It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go we have come to our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.
By Wendell Berry
The Traveller’s Way
I love this poem and find it’s a good one for the baffling times we face right now. For me (and there are, no doubt, many like me) this time has created an internal shift and given me the courage and impetus I needed to step into a new life. Maybe not right away, but in the not-too-distant future. For the past eighteen years I’ve worked in the travel and experiences industry and of course, right now, that’s not a great place to be. Lack of demand aside, it’s also been a growing issue for me, supporting an industry that works to contribute so heavily to Climate Change, rather than make a positive impact and legacy to be proud of when I depart this world. Don’t get me wrong, I love a holiday as much as the next person and have talked and written about it as being a truly alchemical experience for years now. Travelling the world has changed me immeasurably for the better, introducing me to glorious human beings, to alternative ways of living and being and shown me beauty beyond words.
But we need to start changing the way we travel and drop all the multitude of trips and for my part, I’d like to at least try and communicate these changes so desperately required. We need to go back to the way we once travelled— planning and looking forward to perhaps one big trip a year where we spend more time away, rather than the plethora of shorter trips we’ve been accustomed to taking these past ten or so years. We need to behave more responsibly when we get to our location, too, spending our money and engaging with the local community, not just the global hotels whose profits go straight to shareholders. Or better still, begin to understand and know the land that takes care of you now. Get your map out, put your walking shoes on and go discover what’s right underneath your feet.
The Wonder of Breath
And from travel to breath. I’ve extolled the virtues of the breath for many years now. It began when I started practicing yoga daily at 6am about 20 years ago. ‘Training’, if you can call it that, on a regular basis has come and gone, but there’s always been a deep belief that learning how to breathe better is really good for me — really good for us all. And so, after several coincidences that led me down this path, I’ve taken the plunge and am now embarking on a six-month long teacher training course to be a Breathwork coach because I believe that most of us have become disconnected to our bodies and let our minds run the show. Breathwork helps us redress this balance and gets us back into a healthier relationship with our bodies.
I’ve seen how breath practices help people reconnect intimately to their bodies and in doing some research for an article I’ve been writing on the subject, I thought I’d share some of this with you in the hope it will inspire you to explore the depths of your breath, too. Here are just a few:
Yoga was not always the series of postures you see now, but actually a breath practice, holding one pose and breathing into areas of the body to open it up. It’s only in the last 100 years that modern yoga has begun incorporating postures into the practice.
There are literally hundreds of different types of breath practices. In yogic tradition alone, there are over 400. Most yogic breathing is about breath retention and control. You may have heard of Wim Hof’s method for example (if not, I urge you to check him out, he’s fantastic) is exactly that, a Pranayama ‘breath control’ method.
There are breath methods to enable your body to relax and others to heighten your state, or ‘stress’ your body — both are hugely beneficial for you. The idea that stressing your body is good for you may seem surprising, but it works in a similar way that ‘stressing’ your body does during sea swimming or a cold shower (often known as cold-water immersion). Positive stressors, or ‘eustress’, are actually good for your body. Eustress is a product of the nerves, and can emerge from experiencing exciting things, such as receiving a promotion at work, starting a new job, or taking a trip that you’re really excited about. It generates feelings of excitement, wellbeing, and satisfaction. When you challenge yourself, eustress makes you feel confident and motivated — one more reason to keep challenging yourself throughout life.
Breathwork and better breathing helps with so many different ailments and conditions — both mental and physical. It helps hugely with anxiety and depression and I experience this personally on a daily basis. Whilst I don’t suffer with depression as such, two weeks solo quarantine, a lockdown, a total annihilation of my travel business during 2020 and the general collective fear in the air this year would suggest a mental struggle of some significance. But I’ve been able to operate almost as normal throughout this time and I put this 100% down to my Breathwork practice.
Lowering blood pressure, boosting the autoimmune system, improving circulation. You name it, most types of Breathwork will help in a variety of positive ways. I suffered from Raynaud’s Disease (a type of vascular disorder which for me meant very poor circulation and often alarming blue fingers when I got cold) which did not go well with my love of sea swimming. Yet since having a regular breath practice each morning, in the same way people might build meditation into their early morning routine, it has totally disappeared. I’ve been in the sea every day throughout October and not a sign of it.
This feels important
The stress of modern life, with its busyness, negative media bombardment and always-on culture, overloads our systems to the point where most of us live with low (and often high) levels of anxiety as ‘normal’. Believing that how we breathe doesn’t matter to our wellbeing and to our lives is no longer something any of us can afford to do. How we breathe affects every single system in the body deeply, on a cellular level. If you’re new to this phenomenon and not convinced by ancient wisdom, modern science is beginning to catch up and there’s now plenty of scientific data to support this. Just pop it into Google and you’ll have an evening of data to sift through and convince you.
Learning to breathe more effectively will positively affect your mind, your emotions, your thoughts, your physiology — even down to improving the density of your bones. It will increase your energy, your circulation, help you sleep better, help you feel calmer and reduce your anxiety. As I said before, I know this because I’ve experienced it for myself and if I’m going to try and convince you of something, I know that’s important. I know it too, because it’s improved my life in so many ways. I’ve also come to realise that breathing is an often-untapped potential that can transform every aspect of our lives. And when you feel better you live better. If you’re still skeptical try seeing the results ‘for real’. Try taking your blood pressure for a week if you can get your hands on a machine and see how it changes, whilst you take up a breath practice. In terms of breath methods to try, there are lots to try online for free, or get yourself a 1–1 session.
Breath is wonder — a lost art
For me, breath is wonder. As babies, most of us are born as perfect breathers. Watch as their tummies slowly inflate and deflate, they are the perfect role models. But as the years go by, this changes due to stress and well, just generally not paying attention. And so breathing properly becomes an art we lose. You could say, it’s a lost art.
Regaining this lost art has helped me see the world in technicolour when it often seemed so black and white. I re-discovered breathing and the benefits of Breathwork through my curiosity and search for better health and a better way to live and be. Something has kept you reading this. You may just be curious. Or you may have some of the health reasons I mention above. Either way, most of us have something in us we want to change, or you could say, awaken. Whatever the reason, re-learning the forgotten art of breathing is suitable for almost everyone. You could call it reclaiming your birthright.
Each person walks their own path and we must make a series of choices throughout our lives. Choices that feel right for us. So, if what you’ve read here calls to you, feels like the right choice, why not take yourself on a journey. One where you’ll rediscover the simple, yet incredibly powerful magic of your breath.
“But what’s the destination?” you may ask me.
“Optimum physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health”, I’ll reply.
“But I don’t have time!” you may exclaim.
And I can confidently tell you, that within a relatively short space of time - usually an hour and twenty minutes for a workshop or a 1–1 session and around ten to thirty minutes self-practice a day — you’ll begin to experience for yourself, the benefits of Breathwork. Just as I did.
I’m currently looking for people to work with i.e. to breathe and offering free 1–1 sessions online (or in-person if and when Covid becomes less of an issue). Just get in touch to discuss a date and time.