Daily Courage #2 The Time When I Tried Breathwork
Daily Courage is all about sharing the wonderful and (sometimes) weird search to maximise energy and minimise stress in our daily lives. In this series, I dive head-first into new experiences, embrace the unknown, push outside my comfort zone and share the best tools, tips and highlights with you amazing people. So what are you waiting for? Take the leap :)
Daily Courage #2 The Time When I… Tried Breathwork
It’s an overcast grey Wednesday afternoon in London. I’m finishing up work at the Camden Collective co-working space, where the lack of natural light and excess of laptop screen time plus start-up business stress has made my head stuffy and fuzzy to say the least. I’d booked on to a free breathwork taster session that started in an hour. But I really didn’t want to go. I wanted to slink home and eat food and lie on the floor or play guitar. But it was my idea, and I’d told my start-up crew Harry and Ross to come along, so I couldn’t let them down. I took a deep breath and told myself to “just do it, it will be a new experience, I’ll learn something”. In the back of my mind I’d been meaning to try out a breath workshop for ages but either hadn’t had the chance or kept avoiding it. Now was as good a chance as any.
I rounded up Harry and we jumped on the tube and headed to the venue in central London. We were a bit early so wandered around the block chatting and wondering what a breath workshop is really all about. It’s just breathing right? How hard can it be…
Welcomed by the friendly receptionist downstairs, we headed up in the lift not sure exactly what to expect. “You’re here for the breath workshop too?” I asked our fellow lift passenger to break the silence. “Yeah” she smiled. That was about all the conversation any of us could muster. The doors open. Here goes nothing.
We enter into a beautiful lofty studio space, all wooden floors and big windows with sweeping views of the city lights below. There’s gentle music playing, and friendly people saying hello, taking our details, and giving us free water with cucumber in it. There are fairy light. So far so good.
Chairs are carefully arranged in rows to one side. We sit down and are welcomed by an enthusiastic breath assistant, who then introduces the main woman of the hour - Nevsah Karamehmet - founder and president of the International Breath Coaching Federation. It feels like some sort of religious sales pitch as she tells us how breathing has changed her life. I’m sceptical. She goes on to explain some of the science behind functional versus dysfunctional breathing patterns and I start to get intrigued. Is my breathing dysfunctional? Am I doing it all wrong? Only one way to find out.
The talk ends and we lie down on rows of yoga mats arranged on the floor. They turn up the relaxing meditation music and we’re ready for take off. The instructions are simple enough - lie on your back so that you are comfortable with your feet on the floor and knees slightly bent to take pressure off your lower back, and place your arms and hands by your side with palms facing up, eyes closed mouth open. On instruction from the coaches walking around the room, we take long, deep full breaths, mouth open, in and out with as much power and volume as we can. For 20 minutes!
Here’s what I experienced. For the first few minutes I’m totally stuck in my head. I’m breathing but wondering if this is a good idea and what might happen to my body. I’m resisting the experience. My chest and upper back and shoulders feel quite tight. The coaches walk around saying some words for self-encouragement, “I’m safe in my body, I’m meant to be here”. As I play the words in my head and listen to the people either side of me breathing deeply, I start to relax into it a bit more. The heat I’d had stuck in my head and face area is able to flow through my body a bit more.
The coach comes round and places a hand on my belly (they’d asked permission before if everyone was comfortable) and gently presses down as I breathe to help my belly and diaphragm relax as I breathe. This helps and I get into a better rhythm and relax more into the experience. For the next 10 minutes my mind clears and I enjoy the feeling of filling my body with oxygen, thoughts from the day are swept out and my head becomes clearer and clearer, then pretty buzzing and euphoric. At some point towards the end, my hands and body start to tighten and cramp up with the oxygen, which we’re told is normal so I don’t stress it too much in the moment. Twenty minutes in and I feel like I’m flying through the sky, my body is the aeroplane, and there is nothing but white fluffy clouds.
Couldn’t be further from the stuffy fuzzy head I had when I arrived! The coaches walk around and begin to wind down the session. They encourage us to slow the breathing, then lie there resting for a while, and open our eyes when we’re ready. A smooth landing back on earth. I lie there for a while, my head is still in the clouds but feels good. I sit up and look around. All the oxygen has flooded my senses so colours seem very HD and I’m extra sensitive to the sounds going on around. I take a look around and everyone seems to be re-adjusting and settling back into their surroundings. We gather in small groups with our coaches to share the experience and the sound of my own voice feels weird after all the breathing. Some people loved the experience, while others felt uncomfortable and stressed. The coaches gave some useful feedback on how breath can potentially be used to improve your daily experience, and then they offered to sell us more coaching sessions. Fair enough, it was a free taster after all!
Harry, Ross and I gather up our things and head out for a quick catch up and food. We look at each other with knowing smiles. So that was a breath workshop. Quite the ride.
There you have it! I found the breath workshop an intense and interesting experience. It was certainly a natural breath-induced high and heightened my senses after the session for an hour or so. But it left me wondering what other breath techniques and practices I could learn about for everyday life, and what I needed to do to have less dysfunction and more functional breathing patterns. Google and YouTube, here I come. Note: if you are going to experiment with breathwork and your physiology in this way then do so at your own risk! Experimenting with trained instructors and controlled safe environments is highly recommended, and never in the bath in case you pass out! Since that breath workshop I’ve found some useful TedX talks on breathing techniques to help reduce stress and relax, I’ll link below. Enjoy! :) Josh
TedX Talks on Breathing Technique
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The Courage Adventure - 13-19 October 2019