. It’s practiced through the nostrils with mouth and eyes closed. When done correctly, you should feel you can go indefinitely.
Professionally Guided Breathwork for Deep Healing
Another option for exploring breathwork is joining a 1–1 or group session guided by a breathwork practitioner. Even though the pandemic has stalled in-person breathing sessions, virtual breathwork sessions are happening globally, pretty much 24/7 — it may be hard to choose which one to sign up for and know what you’ll get out of it.
In my opinion, a key part of the breathwork exploration is determining what kind of energy you’re looking for in your session: Yang (masculine) or Yin (feminine) energy. The guiding voices and music during the sessions usually fall more towards one of these than the other and understanding which you need will help support you during your practice.
Not sure if you’re more Yang or Yin? Try a few and listen to what resonates with you, see what flows! How do you feel during and afterwards? Try not to be attached to a certain outcome. Approach breathwork with an open mind and open heart, embrace non-judgement, and prepare to go on an adventure!
A sampling of professionals currently hosting virtual sessions:
Michael Stone (Yang): inventor of a new type of breathwork modality called Neurodynamic Breathwork, co-founder of the “Train Your Brain, Master Your Life” Workshop, Certified Holotropic Breathwork Facilitator and founder of Holotropic Breathwork LA. Participants can now access his 100 minute breathwork workshops (with a recent one I participated in nearly hitting the Zoom cap of 1,000 breathers!) for as little as $5.00/workshop up to 5 times per week.
Erin Telford (Yin): breathwork facilitator and healer, acupuncturist, Reiki Master, herbalist and a teacher of David Elliott’s Level One Breathwork Healer Training. Her work guides people to look within, open their hearts and heal their relationship with themselves. Her group sessions, trainings and retreats empower her clients to connect to their innate wisdom so that they can find the answers they are looking for.
Even though in-person breathwork is currently challenging (and borderline impossible in most places), I encourage you to reach out to these professionals for more information on their specific offerings:
- North America: Dan Brule (Boston), Robin Clements (BC, Canada), Michelle D’Avella (LA), Jenn Field (BC, Canada), David Elliott (LA), Carmen Ganne (BC, Canada), Suzanne Hill (NYC), Zachary Koop (BC, Canada), Kaya Leigh (West Coast, USA), Melody Le Goff (SD), Brad Lichtenstein (Seattle), Irene Lyon (BC, Canada), Scott Schwenk (LA) and Belisa Vranich (NYC).
- EMEA: Richie Bostock (UK), Alan Dolan (UK), Stuart Sandeman (UK) and Kasper van der Meulen (Netherlands).
- APAC: Jeff Craigen (Bali), Edward Dangerfield (Bali), Siobhan Macleod (Melbourne), Sara Silverstein (Bali) and Alexandre Tsuk (Bali).
Lastly, I’d be remiss not to mention he grandfather of holotropic breathwork — known for his fascinating studies on non-ordinary states of consciousness — Stanislav Grof.
The Breath Circle (podcast and web-based community launching soon) takes a fresh look at the world of breathwork, listening to the stories of people both in the breathwork fringe and in mainstream society. A key intention of The Breath Circle is to share details around the art and science of breathwork, creating more awareness and access to these transformational healing practices.
BREATHWORK FUELS LIFE.
I invite you to explore how breathwork-19 can help you build resilience and increase your capacity to face the challenges of today’s rapidly evolving world.