What comes to mind when you hear the words yoga, mindfulness, meditation, breathing? Did you think of calm, ease, grace? Are these soft practices for women or men? Are they the practices of heros? And leaders?
Often as our Prasada team works in the corporate environment we bump into the “fear of woo-woo” as one of the obstacles to participation in the yoga classes, mindfulness training and breathwork we offer. It is a fear of being associated with something that may appear to be soft, new age, feel good, something with no scientific evidence. Woo-woo is code for calling something fluffy and non-essential.
I understand where this comes from. Alongside the “fear of woo-woo” something much larger is brewing. You know by now I am a focus-on-the-solution kind of person but the facts are that the number of people affected by anxiety and depression for adults and children is on the rise. I could spend a lot of words here giving statistics about the problem or I want to spend time our time here together sharing about what we can do.
Let me introduce you to Mark Divine. I discovered him as I was exploring some videos on breathing. Mark Divine was a top Navy SEAL and on active duty for nine years and then a Reserve SEAL who retired as a commander in 2011. From there he went on to create a mentoring program for SEAL trainees and SEALFIT. This guy is the real deal. He experienced life in one of the most stressful jobs there is and has broken down the elements that are necessary to manage anxiety and perform at a top level, especially when the stakes are high.
Mark Divine’s programs include a form of yoga he developed that captures the heart way of a warrior, (yes, heart!) journaling, visualization, mindfulness, meditation and breathwork. One of the comments in one of his videos about the breathing practice and techniques is “Navy SEALS don’t use things that don’t work.” I would have to agree, their use of these techniques as the best preparation for clear thinking and handling stressful situations speaks volumes.
So what is breathwork? Most people are unfamiliar with this term. My definition is using the breath, and breathing techniques, for healing. My definition of healing means caring for the dis-ease of the mind and body. Some of the research I have been exploring and the reason Mark Divine uses breathwork is that it can immediately reduce anxiety.
The breath is directly connected to the state of mind. Erratic breathing, holding the breath and shallow chest breathing are associated with higher than normal levels of anxiety. Slow, deep breaths calm anxiety by calming the body and mind.
How does this work? The science of breathing is being revealed bit by bit through a growing body of research. The simplest explanation that I am able to get my brain around is that slow calm breathing activates the vagus nerve, a winding cranial nerve that exits the brain and interfaces with the heart, lungs and digestive tract linking all of these involuntary functions. The activation of the vagus is like pulling the emergency brake on your body’s systems so those systems, and in turn you, can chill out.
With practiced breathwork you can tone the vagus nerve to be better prepared to handle stressful situations, similar to the breath training of the Navy SEALS. In addition, vagus nerve stimulation is also being connected with reduced inflammation in the body and as a treatment for Arthritis. Inflammation in the body is the beginning of almost every disease.
If we can use breathwork to treat the root cause of disease and reduce stress…this is a big deal. It is a solution that has been in plain sight and is easily accessible for everyone.
While the research continues, the list of breathwork benefits include not only calming the mind, but also regulating blood pressure, emotions, memory and awareness. There are even clear signs and more research exploring how breathwork enhances the immune system and improves energy metabolism. As a trained breathworker, I have seen how breathing techniques, like Conscious Connected Breathing, can also heal emotional traumas and physical pain.
One of the most basic benefits for people who practice breathwork is the increased energy and vitality. Breath is the body’s most basic resource. When you get enough oxygen, all of the body’s systems work better. When you are not breathing fully, the body suffers. In turn when you are suffering, whether physical or emotional pain, your breath shifts and reflects this. Max Strom has a wonderful TED Talk, Breathe to Heal, that elaborates further about how breathwork can help with grief.
Sounds good? Are you ready to breathe like a seal? I want to make it easy, like watching the waves or walking the water’s edge at your favorite beach.