Updated: Apr 16, 2019
I remember the first time I took a yoga class. All of the directive suggestions to breathe in and out actually annoyed me. For the longest time, I would take the yoga class and ignore the breathing parts. It wasn't until I really dove into mindfulness and meditation where I realized how much power the breath has in the body. Before I knew it, I was incorporating mindful breathing into many parts of my daily life.
When I hooked up with a soul sister of mine, breathwork facilitator Tiffany Curren, we felt aligned to do a women's empowerment workshop together. The first half of the session I guided women through their highs and lows to help them navigate through the mixed messages our minds can relay to us. Next, came the breathwork circle.
Although I did a Q&A on my podcast about breathwork with Tiffany, I still didn't truly dive into details of it on my own. I practiced meditation, I experienced acupuncture, I practiced breathing techniques and conscious mindfulness. So, naturally, I thought the breathwork experience would be similar to all of that. Well, I was wrong!
What Is Breathwork?
Pranayama (the formal practice of controlling the breath) is a healing modality. From the Sanskrit; prana or breath is the life-force; yama, means to suspend or restrain.
Breathwork Healer David Elliot explains breathwork, “It’s a tool to help people to get out of their heads… to help people to open up. Open their heart up and stop thinking or being focused outside themselves. So with the breathing meditation we’re teaching people to focus inside. To still themselves and ultimately to open up and let the universe come through as love…as self-love”.
The basis of breathwork is to bring you to a place of stillness where you can immerse yourself in the moment. Elliot further explains, "Ultimately I’m creating an experience for people to feel their spirit. To feel their spirit coming into their body as a vibration. When people feel that they heal. They unblock. They let go of the past…of the stuff that they’re holding onto to that’s keeping them stuck and out of the moment."
The Power of the Breath
We all laid down on our yoga mats with our heads facing each other. We pulled blankets over us. Our eyes closed. Inhale, belly. Inhale, heart. Exhale, breath. It seemed simple enough. No big deal. We quickly seemed to pick up the pace of our breathing and I immediately felt that this was going to affect me. It was the type of breathing someone would do if they were under attack or under duress. I don't know if everyone was breathing this fast or if it was just me, because the rest of the room was immediately out of range for me. Imagine running from a predator or having to fight for your life. Quick, quick, quick. Inhale, inhale, exhale. Inhale, inhale, exhale. Inhale, inhale, exhale. I then started laughing, trying to break the red flags of my brain and trying to signal to myself that I was A-okay and I was doing this on purpose.
I transcended deeper into my breath and the visions and questions I have had my whole life began swirling around my brain. To my surprise, nothing I "thought" would come through came through during this session. This instilled a lot of joy in me actually, because I have devoted the last few years of my life figuring myself out, evolving, leaning into the discomfort and moving through my childhood trauma. The fact that specific traumatic memories with my mother's alcoholism weren't taking center stage gave me confidence in knowing that I truly was healing.
On the other hand, a very odd experience did make its way to the forefront of my mind. (Details will be available in my book) An experience that I always viewed as a little awkward, but mostly benign. My mind let me know that it wasn't benign at all. It was actually controlling my daily perception of myself. I was okay with these realizations, I leaned into them. Then the physical sensations began. My mouth began tingling. My legs began getting so heavy, like they were plopped into thick, concrete blocks. I tell no lies when I say that I seriously felt like Herman Munster. My legs were tingling and pulsing. My arms and hands began getting heavy and tingly. The only way I can explain these sensations is to relate them to being "gently" electrocuted. We are made up of energy, but how often are we able to actually FEEL that energy throughout us? HOLY SHIIIIVASANA, it was absolutely surreal.
Although everyone in the room temporarily disappeared, I still felt Tiffany’s presence. She was checking up on each one of us like the mother-force we fiercely needed in those confusing moments. She visited us intermittently. She gave us affirmations. She grounded us. She told us we were safe. She encouraged us to fight the discomfort and let the feelings release out of our body.
My hands were twisting and turning inward, feeling like the weight of 1,000 concrete blocks. I couldn't imagine how I looked in that moment, but I also didn't care either. I just hoped the session wouldn't end right then and there, because I wouldn't have been able to move. The energy was supportive and safe. The tears came, the visions came. I re-adjusted 4,000 times to try to get a grip on these physical sensations. The energy was not ready to release yet. I had to take the wheel. "It's OKAY. It's OKAY." I told myself. "It's OKAY to LET GO." The scents of lavender essential oils began swirling around me. There couldn’t have been a better scent to smell at that very moment. I connected deeply with lavender. It always brought me to amazing places.
The bundled up energy in my hands was the most symbolic experience I would ever receive to signify letting go. It was like the energy was dancing, swirling, swishing and circling, just waiting for my queue to slingshot out through my fingertips. I knew in that moment that I needed to give [myself] the energy the authorization to proceed outward. "It's OK to let go, it's OK to let go. Stop holding on to this." I kept telling myself aloud in a calm but authoritative voice. I heard other voices from the room swirl around me saying self-affirmations and messages of love. It was a positive environment and exactly where we all were supposed to be in that moment.
We began to collectively move to the next stage of this practice where we began to come out of the conscious breathing. It took several minutes for the sensations to dissipate and for the heaviness to lighten. We slowly came into our bodies and sat up to reflect and close out the session. Many hands still pulsating. Everyone's heads were down, not in shame, but just in collective reflection of what just transpired. Tiffany explained what certain sensations could have indicated, and we made sense of the feelings we went through.
I want to add in that this energy work does not coincide or contradict with any religious beliefs, nor does practicing breathwork have any ulterior motives. This work is not channeling anything but our own body and energy. Whatever you believe to be your Higher Power is still your Higher Power. If you believe in God (which I do), you still believe in God. This is just you, your body [energy] and your breath.
I never could have imagined that there would be such a strong physical element to this practice, but I never stopped feeling safe. After all, it was just me and my breath. There is no fear needed when thinking about trying breathwork. It’s just you and your breath. Your extremely powerful, amazing, incredible breath.
I speak about this experience in more detail, as well as other effective ways to clear emotional blocks from your past, in my upcoming book + workbook, “Feel It. Heal It. Let It Go.” coming this Spring. Get updates on its release by jumping on my email list by scrolling to the bottom of this page and putting in your email.
Tiffany Curren is a breathwork facilitator from New Jersey. If you are thinking about trying this powerful practice, I highly recommend attending one of her breathwork circles or booking a personal session with her online or in-person. She travels to studios and spaces all across the country, sharing the power of breathwork with as many people she can. Find out more about her on her Facebook.
Love + Light,