Bring Intentionality Behind BreathWORK to Each Breath.
I blacked out as an infant. Often. Any time I was frightened, I stopped breathing. I suppose one could say I came into this world familiar with the freeze trauma response.
Needless to say, my entire life has since become an intentional experiment around retraining my body’s relationship to breath.
It is true that many yogic and therapeutic practices embody what is called breathwork. In a kundalini yoga practice, for example, the breath of fire, or other pranayama exercises may be implemented as a meditation for energy-focusing. In shamanistic, spiritual and therapeutic models, holotropic breathwork may be facilitated to access altered states of awareness.
In any sitting meditation practice, certainly observing the breath is an integral part of quieting the mind. The applications are endless and imperative in the healing realms.
In these environments, it makes sense to consider breath as work, given that we consciously manipulate it to access desired intentions involving release, detox, focus, grounding, energizing, and other preferred states of being.
The issue with associating breathwork solely within conscious healing environments is the implication that breathing is not work otherwise. While it is true the body innately breathes — and thank you, body, so much — I remain curious about what it’d be like to bring the intentionality behind breathwork into each and every breath.
I often say that yoga has done miraculous things for my life, the greatest being that it serves as my own personal breathing practice. I tell people, it’s where I go to breathe. I effortfully flock to my mat as frequently as life allows, where I land in a room with a teacher who guides, reminds, and coaches me into breathing big, breathing deep, and breathing often.
Yoga teachers help me re-form maladaptive and fear-based patterns that have me hold my breath when I’m uncomfortable. They remind me to speak, make sound, release — and therefore communicate — instead of self-suppressing in the face of stress.
Each and every class, I catch myself sporadically exhaling audible sighs. It is in those exact moments that I truly witness the magnitude of my holding on. Those audible breaths are the coming back. They are moments of remembrance. That I exist. I have a body that lives to support me. It longs to uphold its duty. Through breath, I can experience my own healing. I can physically hear myself re-patterning.
Let it out, don’t hold it in. Out, not in.
I am oxygen-deprived. We all are. Shallow breathing is a fear-based function, and our default dials need an upgrade.
When I examine my resistance to breathing deeply, I can catch unproductive mental constructs. Breathe deep. It takes too long. Okay, that’s societally informed. Breathe deep. That means being with myself longer. Okay, it’s about time. Breathe deep. I’m too self-conscious. Okay, and you deserve to breathe.
Recently, I was out with a friend who commented on one of my unconscious, audible exhales. She said, I love when you do that. Every time you sigh, I feel such agreement like, ‘Wow, yes, exactly.’ She doesn’t know that sometimes I forget to breathe. At the same time, of course she does, because we all do.
I know that symptoms develop from oxygen- and therefore energy- deprived bodies, thus breath + intentionality = circulation and, simply, healing. More simply, wellness is possible in every single moment, with every single conscious inhale-exhale rotation. Whew.
Every time I sit on my meditation cushion, I fall into deep breaths immediately, in the same way I do upon landing on my yoga mat. I call them rescue breaths, when I feel the accumulation of my groundlessness. The triumphant effort required to land these days is overwhelming, but it’s certainly always worth it.
The next experience in seated meditation following my celebratory and desperate exhales are small pops in my vertebrae. I self-facilitate chiropractic release and re-alignment by freeing the formerly hostage-held air pockets. It is again here, I realize my body’s bellowing to be with its own breath. Oof.
As a Cancer, the irony of a water sign embodying shallow breath is a funny one. That said, I read a daily horoscope recently that mentioned for me, sighing is its own form of communication. I smiled in response, reflecting on how people react to my random gasps and sighs with gentle and compassionate smiles, followed by an obvious acknowledgement of them needing the same.
It is through our breath we recognize our own collective beingness. Take more in. Let more out.
Two years ago, in the midst of a healing crisis and four back-to-back-to-back-to-back hospitalizations within a week, I was yet again doubled over in unknown abdominal cramping, sharp and dull shooting pains, unable to breathe.
Having suffered from chronic mystery symptoms pertaining to myriad psychosomatic battles, it was this particular stomach episode, as I call them, that made me realize the hospital was no longer an option. Not only could I not physically manipulate myself to get there, but it wasn’t helping anyway. The floor, for the umpteenth time, became my best friend.
I found myself in the fetal position — which in itself, offered such wisdom — and was accompanied by Abraham Hicks’ physical well-being meditation — the meditation I go to when faced with acute physical pain. Why? When I can’t self-facilitate my own breathing, this meditation does.
For 15 minutes, I could do nothing more than focus on the next inhale, breathe in. And the next exhale, breathe out. My life, as far as I knew it, was only that — anything beyond the next breath was uncertain. And isn’t it always this way? There was no room for thought, just the physical experience of pain and breathing right through it.
After four replays of this meditation, I tangibly felt the energy shift from my stomach out through my feet and away from my body. Whatever was in me was no more, and above all, I’d self-resourced and administered my own healing experience. This meditation makes an undeniable connection between our physical well-being and our breath.
In this moment, it fostered the testimony I was so desperately needing, to fully know that we are programmed for wellness. This was the moment that began the rest of my self- and health- reclamation.
If you’re feeling so inclined, give it a listen and keep it handy. Your body — and breath — will thank you. Be with. Lean in. And most of all, don’t forget to breathe.
Paige Frisone is a writer and poet stationed in Boulder, Colorado. Originally from Chicago, her writing pursuits began at Butler University, finishing her Creative Writing/English Literature degree at Naropa University with an integrated contemplative psychology focus. Her diverse loves and endeavors involve mind, body, earth and energetic-centered practices. Her work seeks to emit gripping psychosomatic experiences while simultaneously addressing concepts regarding the psyche and soma. She’s usually moving by the lake or reading barefoot in the grass, soaking up the sun with deep gratitude for all.