A 13 month-old toddler wobbles towards the side of the road, just as a car approaches. “Toby! Stop!” his mother screams as she runs towards him. In that moment before he breaks into tears, the child freezes, his breath trapped in his chest. It’s a moment his being will never forget.
Each trauma we experience makes us contract, the reaction becoming a habit until as adults we become used to denying our body a full and free breath. Even a small rise in tension is enough to make it short and incomplete. Yet our breath is our most important bodily function. Without it we are brain dead in just ten minutes. In fact our brain consumes as much as 20-25% of our oxygen intake, and over the last 200 years, since the industrial revolution, we have steadily diminished the supply due to pollution, lack of exercise, and living in closed, air-conditioned environments. Our air quality has become so bad that in hospitals, the very place where health should be protected and restored, we now contract mysterious illnesses we have never seen before due to the lack of plain old ‘fresh air’.
The truth is, Breath is the greatest gift we never received.
My life is a joy because I travel the world and teach The Alchemy of Breath. Day after day I witness what happens for those who are prepared to explore the simple practice of breathing consciously. I have seen lives change direction in a day, marriages revived, addictions abandoned and depression defeated. What is it about conscious breathing that makes life change so quickly?
I believe it to be information. When we breathe consciously, its not just the oxygen supply we increase, it’s also what comes with it. There are three ways that conscious breathing can make a difference to our health; physical, psychic, and spiritual.
Let us start with the physical body. The more we research oxygen, the more we become aware of its benefits. Many diseases cannot survive in an oxygenated environment. Recovery time from serious surgery has been cut enormously by using simple conscious breathing practices. Likewise, we are developing diagnostic techniques that use the breath as the information source. Cancer can be detected in the exhale, imminent heart attack can be revealed by breath analysis, and of course for those who drink and drive, they are well aware that alcohol levels have been easily determined by examination of the exhale for over 50 years! Diagnosis as a whole is set to change over the next 5 years as a result of the understanding the Breath. It will become instant and non-invasive, as the information required is already there, in our exhale.
Google ‘breath’ and ‘detox’ and see the myriad of information about how to use the Breath for cleansing the system!
If we consider our psyche, and the example I used at the top of this article, we have found that by using the Breath we can release trauma that has been embedded in the body for a life time. The ‘freeze, flight or fight’ reaction to traumatic impact embeds or archives the event in our body and our psyche. The loss of breath associated with trauma ensures that the memory is stuck deep inside our awareness, and thus we are easily ‘triggered’ or re-minded of the trauma in later life by outside circumstances. In order to make life more bearable, we develop coping systems that protect us from the fear of aggression or trauma, and these systems then become the shell or the shield we hide behind for safety. We lose our self-confidence and freedom of expression. Our relationship with the unknown becomes fearful, and we learn to accept a life with limited potential. We may idealise hero’s and celebrities on the outside, but inside we are dominated by limiting core beliefs that tell us we are not good enough, we don’t deserve love, or we do not belong.
The simple act of breathing consciously shows us a different story. Each free and full breath opens the veils of protection, strengthens our trust in the beauty of life, and restores our self-belief.
After one breathing session an elder woman came up to me with tears in her eyes: “My husband,” she said. “For the first time in twenty-five years he told me he loves me!”
Now if we consider the Breath in a spiritual context, let us look at the word ‘inspire’, the origins of which are to imbibe spirit (in-spirit). The dictionary of etymology (or word origins) tells us c. 1300, “immediate influence of God or a god.
For those who are greedy for spiritual uplift, Breathwork is an instant way to import information from the higher realms. As we learn to breath openly and fully, keeping each cycle of breath connected to the next, we breath into new levels of trust. Once the obstacles of trauma and the mind are out of the way, and with a regular breathing practice, this new spiritual access becomes embodied, providing us with a very clear understanding that we are spiritual beings above all, and even though our journey on this material planet may be challenging at times, by simply using the Breath we can reconnect and re-pair with our true purpose.
What seemed like problems in the past take an entirely new perspective. The trauma that has limited our lives is dissolved, and we are permitted unlimited spiritual alertness. Many times after a Breathwork session I am told “I finally understand what God is.” Or, “Now I know God is everywhere, as inside as outside.” Our connection to the divine is re-stored, and we are gifted with the knowing that duality is but an illusion after all. The inner peace that comes with this awareness is a salve to the soul.
I have identified here the three levels of the breath, how it reaches our deepest subconscious through our physical body, and connects us with the higher realms. When these three levels are connected and aligned, miracles are normal. Just as when our chakra are aligned, instant healing takes place, and permanent insights replace the impermanent concepts and notions we have clung to in the past – revealed as mere illusions that have limited our relationship with life itself.
In The Training, a one year journey with The Alchemy of Breath, we focus not just on the experiential value of a Breathwork Session, but also on what happens between the sessions. How can we best integrate this new awareness into our daily lives? We use inquiry, Alchemy Meditation, exercises, and group support to unravel the tight knots we have learned to carry inside, and dismantle the old and rusty architecture that has held us back in life. The Training is also designed to bring the student to Practitioner level, and can be supplemented to become a Trainer as well. But perhaps most important of all is the understanding that we cannot provide Healing for someone else. We can only work on ourselves, and by accepting this as our truth, then we can be alongside others in their healing journey, enabling and supporting them in their own empowerment, reassuring them that our presence cannot be shaken. Healing is not just a process but a state of being, each moment offering us the choice to renew and regenerate.
My own journey to breathwork was sequential, beginning as a young man. I remember as a ten year old, when a friend handed me a paper bag and said “Breathe into that for a minute, deep long breaths.” I did as I was told and in seconds I had collapsed and ‘saw stars’. I became a father at 18 years old, and learned and coached my wife in the LeBoyer technique over the pregnancy, which contributed to a painless natural birth of my son. Over the ensuing years I explored many breath practices, including Pranayama, Sufi Breathing, Holotropic Breathwork and Rebirthing.
But it was a near death experience that finally strung all these experiences together, when I lay in bed for three months in the paralysis of pain. Breathing was all that was left. My mind sought escape. What must I learn to end the hell? But it was the Breath that gave me the support I needed to let everything fall to pieces, all the ideas and constructs of who I thought I was. I saw the emptiness inside the success I had achieved, and I learned to turn around to look at what I feared most in my life. By finding the dark hole in the centre of my fear – not with steeliness or resolve, but with softness and surrender – I had found a portal. What seemed the end became a new beginning, and the richness of life that I had never yet seen was shown to me.
Then I knew what I had to do.
Each inhale is the embrace of life, and each exhale is the letting go. Each inhale is an opportunity to absorb the new, and each exhale the chance to let go of what no longer serves us. There was no way I could refuse the call, and even today as I facilitate groups of up to 200 people, it is easy to see those who are called to be facilitators. There is no greater gift than to bear witness to the transformation of the human soul. If you feel the call, then you are called.
We can be the change we want to see, one breath at a time.
For more information about international online and residential trainings and a free accompanied Alchemy of Breath session that you can use at home on your own, contact Anthony Abbagnano firstname.lastname@example.org
The Alchemy of Breath is a member of The Community of Healing.
© Lightening Magazine 2016