This will be the first in a series of MasterClass Interviews offered in advance of The Breathing Festival, which will be held February 11-28. Please follow this link to learn more about the festival, or to purchase tickets.
When I first realized that breathwork had become a whole field of study and practice, bordering on a movement, I got really excited. Breathing exercises had already done me a world of good, not even counting their calming, energizing role in exercise, meditation, and singing. I’d run across Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 technique, and it had helped me keep my cool through several stressful situations at work. It had worked so well, in fact, that I’d begun sharing it with my co-workers, and they also seemed to get great results from it. Then, in an interview with Stanislav Grof, I learned of Holotropic Breathwork, a method which, according to many participants, is capable of producing powerful visions and piercing insights. It has even helped many to overcome lifelong traumas, addictions, and depressions, by their own accounts. Next, I encountered Wim Hof Method, which uses a combination of breathing exercises and cold exposure to increase athletic performance, boost immunity, reduce stress, and even control the autonomic (generally taken to be involuntary) nervous system. The further I went, the more clear it became: there was literally no part of life that couldn’t be improved by breathwork of one kind or another.
Strictly speaking, my first introduction to breathing as a dedicated practice came through yoga. Anyone who has taken a few vinyasa classes will have encountered the Ujjaii Pranayama, or ocean breath, and perhaps other styles too, each intended to usher in a specific level of attention and energy. From there, I learned about seated pranayama, which combines conscious breathing with meditation.
The Breathing Festival’s wide range of presenters will include teachers of yoga, kundalini, vipassana, pranayama, and qigong, as well as those who combine these methods with modern, technological approaches.
The focus on breath, I discovered, is woven deeply into the literature and philosophy of yoga. The basic idea is this: if you want to improve the quality of your experience, first change your breath. The quality of your breath will shape the quality of your thought, and the quality of your thought, in turn, will shape the emotional and chemical condition of your body. All of these, together, will determine what state you end up in – and as a result, what actions you will find yourself ready and able to take, or not to take. As the ancient and often quoted text, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, puts it, “When the breath wanders the mind is unsteady, but when the breath is calmed, the mind too will be still.”
Sounds well and good for all the yogis and the mystics among us, right? But what about the rest of us, living enmeshed in our modern, high-tech, science-minded society? Fortunately, over the last hundred years or so, science has turned some of its attention to the evidence of these ancient methods and claims. And the advanced technologies of physical data-gathering, from MRIs to EEGs to HRV (heart rate variability) monitors, have provided a wealth of evidence to support the many benefits of conscious breathing, much of which was previously only accessible to the person doing the breathing, as an inward perception of a physical, mental, or emotional state.
More importantly, these technologies and scientific findings have now been incorporated into the practice of breathwork itself. Now, not only can you enjoy the calm and composed feelings that result from a breathing practice, but you can also watch on a monitor, in real time, as your breathing smooths out your heart rate. Or, while enjoying the energizing effects of some deep nasal breathing, you can tune in for Stig Severinson’s explanation of why nostril breathing is so effective for relaxation and oxygenation. (Tip: it’s all about the nitric oxide). Review the accounts of therapists and patients who have witnessed profound breakthroughs, thanks to various modes of breathwork – or decide to embark on your own voyage of transformation and discovery. Breathwork has emerged as a rich and many-faceted field, a wedding of western to eastern science and tradition, and I for one am as excited about everything it’s brought me so far as I am about the many insights I have yet to discover.
But where to start? How best to dive into such a diverse well of resources? You could sort through a pile of related podcasts, pick up a book at random, eeny-meeny-miny-mo your way into a qigong class, a mindfulness seminar, a ten day silent vipassana retreat – or you could join us for The Breathing Festival. What better way to immerse yourself in the vast and powerful resources of the field? There, you’ll discover which types of breathwork can best help you to overcome your own personal obstacles, or to connect better with the people that matter most. Find out how conscious breathing can give you an edge in your profession – or take the edge off its stresses. Take a giant leap forward in your mindfulness practice, boost your athletic performance, or find a way to overcome the limits of trauma. All these benefits, and far more, await your discovery at The Breathing Festival.
Learn the performance benefits of Box Breathing with Mark Divine, retired Navy Seal commander. Discover the tools and apps of HeartMath Institute with psychophysiologist Rollin McCraty, PhD. Join Samantha Skelly, founder of Pause Breathwork and expert on emotional eating, to explore the ties between conscious breathing and a nourishing, joyful approach to food and body image. Take in the innovation and hands-on experience of Patricia Gerbarg, MD, Harvard-trained psychiatrist and co-author of The Healing Power of Breath, to learn how breathwork practices can accelerate breakthroughs and recovery from trauma in a clinical context.
Register for The Breathing Festival today to enjoy all of these, and many more, experts and pioneers from across the field of breathwork.