Hi there! Christina here. I’m a guest writer this week that’s been charged with the task of introducing you to breath-work. I’ve been a loyal follower of the Farm to Kitchen Collective since its early inception and am proud to share some of my background and breath-work techniques with this growing community.
If you’ve been following the self-care series this month you have surely been inspired by Brandi’s candidness and vulnerability. Maybe, if you’re like me, you’ve thought “well damn, she’s got her shit together. I need to start eating some beets or reading a book or something!”
Heart rate gets going. Thoughts start swirling. You pick up your phone and mindlessly open Instagram to numb that feeling of inadequacy out. In two minutes you’ve forgotten about that life force beating within you and you’re back to your status quo. Just me? Please say it’s not just me…
“Breath-work” is a tricky term for me because it literally has WORK built into it. As a Type-A person with some dominate masculine energy, work sounds like exactly what I should be doing. Striving, achieving, being the best wife, mother, friend, daughter I can be each and every day. Do you have a Pinterest board specifically dedicated to Living with Intention? Because I do. It’s kind of an ironic concept – electronically pinning up a bunch of inspiring quotes about how to slow down.
Instead of just being, late at night I am up doing: pinning, thinking, worrying, charting, planning.
One of the most challenging elements of living in a modern world is just being. Having been raised in the late 20th century meant that for most of us, we were not too far from immigrant ancestors or working class parents, grandparents, and great grandparents who helped set the foundation and infrastructure for the comforts we enjoy today. We were not taught to slow down, to fall behind, to take rest, or to look inward. Indeed, this was a luxury in previous eras. There were wars to be fought, factories to be built, warehouses to work in.
As the daughter of an immigrant, money, power, prestige, and living out the American dream was drilled into me, too. Not until I slowed down and hit my own inner ceiling did I realize that those dreams were not working for me any longer.
I became familiar with using my breath as a guide at about 8. Our neighbor (my mom’s best friend) noticed I was very anxious – missing school, biting my nails to the quick, unable to sleep. She offered to teach me yoga. I don’t remember much about the poses but I do remember sitting in her warm living room. As the oldest child of 3 in a bustling household, the silence and stillness of her home was not physically familiar but somewhere inside the stillness resonated. During the final relaxation pose, or Savasana, she instructed me to follow my breath.
In, out. Feel my toes. Then my calves, now my knees. Follow the breath. Feel my chest rise as the breath enters the body.
I never made it to the neck.
I fell sound asleep.
Fast forward years later and I was a 28 year old mother of 2 in therapy. My therapist asked if I would like to close down my eyes and begin to focus on my breath. I shut down my vision and begin to go inward. As I breathe calmly, she asks if I can connect with the 8 year old me, and if I’d like to ask how I can mother her now.
What does she need? What didn’t she get? How can I help her?
A river of tears flooded from my eyes. I opened them immediately, my breath totally gone. I began breathing very heavily, my heart racing, my mind swirling.
“What does she need?” she asked.
“I…I don’t know,” I replied.
“Take a deep breath. It’s okay.” she replied. And our 50 minutes were up.
Breath-work is not as simple as following your inhale and exhale until you reach a state of unified bliss with the universe. It can be that for some people, but not most. Especially in the beginning. One of my favorite quotes is by Jack Kornfield, a Buddhist monk and teacher, who says, “Part of the art of quieting yourself is also to honor the tears that you carry.”
It is very, very important for modern women and men seeking stability and stillness in a chaotic inner/outer world to understand that breath work will eventually bring you back to yourself. How far away you have gotten from who that is can bring up all kinds of delicious emotions when you sit or lay down to breathe: joy, grief, sadness, pain, tension in the body, drifting, avoidance…whatever you have been running from will surely catch up to you on your mat.
This may sound discouraging. You may wonder, why would I want to begin a practice of listening to my own thoughts, responding to my emotions in real time, or even taking the time to listen to the sound of air entering my nostrils?
My friend, you want to engage in this discipline because it is built into your body. It is running in the background. It has been written into your code and keeps this complicated human machine running. And it has been with you this entire time.
It has been rising and falling while you read this, on the first day of your new job, the first time you locked eyes with a lover, even in the moment you were born it has been with you. It is a cycle and a dance that lives within you at all times, and paying attention to it is one of the greatest privileges of this life! YOUR life- a series of sagas, dramas, joys, tears, heart ache and break, will culminate with the ending of your breath. That final exhale, some believe, is tied to that first inhale you took as you exited your mother’s body. A cycle that started long ago, inviting you at every moment to take in and release.
Receiving and giving.
Allowing and letting go.
But all that may be too trippy to examine for one day. I don’t want to lose you just yet. For now, let’s zoom in and look at ways to get started in participating in this divine dance.
THE FOURTH STEPS TO DEVELOPING A SELF-CARE PRACTICE:
1. MEET YOURSELF WHERE YOU ARE.
You do not need a yoga mat, a quiet room, peaceful music or even headphones. Shut your eyes down now and do not worry about reading steps 2-4. Simply listen to your breath in this moment. Are you breathing? Good. Now just listen.
2. START GETTING CURIOUS ABOUT THE BREATH.
Start getting curious about the breath. Your breath. Is it fast? Is it slow? Is it loud? Soft? What rises most when you breathe? Is it your belly? Or maybe it’s your chest. How does the air feel as it enters through your nose? Is it getting caught by a booger and making a rattling noise that reminds you of the dryer you still need to get fixed? What was that guy’s number your neighbor gave you? Why does your neighbor play her music so….
3. BACK TO THE BREATH.
You are going to get lost. You are new at this. That’s why step 2 is about getting curious. This is a lifelong practice that is deepened, not perfected. You can start back at noticing if it is fast or slow. Or you can play around with it and start taking long, deep, intentional breaths.
Inhale for 4 seconds.
Hold it for 4 seconds.
Exhale for 4 seconds.
Repeat this cycle and watch your thoughts. Allow them to pass by like clouds. Each as valid and also insignificant as the one before and after. Your thoughts will always be there to ride. Step off the merry go round for a few minutes and just get back to the breath.
4) PRACTICE BEING MINDFUL OF THE BREATH ONCE EACH DAY.
You can tie it to a routine such as when you are stopped at a red light (don’t close your eyes!), or while you are washing your hair in the shower. Be easy about this. There is no wrong or right, after all it’s your breath! Learn her, be mindful of her, listen to what she is here to teach you.
I will leave you with a loving kindness, or what is known as metta, prayer that I recite while coming back to the breath:
May all beings be peaceful.
May all beings be safe.
May all beings awaken to the light of their true nature.
May all beings be free.
Or, as one of my kids would say, That’s the way!
Podcasts, books, and more to explore:
Heart Wisdom podcast by Jack Kornfield
Metta Hour podcast by Sharon Salzberg
Warrior Goddess Training by Heather Ash Amara
The 4-4-4 Breath Meditation – try YouTube videos or blogs related to this practice!
If you are following along with our Self-Care series and would be interested in more mindful discussions on health and healing, drop me a line with what topics you with to explore a little deeper.
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