We all do it. We just don’t always notice it. Not until something happens that speeds up or slows down our breathing do we even notice it’s going on. For me it takes exercise – a brisk walk, a run or a bike ride – to start noticing my breath. When my emotions ramp up I notice my breath then too – crying, nervous, angry. I most often notice my breath when I’m practicing yoga. This is most apparent when I take vinyasa classes – the movements are linked to the breath.
Breathe in – arms to the sky; breathe out – swan dive down; breathe in – hands to shins, flat back; breathe out – fingers to the floor; breathe in – plank; breathe out – cobra; breathe in – downward facing dog.
Before class even begins I lie down on my back and start paying attention to my breath. First I notice what’s happening in my normal breathing, then I slowly start breathing deeper. My lower belly rises, then the middle and then all the way up to my collar bones. Hold briefly. Then slowly let it out, all the way back down to my lower belly. Hold, start again. It comes naturally once I stop and pay attention.
Breathing is essential. It happens without my thought or effort. And yet, it has such power. When I’m trying to hold a pose that requires balance, like crescent lunge or tree, if I breathe stronger, if I pay attention to my breath, the pose strengthens. My breath keeps me stable. And, just the opposite, when I get flustered or out of sync with my breathing, I’m likely to fall out of the pose.
I notice it, but I don’t.
A couple weeks ago I went to a breath work class at my yoga studio. I had no idea what to expect. Even after the teacher spoke for a while, I still had no idea what to expect. We laid down and started a specific breathing technique – two breaths in, one breath out. I know, it doesn’t seem like much. But right away I didn’t like it – my head started to hurt, I was annoyed that I chose to come.
“You’re almost to 5 minutes. Once you get over the hump, you’ll start to feel better.”
5 minutes passed and I started to feel things. My hands were tingling – I wasn’t laying there long enough for them to fall asleep. My legs started to feel like all the muscles were tensed up – but they weren’t. I would move my legs trying to relax them only to realize they were already relaxed. My thigh muscles started to tingle. I didn’t understand what was going on.
Then, I started crying. Sobbing really. I couldn’t stop. I didn’t know what was happening. It was a little scary and yet I felt so comfortable, like this was supposed to happen. I really don’t know how long we were there but soon she asked us to start breathing normally again – it was really hard to do. Breathe in, breathe out.
Some people wanted to process their experience. I just wanted to get home.
It’s my understanding that this type of breathing helps move stuck energy around and out of the body. Some would say that’s not real. To them I say, try it for yourself. Something happened to me during that breath work.
As I mentioned in my last post, I went for a longer breath work workshop on Saturday. This time I had a better idea of what to expect considering I’d done it before. But, I also knew that each time is different. So, really, I was back to the beginning – back to the unknown. When asked to share why I was there, I said I was curious, I wanted to explore what happened last time and lean into it a bit more.
The first experience was around 20 minutes – this longer workshop breathing was closer to 30. I would have guessed 5-10 minutes. When we began the breathing technique I felt uncomfortable, but soon fell into the rhythm. I started to think maybe this time wouldn’t be as intense, but before I knew it the crying started – tears, sobs, snot, full body shakes. I think I was more open to the release this time. As soon as we were told to start breathing normally, my entire body – from head to toe – was electric. Tingling all over. Even my ears were ringing. I felt heavy and light – like I could float away and sink below all at once. I was a little sad when the tingling began to diminish. Although, the ear ringing stayed for another hour or so.
So, what happened? My logical brain wants an explanation. I want to scientifically tell you why that particular breathing technique caused my body to respond in those particular ways. I want to have a pamphlet explaining it all. I want to google it and get the answers. I’m not sure that’s how healing works, though.
When I came home red-faced with a stuffy nose, Brad asked, “Why do you do this to yourself?” Fair question.
Somehow I know it’s healing. Somehow I know the breathing and the stuck energy and the tingling is doing something deep within me. I know because after the blissful feelings fade away, I’m exhausted. Similar to an intense therapy session – I need to sleep.
If I trust that the Spirit works and heals through prayer and intention, why can’t I trust that together with the Spirit, my breathing heals too? I think our bodies and souls are capable of much more than we give them credit for. I will continue being curious, but maybe letting go of having all the answers will be freeing for me. Maybe I don’t need to understand how – I just need to honor what is.