One of the most powerful tools I’ve discovered for becoming more present and aware of my inner world is “breathing”. Everyone breathes, but most people remain consistently unaware of their breath, and of the impact that conscious breathing can have upon emotions, health, and well-being.
I think it feels great to yawn, sigh, laugh, and take deep breaths. But I’m finding I can gain more from the experience when I pay attention to how I feel when doing so. There is something almost magical about breath in whatever form. Maybe that’s because it plays such a huge role in sustaining life. A minute or two without breathing, and I’d be playing the harp on cloud nine (or roasting on an open fire, according to some). :)
My experience with conscious breathing began with meditation. As I slowly inhaled and exhaled, focusing on different aspects of my breath, I found myself becoming more present in the moment, more relaxed, and more at peace. The benefits of meditation are numerous, many are scientifically verified, and the practice of meditation is increasing in popularity throughout the Western world.
There are many ways to meditate. Some methods I’ve enjoyed over the years include observing my thoughts and emotions without judgment, listening to guided meditations that take me on imaginary journeys of self-discovery, and repeating a mantra or phrase to help focus my mind.
All of these methods have been effective in calming my mind and bringing peace. But recently, I’ve been practicing a different form of breathing that instead of calming, intends to shakes things up, bringing issues to the surface to be dealt with. Strong emotions sometimes arise, from fear and rage, to joy and bliss, but the end result of each session for me is usually a powerful feeling of connectedness with everyone and everything, and a sense of being bathed in love.
There are many different techniques for this type of breath work. Clarity Breathwork, Transformational Breathing, Holotropic Breathing, and Re-birthing are a few of the common ones. Some involve quick, fast breaths and a forced exhale, inducing hyperventilation (which some believe helps emotional integration). Others involve a more relaxed, connected breath, with no pause between the inhale and exhale. This exercise is usually sustained for about an hour.
I’ve tried some gentle forms of breath work six times now in group settings, along with facilitators, music, and other activities to educate and stimulate. Each time has brought different insights, awareness, and integration. My first few experiences were quite cathartic. I felt a lot of fear, strong tension in my body, and many uncomfortable emotions. Lately, they’ve been more mild, as supposedly my more difficult emotional blocks have been dealt with, or perhaps I’m just not ready to deal with more yet. Sometimes I think I’ve even fallen asleep. But I’ve gained something wonderful each time I’ve participated.
In one session, I remember seeing myself (like in a dream) in a situation from my past where I was hurt by someone else. I felt the pain of that moment acutely, along with accompanying tears. But instead of handling it like I did in real life, unconsciously repressing my feelings and hiding my emotional pain in an attempt to be loving and “strong”, I saw myself express my emotions fully. I stood up for myself, and yelled inside at the other person, stating how I felt that I deserved to be treated better. I felt more anger than I probably ever have in my life. I also realized that I hadn’t been respecting myself. I didn’t have to stay in the situation and be hurt. Rather, I knew that I was worthy of the most supportive, gentle, sensitive, freeing, and unconditional love that can be given. And I realized I could give it to myself. Then I began to show myself this love and respect by accepting what I was capable of dealing with in that moment, speaking my truth, and setting appropriate boundaries. I felt immense love for myself and gratitude for others. These feelings have carried over more into my “waking” life as well.
In another instance, after some pre-breathing exercises about discovering and living our life’s purpose, I came out of the breath work session overcome with a sense that I really do have something to give, and that it’s okay and good to do so. I shared this experience with the group afterward, and felt immense love and support from all of them, even though most were strangers. Since then, I’ve felt more confident in sharing myself, my feelings, and my creations with the world.
As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been reading a book called The Presence Process which also recommends circular, conscious, connected (no pause between inhale and exhale) breathing for 15 minutes, twice a day. This is done through the nose and in a sitting position, rather than laying down breathing with the mouth open like in the group sessions. Any emotions that come up are to be felt and embraced, not sedated or controlled. I’ve found immense power in doing this, and have found that it accompanies group breath work beautifully.
Who would have thought that the simple act of conscious breathing and the practice of emotional awareness that accompanies it could have such a profound impact on my emotional and physical health?
If you’d like to get an idea of what happens during a breath work session, here’s a video that captures some of the essence. The most recent workshops Jen and I have been going to are not exactly like this, but similar, and led by the same amazing woman, Christabel Zamor. Like in the video, there is usually some dancing before hand, and some interaction with others in the group. We’ve made some wonderful new friends this way as well.
Have you ever tried focusing on your breath for an hour? Have you ever meditated or experienced any benefits from it? What techniques have you found helpful? Have you ever breathed through painful emotions and learned something about yourself by doing so? Does all of this sound ridiculous to you? I’d love to hear any thoughts and stories you have to share below.