Emma Whitehair writes on how she discovered that breathing can be the ultimate in wellbeing luxury.
Want to do something right now that will drastically increase your sense of wellbeing, takes less than 30 seconds, and is free? Take a long slow inhale through your nostrils, expanding your diaphragm, then belly. Go to full capacity, and hold that breath for a few seconds. Then gently exhale, through your mouth, with no more force than if you were misting a mirror. Now how do you feel? A sense of ease – calmer and clearer, am I right?
What is Breathwork?
Breathwork takes breathing to another level. After a deep breathing cycle for a few minutes, you will begin to experience dynamic energy flows within your body. Keep that up for 20 minutes or longer and you will understand how opening our respiratory system to its full capacity can evolve you, changing how you experience life.
We are effectively stirring a cauldron, containing a lifetime of emotion, to see what floats to the surface. We then draw this breath up to be purified and transformed, exhaling to let it all go. Life giving. Literally. Everyone’s experience of Transformational Breathing is different, and personally speaking, I find accessing my full respiratory system a physical challenge. But then the aliveness I feel is so amazingly real. And while my attention is on this alien sensation, my mind becomes still.
Why is it good for you?
So, aside from getting high on your own supply, what’s the deal? Well put simply – when given the tool of breath, your body’s inherent healing abilities kick in, and you can become resilient enough to work through pretty much anything. Deep breathing into tension, minimises painful feelings, counteracting this instinctive resistance, loosening muscles and helping us deal with situations we find difficult.
How do you do it?
To get started, I recommend having your technique checked with a one-to-one session with a certified professional. There are few top international practitioners currently working in London. Rebecca Dennis of Breathing Tree being one of them. Having survived depression, thanks to the medicinal power of breathwork she now thrives, and is a natural at holding this space, picking up on the emotional journey her clients are going on in their sessions.
My one-to-one with Rebecca was in a private room at Indaba yoga studio in Marylebone. My own personal breathing cheerleader, with my eyes closed she encouraged each deep inhale and gentle exhale, while repeating affirmations such as “you’re safe in your body”, “let it all go” and stimulating key pressure points. Ending my session by gently bringing me back down to earth, by slowing my breathing, while Rebecca held my feet.
A significant mood changer, I left feeling softer and less reactive for days after the session, so promised myself I would keep up the good work. Rebecca also holds group workshops at Indaba every couple of months.
To co-incide with the launch of ‘And Breathe’, I took the opportunity to ask Rebecca a few questions:
What scientific research is there to support the benefits of breathwork? For example – science shows us that meditation creates a sense of wellbeing, can the same be said for conscious breathing? There is plenty of research out there and it is also mentioned in the book. The American Institute of Stress says: “Abdominal breathing for 20 to 30 minutes each day will reduce anxiety and reduce stress. Deep conscious breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness. Breathing techniques help you feel connected to your body—it brings your awareness away from the worries in your head and quiets your mind.”
Can you explain the physical effects of breathwork? Often people feel physical effects although not everyone does. In the first 3 – 5 sessions sometimes it can feel intense as we are clearing old patterns and we experience vibrations and tingling. Often people may feel hot, cold or emotion may come up. It’s all a sign of release and I encourage the clients to breathe through it and relax the exhale.
It’s been taking me about 5 minutes of breathwork to start feeling the physical effects, how long do you feel it might take to get to some deep emotional release? Is it true the longer the session the more comes up? We are all unique and the sessions are different every time. Some people have really emotional sessions while others more physical and some just feel really relaxed. There is no wrong or right and something is always happening. People can clear stuff really quickly with Transformational Breath. That’s what is so good about it. Private sessions normally last for 60 – 90 minutes and group sessions 90 minutes to 2 hours. Some compare one session to two years of psychotherapy, it’s like talk therapy without having to do the talking. This work is not about going over and over the story. It’s about letting it go so we can be more in the moment.
Is is better to have fresh air – either by being outside, or having a window open, when doing breathwork? It’s not advisable to do breathing techniques outside where there is a lot of pollution especially with an open mouth breathing technique. We have tiny hairs in our nose that filter that. If inside use your bedroom or somewhere you will not be interrupted and it’s nice to have the window open if you wish. Another place I love to practice is in the bath.
In self-practice, what should watch out for to ensure we get the technique right? It’s really important to not force the breath out. Transformational Breath is about letting go and often people find that hard at first. As my teacher Judith Kravitz says ‘No need to push the river.’
What epiphanies have you had with your own breathwork? Any profound moments of awakening on your breathing journey? I have had so many that is a hard question to answer. The breathwork has helped me to make decisions at crucial times of my life and trust my path. When I was working in media and earning a good salary, I had no idea how I could leave to make a career out of this, but I had this really strong drive and confidence, like I have never had before, which came from practicing breathwork every day and letting go of old fear patterns.
Ready to continue this powerful self-healing work at home, Rebecca’s new book, ‘And Breathe’ – published by Orion is available now. It has exercises, tips and affirmations to help understand the hows and whys, in order to do so. With interviews, testimonials and case studies on clients who she’s seen breathwork help with everything from panic attacks to getting pregnant, it is science meet spirituality. In an easy to digest style, everything is explained in layman’s terms, with quotes such as this really resonating with my experience:
“I now know where my home is. It’s inside me. I’ve had a good sort-out, swept away a lot of cobwebs and confronted the skeletons in my closet. The breath helped me to have an emotional spring clean.”
For a chance to win a 90 minute one-to-one session with Rebecca at Indaba, plus a signed copy of And Breathe, make sure you’re following us on Facebook and follow the steps on our competition post.