21 Jul Conscious Breathing – a Tool for the “Modern Warrior”
What would you say about the basics of conscious breathing to a person who doesn‘t know anything about it?
There are fundamentals that anyone can learn, no matter which method they practice. First of all, breathing makes us more aware, more conscious of our reactions and it gives us a better connection to the energy in the body. I would encourage people to practice conscious breathing to become more conscious of everything. And conscious breathing allows us to be more relaxed. Everyone can relax, but how quickly, how deeply, how totally, and in the middle of what situations? It’s easy to relax when everything is wonderful. But can we relax under stress? And so, we learn to use breathing for relaxation in those moments when it’s very difficult and even impossible to do that. Everybody needs creative, healing energy or just energy to get through the day. So we can breathe in certain ways to give us more energy
One of my favorite breathing exercises for activating energy is what we call “sniff and pooh.” Give yourself two, three, or four short sharp active shooting breaths in thru the nose, and then exhale and release the breath thru the mouth making a “pooh” sound.
How do you coach a person who comes to you for the first time?
I have three questions I intuitively answer or I ask that person. First, what is your level of health? Are you a healthy athlete in peak condition? Or are you very weak and frail? This tells me where to begin and what direction to take the practice. If a person has high blood pressure, we can play with breath to lower the blood pressure. If a person has chronic fatigue, then we can use breath to give him energy. One may be basically healthy and might want to become super healthy, or to recover from some illness. The second question is – what is your degree of skill? Do you meditate? Practice yoga or martial arts? Have you learned, or do you practice any breathing exercises or techniques? And the third question is – what is your purpose in training? Do you want to get rid of headaches, or deal with the asthma? That’s easy. Or do you want to see God, or advance spiritually? We can definitely go there. These three questions help me to identify where we start and where we want to go.
Tell us more about breathing.
Well, it is no accident that breathing is completely automatic and also completely under our control. It is the only such system in the human body. That’s not an accident of nature, that’s not a coincidence. That is an invitation, an opportunity to take part in our nature, in our own evolution. Breathing is a behaviour. And like any behavior, we pick it up unconsciously or we learn it from others who model it. Some behaviors can make us rich, and some behaviors get us into trouble. And breathing is no different. Every emotional or psychological shock, every physical trauma disturbs the breathing. Maybe we recover from a shock, but not completely. There’s a left-over, some residue. For example, if a child has never seen a dog before, he is curious and goes to the animal. If a dog attacks him, it’s a shock for child’s system. When the child sees another dog, he doesn’t see the real animal, instead he projects his first experience onto the new dog. So, we can use breathing to clear away all old left over energy from early shocks and traumas.
Every physical, emotional or psychological state has a specific breathing pattern or quality. We breathe one way when we are relaxed and calm, and we breathe another way when we are upset or angry. Every time my state changes, my breathing pattern changes. And it works in the other way too. By changing my breathing, I can change my state.
Breathing is a way for us to control so called involuntary processes like blood pressure, heart rate, skin temperature, and other physiological processes, as well as our emotional and psychological states. Also, carbon dioxide is a volatile acid, and so when we regulate our breathing we affect the pH (acid-base balance) in our body. Breathing is a force, a tool, a skill set. And up till now, only the great warriors, yogis, masters, saints, and mystics practiced breathing in certain ways.
Think of a breath as a tool, a force we can to use to do many things. Breathing is the Swiss army knife of life! It’s a tool we can use in many different ways. And what we’ve learned is that the same high states and extraordinary abilities we once thought were reserved only for the great warriors, saints, masters, and yogis—those same high states and abilities can be awakened in the average person just through breathing!
I understand. Is that a tool for which we need a teacher?
Yes, having a good teacher can speed things up. We can learn by ourselves, but with a good coach we can learn much faster and go much further. We can practice on our own, but other people can see little things about us that we don’t notice. Especially in breathwork, a good coach or trainer can help us go further, faster than we can on our own.
Let’s imagine a person with high anxiety or someone in a very stressful situation: he’s all day at work, after that he has to pick up his children and get back home, where he wants to relax and have a nice evening with his family. How to do that?
There are so many different breathing exercises, techniques and meditations. But one of them would be very useful for such a person. It’s called “coherent breathing”. That’s a simple breathing pattern: a 5 second inhale and a 5 seconds exhale. For example, this person is driving home from work. Before getting out of the car he would sit for 5 minutes and breathe in this way: inhaling to the count of five and exhaling to a count of five. Very simple but very powerful. This exercise slows our heart rate and it lowers our cortisol, which is a stress hormone.
There are a lot of exercises and techniques which are useful in many situations. For example, when we finish one activity, it’s good to take a deep breath and a sigh of relief. Now we are ready for the next activity. We can give ourselves a big breath when we complete something, or we can take a few breaths to prepare for something.
There is a very powerful practise called “box breathing” or “square breathing.” Inhale, pause, exhale, pause.
Inhale, pause, exhale, pause. For example: inhale for 4 seconds, pause for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, pause for 4 seconds. That makes 16 seconds, which is a little over 3 breaths per minute. This is quite slow, and so it de-stresses us and reduces anxiety. When we equalize the inhale and exhale, we balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the nervous system. Box breathing is used by military people before engaging in an important or dangerous situation. Corporate executives use it to prepare for important presentation. Even mothers can use it before talking to their teenagers or when preparing for a visit to the dentist.
That’s very interesting. How can we be more conscious and mindful of our breathing?
Make it a daily practice, a ritual. When you get up in the morning, sit on the edge of your bed, before moving around or doing anything, and bring your attention to the breathing. Don’t breathe in any special way, just watch and feel the breath coming and going by itself. This simple helps us to develop to meditative awareness. We are meditating as soon as we pay attention to our breathing and follow our sensations. Notice the feelings and movements that occur when you inhale and exhale. Meditate on them and become more conscious. The more conscious I am of my breath, the more conscious I am in general. The more aware I am of each breath, the more aware I am of my thoughts and feelings, habits and reactions, emotions, posture, etc.
How would you describe methodology of breathing you use?
A healthy person should be able to breathe quickly or slowly, high in the chest or low in the belly. We want to check to see where our limitations are. Everyone is different. Someone’s chest may be frozen, and it never moves when they breathe. Or the opposite can be seen: the chest moves very fast, while nothing happens in the belly. In this case, we would teach them diaphragmatic breathing.
When we breathe, we get out of our head and into our body. Breathing awakens powerful feelings and sensations. When we breathe we awaken body intelligence and heart intelligence. Most people try to go through life using only mind intelligence. When we breathe, we literally breathe into our heart and we open it. We awaken the qualities of the heart. And when we breathe into the heart we make a deeper connection to everyone and everything.
When we breathe into the belly, we become more grounded in the body, more grounded to the earth, and the body relaxes more. We learn to breathe into the lower, middle, and upper space. This is called the full yogic breath. It is like filling a glass with water: it fills from the bottom up. This helps us open to the breath fully and freely, and it keeps us healthy and strong. If the breathing is blocked and restricted, lots of other things can get stuck and out of balance. If the breathing is full and free, we are healthier and more resilient.
It’s so natural for us to breathe that we don’t even think about it. But you say we can help ourselves by regulating our breathing?
Definitely. We can learn to breathe into different organs, and send healing energy to different parts of our body. We can relax, strengthen, charge ourselves with the breath. In the past, we were not taught this in school. We had to go to such places like India or Tibet or China to learn the secrets of breathing. Now in the West, it’s beginning to happen everywhere. And it is now being taught to school children. More and more people are learning it, including learn sportsman, creative artists, and business people.
What about your own life? Have you had any stressful situations where you needed to use your breathing?
Yes, when we’re under stress, we often either hold our breath—we don’t breathe enough, or we tend to over-breathe, or breathe too fast. Our breathing gets out of balance. If we pay attention to our breathing and regulate or control it, we can stay ahead of certain problems. When we are in pain, we can use our breath to release it. I had lots of situations in the military, when I didn’t think I could go any further. I was focused on the pain and how tired I was. But when we pay attention to our breathing, we are surprised at how much further we can go. Or if we have a shock or a trauma, we can use the breath to release it.
I travel all the time. I have been to over 65 countries. I might do a seminar from nine until six, and then do another one from 7 to 10pm. For me, 15-20 hours days are normal. If I weren‘t breathing, I would be burnt out, exhausted. And so I‘m constantly using my breath to make sure that never happens.
Also, breathing awakens my intuition. And people who breathe together, create a powerful bond, a deep energetic connection. So we can use our breath to get closer to people, to connect more deeply. Instead of talking we match or synchronize our breathing and we connect in some very beautiful ways. There are ways of breathing that gives us so much pleasure, even ecstasy! We can use breath to unlock our divine potential.
Because it awakens intuition, we find ourselves naturally avoiding problems and preventing illnesses and injuries. If we begin to feel nervous, the first thing we need to do is control our breathing. That’s how we bring ourselves back into a resourceful state.
Tell us more about spiritual breathing.
Breathing patterns are like fingerprints, they are unique. When we focus on breathing, we get information. If we focus on our own breathing, we get information about our own body, and our own emotional state. If we focus on other’s people breathing, we can feel and sense and understand more about them.
Spiritual breathing awakens us to our higher self, to our essence. Breathing awakens spiritual qualities like love, peace, joy, and compassion. If I want to be peaceful, I breathe a peaceful breath. What is a peaceful breath? Nobody needs to teach us that. We know what a peaceful breath is. How would a peaceful person breathe? You know. There‘s a certain quality to the breath.
If I want to experience freedom, I breathe in a way that feels free. If I want to create balance, then I can breathe in a way that is balanced. If I want to strengthen or soothe myself, I put those qualities into the breathing. I focus on my heart, with the intention to open my heart. I focus on gratitude, on love. While I‘m breathing, I‘m generating those energies.
So we can put ourselves in a beautiful spiritual state with the breath. And the breath is like a thread. If we follow it, it takes us to our source. Breathing is the movement of our spirit of our consciousness of life itself. When we relax and focus on it, we notice details about it. And when we play with it, we unlock our spiritual potential and we have lots of spiritual experiences.
It‘s not easy to do deep breathing and to understand our own emotions.
Right, it‘s work! But it is so liberating, and so it is worth the effort to learn and practice. Actually, going into our feelings is very difficult without the breath. Let‘s say I feel pain in my knee. I deliberately breathe into that feeling. I imagine and visualise breathing into that place. And sure enough, something starts to change there. People are surprise at what they can do with their breath once they begin to practise.
Is it difficult to breathe into some parts of your body?
It‘s like any skill. It takes practice. Some people learn very quickly, for some it takes longer. But for everyone, the more we practise, the better we get at it. In the back of my book JUST BREATHE, I have a 21 day challenge. Each day there‘s a different lesson, a different way of breathing or playing with the breath, a different approach to breathing. If someone practises those 21 lessons, that‘s three weeks, that’s a lot of practise, and you are guaranteed to get some benefits. Everyone finds two or three exercises that become their favourites, because they feel what a difference they make. And then it becomes a regular practise. They get better and better. Their skills improve. We can even replace sleep or food with breathing. People develop skills they didn‘t realise they have.
How would you describe your journey to breathwork?
I have always been fascinated with breathing. I don‘t know why. All those breath-holding contests in the school yard: I was the organiser of them. And all the work I did in the medical field was connected to breathing. Everything I have ever done, was somehow connected to breathing. I couldn‘t avoid or escape it. In the military I was a deep-sea diver. I held the breath holding record. I had a couple of near drowning experiences that made me very passionate about breathing.
When I was a small child in catholic school, I was told how God breathed into the nostrils of man, and man became a living soul. That was the most exciting thing I had ever heard. And I couldn’t understand why everyone wasn’t excited. God was breathing into me? Wow! amazing!
So I don‘t know, something turned me on to the breath when I was young. And everything I ever did just took me further. And when I wanted to deepen my study of breathing, I went to India, to China, I studied yoga and chi kung. There were no western styles of breathing. So that‘s been my job – to create them and to Westernise the Eastern practises. I learned to adjust them to fit the modern world and the Western mind. And I learned that we don’t need to shave our heads and live in ashrams. Whatever our job is, whatever we do, we canm learn to bring the practise of breathwork into our everyday lives.
It‘s true! Not so easy to do all these Eastern practices.
It‘s actually very simple stuff. When we walk to school or work, we can breathe to the rhythm of our footsteps. We can practise breath awareness and conscious breathing anywhere, anytime, with anything. If we are stuck in traffic or feel tense, we can use the sigh of relief and release the tension. When someone is insulting us, we can let it in (with the inhale) and we can let it go (with the exhale). Then we are not bothered so much.
We can use the breath to keep ourselves from losing control, from getting exhausted. Each person, when he plays with his breath, finds his own way, for example, how to fall asleep easily. It just takes a bit of practise. And it really works! And what else is possible? What else can we do? My job is to get people to practise. Because nothing happens until you practise. It’s like riding bicycle or learning to swim. We just have to get on the bike or jump in the water. When learning to breathe, we have to go into the practise. And when we do, we begin to develop amazing skills.
What would be your three tips for people who want to start practising breathwork?
The first thing is to pay attention to our breath. We are breathing all the time, but 99 percent of the time our attention is somewhere else. So just bringing our attention to the breath is magical in and of itself. It has all the benefits of meditation: mindfulness and relaxation. So practise paying attention to your breath. Do it as a ritual in the morning and at night. You don‘t have to breathe in any special way. Just observe your breathing, become intimate with the breath. Notice the breath, feel it, listen to it. Become more conscious of your breath.
And take that practise into your everyday life. Notice how you are breathing when trying to solve a math problem, or when you begin to get upset, or when you have been sitting in one position for a long time. Just start to become aware of your breath in different situations and at different moments. Practise breath awareness. When other people are thinking or talking to themselves, you will be doing something else, something with you awareness, something with your breath.
The second thing is to practice using the sigh of relief. Everybody already knows how to do it. But we do it on purpose. We take an inhale that is twice as big as normal, and we exaggerate the pleasure of the exhale. A sigh of relief is magical when we do it consciously. If you are about to say something that you will regret, take a big breath and let the exhale go with a sigh of relief. That sends a very powerful signal to nervous system, to the brain and the psyche. It calms everything down and energises us at the same time. An inhale which is twice as big as the normal—that’s what triggers the sigh of relief. Everybody already knows how to do it, but they rarely do it consciously. And so the practice is to do it deliberately throughout the day. From time to time, just give yourself a couple of big sighs of relief. And notice how your energy, your mood, and everything changes.
The third thing is practise different breathing rhythms. Put your favourite music on and find a rhythm. Breathe in rhythm to the music. Play with rhythmic breathing. Rhythm is a universal principle. The universe is full of rhythms – the seasons, day and night, the tides, and so on. Start with an easy rhythm, whichever you like. And then get comfortable with more and different rhythms – faster or slower, more powerful, or more subtle. Apply the principle of rhythm to the breath. When we apply a universal principle to the breath, we always get benefits.
Written by Dan Brule.