For a taste of what’s in store at The Breathing Festival, please join us for a free MasterClass Interview with Samantha Skelly on February 8th, hosted by Dan Brulé. Samantha Skelly is the founder of Hungry for Happiness and Pause Breathwork, and is the author of Hungry for Happiness – One Woman’s Journey From Fighting Food To Finding Freedom. Learn more about The Breathing Festival, or get your ticket here.
When Samantha Skelly signed up for a breathwork session in Bali, she didn’t realize her life was about to be transformed. Her hopes were high, but her expectations were low. A dancer and actress throughout her childhood, she’d been subjected to intense pressure related to food and body image, and had developed an eating disorder. She’d searched for answers, and tried fifty diets over a period of four years, but nothing had helped her to achieve peace and balance in her relationship to nourishment – because nothing she’d tried had addressed the disconnection and the emotional distress at the heart of the problem.
She’d heard from loads of sources (as many of us have) that meditation was what she needed – in order to bring about inner peace and healing, to integrate her body, mind, and emotions. But every time she tried, it was like her body rejected the process. “I really tried hard to meditate, but because I had a lot of stuck energy in the system, I would sit in meditation, and I would come face to face with that anxiety, and that stress, and that overwhelm.”
Then, inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, she followed her quest for wholeness and wellness to Bali. At the urging of a medicine man (the same one Gilbert visited, in fact) she signed up to try a different style of meditation, one driven almost entirely by breath. And it changed everything. Before that session, she had only ever been able to feel anxiety or numbness. But all of a sudden, she began to awaken to a whole spectrum of emotion. As she went further, she felt release, and then happiness, then sadness. But it was a sadness being released, a letting go of past pain – pain which she hadn’t even been able to properly feel before, much less release.
To come fully alive to the pleasures and pains of life, to be present in the truth of who we are, where we are, is a great gift. But so many of us have found our systems shut down by emotional overload – too much too soon, before we know what to do with it all, or, as in the case of trauma, simply too much for any one person to deal with. It’s like a power surge, where we blow a fuse to keep the entire system from burning down. Or else we feel numbed. Lulled into hibernation by too little connection, or the wrong kind. Desensitized by graphic media, chemical stimulants, or extreme behaviors.
Given all the ways we can find ourselves emotionally shut-down, unavailable, and stuck in our lives as a result, it’s encouraging to learn that there is a built-in mechanism to get you back on the path. This mechanism is breathwork, and it has demonstrated time and time again, in stories like Samantha Skelly’s, and in those of all the people she has helped, its ability to reconnect and re-calibrate the interlocking parts of our lives. At any given moment, we may not know exactly what’s bothering us, or what’s holding us back, but make no mistake: our bodies know. And conscious breathing is the road map that guides us through our very own journeys of reconnection, of reconciliation to ourselves.
Once Skelly realized how powerful and far-reaching the benefits of breathwork could be, she began to use it to heal her eating disorder. “It worked so well because I finally could feel embodied and discern the difference between what is an emotional hunger cue, and what is a physical hunger cue,” she explains. “So I was able to nourish my body in a way that it needed to be nourished. I knew how to tune into my emotional hunger cues, and I knew how to nourish my body when it was a physical hunger cue: and that changed everything for me.”
Having discovered the healing power of conscious breathing, she found she couldn’t keep it to herself. Like many of the authors and experts featured in The Breathing Festival, she became driven to share her bliss and wellness with others. She began to teach others to overcome disordered eating with breath, and in 2014, she founded the Hungry for Happiness movement and certification program. In 2017, she published Hungry for Happiness – One Woman’s Journey From Fighting Food To Finding Freedom.
As more and more people benefited from her techniques to resolve eating disorders, Skelly became convinced that it was time to bring the life-changing benefits of breathwork to a wider audience. “I just want every human in the world to know how powerful they are,” she explains. To achieve this, she founded the Pause Breathwork online course and certification program, which introduces students to a wide spectrum of benefits.
But how exactly does breathing reconnect us to our emotions, and help us to repair the bridge between our minds and our bodies? Skelly begins by explaining that “there are parts of us that are frozen in time, that are stuck in the time-line from when we were little.” (She attributes this idea to Geneen Roth, a valued mentor). “Maybe we have a frozen-in-time part that says ‘my needs don’t matter.’ Maybe I expressed a need when I was 3 years old, and I got shut down. So the story I created at that time was that ‘my needs don’t matter.’ If that part believes that to be true, then I’m going to create a protector that says, ‘I’ll just do everything myself. I don’t need your help, I don’t need you, I don’t need anything.’ So then we become overly self-sufficient, and we overcompensate to meet our needs. And then we become exhausted, depleted, and upset. The truth is that we have the ability to go into those pieces, unbind them, release them – become the medicine for those frozen-in-time parts that we didn’t get as a child.”
“I can’t access these parts with my logical mind,” she continues. “But through the breath, my minds releases, my protectors release. And I realize, “wait a second … I do know. And I come face to face, in a loving way, with these frozen-in-time pieces that need my love. Because we can be the poison to ourselves, but we can also be the medicine. And that’s what breathwork helps us to do. It helps us to access the medicine that we are for ourselves.”