“Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?”
I gave a talk recently on writing as remembering. Not writing memoir or historical remembering, but as an act of remembering who we truly are before the world told us who to be. Do you remember being a child and being lost in an activity? Maybe you were completely inspired by something? Something you loved to do and couldn’t get enough of? For me it was writing. I loved to write. After about the age of 8 we start to take in feedback from the outside world about who we should be, who we shouldn’t be and what is acceptable. Maybe you learned to be good, or nice, or tough, a bully or a people-pleaser. Maybe you learned to put people ahead of yourself, or hide your true feelings. Maybe you learned that you needed to succeed or be ‘the musical one’ or ‘the smart one’ or tragically, ‘the dumb one’. Of course this becomes abundantly clear in teenagers who search for identity, often giving up their own to fit in with the group. But what was it that lit you up before you closed down, morphed or shut down your magnificence?
When we dig down through the layers whether it is by writing, painting, meditating, or _____ insert your favorite activity here, we find a state of flow. Flow is defined as the state where you lose track of time yet are intensely alert and in complete alignment with what you are doing. In other words, no thoughts, worries or judgements getting in the way. You are ‘one’ with the activity. Researchers describe flow as a unique state of concentration in which action seems to be effortless. Whether painting, writing, planning, scheming, inventing, or running a 10K, you feel alert, unselfconscious and totally absorbed in the present moment. Flow is a state entered when you are performing at your peak or stretching beyond former limits. Emotions are positive and energized, yet your attention is so focused on the task at hand that you may not be aware of feelings at all except in retrospect. Everything but the task is forgotten—time, surroundings, even yourself. Awareness and action become one.
This, I would say, is the true you. The complete, pure, at ease you. The you before all the coulds, shoulds and have-tos come piling through the door and weigh you down. The you that you felt as a child.
We get the same effect with breathwork. We know that a few minutes of an intentional breathing pattern can press the ‘reset’ button, returning you to your natural state with less tension and worry.
Therapy should have the same effect. Drilling down beneath the layers of circumstance, beliefs, trauma, history, and identities, we find there is a ‘you’ there that can be unaffected by history. One that is inspired and enthusiastic, unencumbered by conditioning.
I read a study recently by Stanford Scholar Emma Seppalla that studied US war vets diagnosed with PTSD that were in a class that taught breathing patterns to calm and soothe the nervous system. After 3 months their symptoms had decreased dramatically, and on follow-up a year later had not relapsed. It’s a different approach but one that makes sense. When we breathe we develop focus and emotional regulation, both which are disrupted in PTSD.
It’s not difficult, but it does require practice. Don’t wait. Learn to breathe. It is only helpful, has no side effects and counteracts the increasing stress of the world.
If you would like to start practicing breathwork right away, I have a couple of options for you. Most of the practices from my book “Mindful Breathing: Simple, Powerful Practices to Heal Anxiety, Stress and More” are up on Youtube under my name or come out and take a deep dive in next week at the following workshop. I would love to see you there.