Some time ago I stumbled over a video of Jay Shetty called ‚first thing I learned at monk school’, a video about learning how to breath. It really excited me. When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace and you will navigate any situation life throws up is the essence of this idea. It’s really powerful. It made me think of my own journey exploring breathing.
What I do definitely remember is that we didn’t ever talk about breathing at school.
I only started to pay conscious attention to my breathing in my mid forties, in fact. Seven years ago I created my own business as a coach and facilitator and felt that I wanted to be more active the impact I was having. I admired those who stand in front of groups and render you spellbound from their very first word. That’s what I wanted to learn.
I found a former opera singer who worked with people like me. The first thing she said was, “Oh, you’re a chest breather. You don’t make use of your full lung capacity. That’s what we need to work on first of all.” I don’t know what my expectations had been before the session, but certainly not that my breathing was somehow an issue. I mean I have been doing endurance sports all my life, I’ve run marathons and have been doing exercise pretty much every day. I already know what deep breathing is all about, right?
The opera singer and I didn’t really suit each other so I fairly quickly stopped working with her feeling that I hadn’t really advanced in any way. But she’d hooked me – I am a chest breather and I don’t use the full capacity of my lungs. Though before she told me I hadn’t the faintest notion that this was the case, I absolutely felt it after she brought it to my attention. Everything felt restricted. I took to the internet and found a breathing coach whom I contacted.
The coach taught me what it feels like to take a full breath. Imagine being in your mid forties when you first learn how to breath.
What a revelation! At the same time as I was working with the breathing coach I began my yoga teaching training. I’d previously been doing yoga for years but I wanted to better understand it in a fuller sense; the history, its influences, the philosophy, the postures. And the first thing we focused on in my training was (have you guessed?): breathing.
Through the yogic pranayama, we learned how to control our breath using different breathing techniques, how to balance our energy through breathing in order to calm us down when we are hyperactive or energise us when suffering from a lack of energy. All that I’d learned from Jeremy helped me greatly and I developed a morning breathing ritual which I have maintained to this day.
The more I tuned into my ritual, the stronger the connection I had with my breathing and the stronger the connection I had, in turn, with myself.
I discovered a very simple formula: Calm breath equals a calm mind, unsteady breath equals a wandering mind.
I discovered something else too; namely that my breath united my body to my thoughts. Calm mind equals a relaxed body, unsteady mind equals a tense body.
For me it was nothing short of a magical experience that my body could relax into my breathing exercise whilst all the while my mind calmed itself. Previously I hadn’t ever made the connection that my ruminating, anxious mind was the root cause to the extreme tensions in my body, and that up to that point my remedy had been the endurance sports that tired my body and vented my mind at the same time. I still love both, the running and my breathing ritual. The big difference between the two, however, is that after running I am relaxed and very happy, whilst after my breathing exercises I am relaxed, very happy AND present and focused.
A couple of years ago I then stumbled over the “emotions work” of Karla McLaren which fascinated me to such an extent that I took part in what she calls a ‘Self-Care Track’. Emotions had always been a difficult topic for me, I loved to wipe them under the carpet. At the beginning I had real difficulties even naming what I was feeling. There I was, sitting and (once again!) breathing, trying to tune into the emotions I felt and where in my body I felt them. I realised that fear tightens my chest, it feels as if my ribcage is a bodily prison cell, it takes my breath away. Sadness strangles my throat and I cannot breath anymore, I am gasping for air. Anger totally rushes into my head and accelerates my breath. Shame again sits in my chest and makes me hold my breath. Happiness, on the other hand, opens my chest and gives me a calm feeling that allows me to breath deeply. Joy causes an energy flush throughout my whole body and frees my breath. You might already see the point of my telling you all this.
I realised not only the connection between body, mind and emotion in their influencing each other, but that the link between it all is breathing. For me this insight was “breath-taking”.
I found too that wiping my emotions under the carpet was no longer an option as it only fed into the tensions and rumination of the mind I already felt.
Today my breathing is one of my greatest allies. I listen to my breath.
My breath tells me everything about my emotional and mental state as well as my physical condition, and I can knowingly use my breath to calm my mind, relax my body and listen into my emotions.
Well, it works better on some days than on others, but I remain tuned in and am growing more and more conscious of it all.
So indeed it took me a while to really ‘breathe’ the essence of the first lesson in monk school: when you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace and you will navigate any situation in life.