If you're familiar with this blog, my work, or my story, you might inevitably assume that the thing that I turn to the most to support me in sobriety and recovery is meditation.
And you'd be wrong.
While meditation is what my sobriety and continuing evolution as a sane person is founded in, my number one tool is actually something much simpler and something you are already doing every day.
Without question, the most basic and effective way you can start to take control of your emotional state and physical well being is to learn how to breathe properly, breathe for specific outcome, and to be conscious of your breathing as much as possible.
Most of us were never taught to breathe the right way. We breath paradoxically (backwards) by pulling our gut in on the inhale (because we were taught to "suck it in") and expanding our gut on the exhale. We breathe shallowly, pulling air into the top of our chests, rather than pulling the air all the way down to the bottom of the lungs where there are more blood vessels to transform the oxygen into energy. And sometimes, we just forget to breathe ENTIRELY - holding our breath out or in without realizing it.
We further don't realize the importance of breath. People can survive for a long time without food, without, water, but cannot survive for more than a few minutes without oxygen without suffering severe damage or death. Breath is the primary unit of life, more nutritious and essential than our precious green juice. Every cell in the body is wholly dependent upon oxygen. If a cell is receiving enough oxygen to stay alive, but not enough to thrive, its function declines. When muscle tissues are robbed of oxygen, they ache. When brain cells are, we feel states of emotional distress or lethargy. If on the other hand we are receiving an abundant supply of oxygen, we feel energized, emotionally balanced. We thrive.
By learning to breath properly, by being conscious of our breath as we are going about our lives, and by learning tricks and exercises on how to manipulate our breath patterns to alter our states, we can have a significant impact on our lives as well as on our path to recovery.
Learning to breath properly and to control my breath has undoubtedly been the most effective and consistently used tool in my healing and my growth. I know how to manipulate my breath to calm my self down, speed myself up, shift myself out of spin, pull myself out of a bad decision, stop myself from a hasty reaction, and for the most part - keep myself from getting so wound up that I need to blow it off with something outside of myself.
TOP BENEFITS OF CONSCIOUS BREATH + BREATH WORK.
1. Controls cravings. Some specific breath techniques, such as Breath of Fire, can be used to curb a craving. Implementing breath work throughout the day can keep us from getting to a craving state altogether.
2. Immediately accessible. Breath can be used ANY TIME as a tool and throughout the day. During meetings, in the car, while you're typing that email, while your chasing your kid. No pillow or new age music required.
3. Brings us into balance and brings a sense of well being. Breathing right makes us feel GOOD and grounded and nourished, and when we feel this way, we don't feel like something is missing or that we need to reach for substances to feel better.
4. Deeply nourishing. Breath is THE primary source of nourishment, before water and food. When you breath right, you are aiding the healing process.
5. Gives us access to present moment. When we focus on the breath it brings us into the now, and keeps us from future-tripping or past-reliving.
6. Tones the nervous system. The nervous system tends to be deeply compromised by both alcohol and drug consumption and untreated stress/anxiety. Correct breathing, and some specific breath practices help to stimulate, tone, and rebuild the nervous system.
7. Removes toxins from the body. Proper breathing is BETTER than a juice cleanse. Swear.
8. Allows us to manipulate our mood and energy at will. There are literally hundreds - if not thousands - of different breathing techniques. Some can give us energy, some can build our will power, some can help us sleep, some can help us sleep less. There are techniques to release anger, soothe fear, and eliminate reactiveness. There are even some that can get us super high. Breath is the quickest and most effective way to alter your state without outside aid.
9. Helps manage and reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Some specific techniques can eliminate panic attacks altogether, so we don’t need to reach for substances or something outside of ourselves. Other's can move us out of cold depression.
10. Natural pain reliever. Hence techniques like Lamaze breathing in childbirth. When we breathe properly, we can manage our pain.
11. Shifts our body from fight or flight mode. Proper breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system.
12. Brings mental clarity. It prevents bad decisions!
13. Supports our meditation practice. We slow our breathing down and thus slow our brainwaves down, and this allows us to be still and access deeper states of meditation. Proper breathing is FOUNDATIONAL to my meditation practice.
14. Balances us. Not only does it keep us in balance emotionally, but it also specifically balances the left and right hemispheres of the brain, and the glandular system.
I'll be sharing many different breath techniques on the site, but to start, I'd like to show you how to do Long Deep Breaths or Yogic Breaths as taught in Kundalini yoga. This is my number one breath tool and the most used tool in the box when it comes to maintaining sobriety and sanity.
And here's why. Our bodies are constantly seeking balance, homeostasis. When we are deeply out of balance, we need to reach for EXTREME measures to pull us back, like wine, whiskey, pot, pills, cigarettes, etc. If we go an entire day neglecting our bodies and breath, endure work stress and life stress, we essentially are winding ourselves up and pulling ourselves out of balance. Come 5pm, we are so deeply out of balance, we are likely to pop off and reach for something powerful and toxic. If, however, we insert a few minutes of conscious breathing - i.e., Long Deep Breaths - into our day, we can keep ourselves in balance and prevent the need to melt it away with booze.
How To Do A Long Deep Breath.
I personally do Long Deep Breaths (LDBs) throughout the day (it is just something that over time has become habit), but I always take a few minutes around noon and 3pm to do 10 in a row, and also do them when I get into bed if I'm not doing another breathing practice.) I suggest you watch the video and learn how to do them, and then set your alarm for noon and 3pm to do 10 LDBs in a row. This will shift your entire day, and also deeply aid in overcoming any 5pm crazy
Stand or sit erect, with a straight spine. Pull the chin into the throat (chin lock or jalandhar bandh) so that the back of your neck is in line with your spine. // Inhale steadily through the nostrils, pulling the air down the back of the throat. // Bring the air into the “stomach” first (this is the lower part of the lungs), feeling the belly extend out. Imagine you are filling a cup - the air fills the bottom first and expands up. // Bring the air into the middle part of the chest - you should feel the air expand the lower part of the rib cage out. // Finally, bring the air into the top of the lungs - it should feel like you are pulling the air up to the collar bone. // Lift the chest, and pull the chin slightly in (jalandhar bhanda or neck lock). // Retain the breath in for one or two seconds. This results in the optimal intake of oxygen. // Exhale slowly, keeping the spine erect but lifting the chin to release the chin lock. The air first empties out of the upper chest, then the middle chest (ribs come in), then the belly comes in (like you are emptying a cup). // Repeat 10 times or for 3-5 minutes.
This should be a fluid motion of breath. To start, count to 2-3 seconds for the inhale and exhale, and work up to a count of 6-10 seconds for each. The first time practicing this you can lay on the floor on your back, and fill the air enter the belly, expand the lungs, and fill up to the collar bone. You can practice this way until it feels more natural. This is the #1 tool for you to use - practice it throughout the day as you remember. You can train yourself to breath this way naturally.
1. Shifts mental states immediately. Reduces panic, stress, and allows us to access our mind.
2. Reduction in toxins.
3. Reduction in physical tension. Accesses the parasympathetic nervous system.
4. Enhanced oxygenation of the blood. Increase in energy.
5. Increased consciousness and presence.
Kundalini Meditation & Breath For Stress Relief. This is a video blog on my favorite Kundalini meditation, the Tattva Balancer, which also uses a specific breath.
Kundalini Meditation & Breath To Restore Emotional Balance. This is a meditation that uses a specific breath pattern to prevent reactiveness and restore emotional balance in 3 minutes.
Kundalini Meditation & Breath To Overcome Panic. This is a meditation that uses a very difficult breath pattern to bring one out of a panic state. It strengthens the nervous system if practiced regularly to shift you completely out of panic attacks over time.
Why You Should Give A Damn About Kundalini. One of my first pieces on Kundalini and why it is so important in recovery from all addictions.