I would love to share these with you, as I find they are each beneficial, fascinating and effective.
Whether on the ecstatic dance floor, yoga mat, massage table or meditation cushion —breath is a powerful “way in” for specific reasons. No mistake therefore that these rich and overlapping traditions of self-healing, growth and transformation all emphasize attention to breath. Breath is an essential bodily function that is uniquely poised between voluntary and involuntary activity —in other words, it can be both conscious and unconscious. We can extend this observation to suggest that attention to breath creates a kind of access to what lies beneath the surface of our everyday conscious identifications, thoughts and perceptions.
From a yogic perspective, breath moves prana, or “life-force energy” through our bodies. I find this to be a powerful experiential metaphor for what we know now about physiology, the brain and the nervous system. Breath is not only essential to our being alive, it is also a reflection of our nervous system state and emotional condition.
Breath is a powerful driver of the switch between sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system dominance, but let’s not get bogged down in jargon. Essentially breath has a bidirectional relationship to the many shades of color between fight-or-flight and rest-and-digest —between feeling stressed, scared, and reactive or feeling at ease, relaxed and satisfied. So breath is a reflection of our mental and emotional state, but when I say it is bidirectional I mean that conscious breath can also drive those experiential states by creating neurochemical shifts!
I like to refer to this poetically as part of an alchemy we enter into when we practice as we work with our own “sacred biochemistry” and create shared “energy fields” for inner work. How we breathe affects which areas of the brain are active, and of course this symphony of brain, nervous and endocrine (glandular) activity translates experientially into the rich process world of sensation, feeling, image, temperature, color, intuition, insight and healing.
Here then are three specific ways of staying engaged with breath as a tool for inner work. With prolonged engagement, each of these breath patterns evokes specific archetypal brain states that correspond with the qualities of equanimity, surrender and fierceness.
1) Yogic Breath: in and out slowly through the nose, maintains present attention and makes equanimous witnessing possible.
Simply bearing witness moment-by-moment to our unfolding experience is such a powerful brain-skill to cultivate, and provides an entry point. Prolonged Yogic Breath evokes equanimity – an ecstasy (or “un-stuck” state) of deepening mental clarity and calm witnessing.
2) Tantric Breath: in through the nose and then out through the mouth in two-parts as the head gently tilts back, allows surrender, softening and the circulation of pleasurable “energy.”
Relaxing into the flow of our embodied experience can allow for unwinding stress and tension, and a profound rebalancing of both physical structure and mental state. Prolonged Tantric Breath evokes surrender – an ecstasy of dissolved resistance and embodied bliss.
3) Shamanic Breath: in through the nose in two parts: short sniff and strong deep inhale, then out through the mouth, builds powerful energy to break through resistance.
Empowering, enlivening and courageous. Prolonged Shamanic Breath evokes fierceness – an ecstasy of empowered aliveness.
Each of these three states is rooted in ecstasy. Here Ex-stasis, from the Latin – interpreted as ”to stand outside” of our everyday limitations and habitual identifications, and thereby to drop more deeply “inside” the fluid process that moves through and beyond stuckness.
As we come together in community, I want to invite you to explore these three archetypal breath patterns. Let’s ride the waves and evoke the rich and beneficial possibilities of sacred space together.