Breathing my way out of depression

Why is it so hard to describe the actual experience of breathing?

This morning, I woke up at 5:30am, before any alarm and even before Peng, my cat, started her daily wake-up routine on me to get me to feed her. After my usual routine, with coffee in hand, I decided to start today with a walk around the block to overcome the lethargy and depression that’s been weighing on me the past several days. I just did not feel up to my normal sitting practice today. I kneed with I’d end up back in bed, sleeping till late morning. Can’t have that again today, I warned myself.

As soon as I walked out the door, I wanted to turn back and fall back into bed. This sinking weight belongs under the covers. You’re just pushing yourself towards another collapse. But I walked. Slowly. With a lot of little stops. How far away are those rain clouds? The sky is lovely this morning of June 21, 2016. Supposed to rain by early afternoon, according to the weather app. Details. Distracting details. I’ve been wanting to get in my car and go camping for weeks now, but I keep keeping my nose to the grindstone. I keep showing up for work on this book. And for what, really? Who am I fooling? I’m just distracting myself from the inevitable. Money will run out and I’ll have to scramble and find real work. Work that pays real money.

By the time I got back to my door, I was more than ready to fall back into bed. Or turn on Netflix and waste the day binge watching Chelsea Handler. Thankfully I had the wherewithal to practice pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) instead. Earplugs connected to iPod. Start my binaural-beat meditation soundtrack. Shut off visuals with eye cover. Pink quartz egg in my left hand, purple one in right hand. Bedroom door shut. Time to fall through the floor. Time to go under all this muddy, roiling muck.

This sh*tstorm called depression:

After settling in, I notice the usual symptoms. Most of all, my diaphragm is barely moving. I couldn’t take a deep breath if I wanted to right now. I can’t force myself to take a deep breath. I don’t want to breathe at all, much less force a deep breath. All the knowledge, all the experience over all these years mean absolutely nothing when this tightness, this heaviness, sits on top of my diaphragm. The diaphragm has conceded. It has said “uncle.” There’s no reason to struggle or fight myself out of this paper bag. It’s all dark and stuffy in here. What’s there to breathe for?.
Thoughts swirl and jump, one image with dialogue replacing another without any gap between. No room to take a deep breath in between the waves of wind and rain. At least I’m firmly in observation mode. I have put down anchor in the middle of this little tempest. At least I’m no longer lost at sea. Still no paddle to get myself out of this shitstream, but that will come on its own once I establish witnessing. Witnessing, or uninvolved observation, is what gives rises to the eye, the still center of the storm. The hardest thing is to return to this fragile center every time I find myself lost in another wave of thoughts and images and emotions, another scene inside my invisible tempest. My poor diaphragm is hemmed in by all these crashing waves of….. What, exactly? It really doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’ve suddenly noticed, or realized, that it’s not my diaphragm that’s hemmed in. It’s just the messenger. Or it’s not alone at least. I want to say it’s really my heart, but that word ‘heart’ instantly takes over and once again words have taken over. What is this sensation, beneath the words?

This is the problem, isn’t it? I’m trying to communicate to you the importance of the diaphragm and I can’t even get past the words myself to experience it myself right now. Maybe your experience is different from mine. To me, a big part of what makes breathwork so effective is the simple fact that I cannot really experience breath as long as I am thinking. Direct experience or thinking? You cannot do both at the same time. Skeptical? Good. Try it yourself and let me know what you find!

Being frozen inside this commotion, this dark stew of emotional and mental sensations called “I’m depressed,” feels like I’m caught up in a crowd outside my home, a crowd that keeps sweeping me out further and further from my own room. Right now, these waves are keeping me distant from my own diaphragm. I can’t feel anything, much less take a deep breath.

Breath rate instability. I don’t know which came first, hearing this phrase in my head (a technical term written as BRI, that I read recently in a research article) or sensing this lack of rhythm in my breathing. Despite the fact that I am taking one breath after another, there is no stable rhythm. It feels like one single, isolated breath. Then one more independent breath. Then another. Each breath is separate.
At the conclusion of my next exhale, I intuitively squeeze and hold briefly with rectal, genital, and navel muscles (moola bandha). My next inhale is a little deeper. Again, I apply a small moola bandha squeeze after exhaling. Again, the next inhale is slightly deeper. It’s all very gentle. Barely any effort at all. But, it’s becoming regular:
In-hale-three-four…
Ex-hale-three-four…squeeze…
In-hale-three-four…
Ex-hale-three-four…squeeze…

It’s hard to write adequate words here to describe to you the difference this stable, circular pattern of breathing made. Without it, I would not have been able to write this at all. Now it is 8:18am. Breathing again!

NadaBrahma: love is an altered state

NadaBrahma-love-circle-600

Love may well be the ultimate altered state.

The term altered state usually implies something extremely different from day to day life. More often than not, drugs are involved. While my experiences with altered states have involved illegal drugs, that was long ago. Most of my experiences with altered states happen during meditation, breathwork, art-making, and love and sex.

The kind of altered state I’m describing in this post, however, is the experience of love that happens during the Altered States workshop. I did not always see altered states this way. I did not always think of this workshop as a way of creating spiritual love. That sounds odd and pretentious, don’t you think? But I have been led by the practice itself, by Osho’s NadaBrahma Meditation especially, to this conclusion. My experience leading this workshop many, many times has led me here.

What happens is, after 30 minutes of humming mmmmmmmm (like when we do endless Om but without the O sound), the body becomes a tuning fork. The gentle humming massages the organs and releases tensions. It feels as though the body is an empty reed, a wind instrument. Every body in the room vibrates together. This simple droning, these shared sea-waves of sound, interpenetrate each choral body.

In addition to this toning, I have added some things to the original meditation. I play the gong and provide verbal guidance. The gong complements and amplifies the humming. In particular, the gong vibrates the spine from base to crown. Its Chaladni patterns change as they move up and down the keyboard of chakras. This journey through the chakras continues up and down the spiral staircase until we arrive and settle into the heart. By this point the humming, the vibrating, and the chakra meditation have delivered you home to yourself. I don’t know the details, but I understand that part of the blissed-out state here comes from increased carbon dioxide in the blood. I have read studies documenting such elevated levels of carbon dioxide, relative to the ratio of oxygen, in meditators. Whatever the physiological basis, the experience is heavenly.

At the end of this powerful meditation, the heart chakra opens, radiating gold and green in every direction. You have become the sun. You know yourself to be the source of light, warmth, and love. And so is every other person around you! The room is ablaze with one sea-field of gold and green love energy. The group radiates as one!

Love is the ultimate altered state!

Sounding Breath workshop

Listen to the short (1:15) audio description… Topics:
~ So Ham: The sound of breathing
~ Toning the chakras
~ MahaMrityunjaya Mantra
~ Kirtan Kriya

Sounding Breath:
Sunday July 17, 2016
2:30-4:30
Sky House Yoga
Silver Spring, Maryland

Register here

Looking Forward!
Joseph R. Roberson, aka YogaJoe

How I fell into altered states at 14

Join me for the next Altered States workshop coming up on Sunday, June 19, 2016 from 2:30-4:30pm at Sky House Yoga in Silver Spring, Maryland.

We will employ Kundalini Yoga and Osho’s NadaBrahama Meditation–with gong music and a guided chakra journey–to experience:

    This Body as vibration, as radiant tuning fork
    This Heart as the source of love
    Transpersonal inter-being in group vibration
    Sat-Chit-Ananda (Being, Experiencing, Bliss)

Click here to register! Look for more info coming soon…

In this short (1:20) recording, I describe my first experience with altered states at the age of 14. I hope you find it entertaining.

Looking forward!
Joseph, aka YogaJoe

What is transformation?

1. In the world of business, leadership development, organizational development, change management, et al, the term transformation is the process whereby an unprecedented future is brought to reality. This created future is not mere change–improvement or fix of what has already happened in the past; nor is it predetermined, as is the case in a butterfly’s natural, albeit radical, metamorphosis.

2. In the world of spiritual growth–yoga, breathwork, meditation, et al–the term transformation seems to consistently denote metamorphosis–the process whereby one’s natural potential is brought to reality, as in the ubiquitous example of a butterfly. Typically, the goal in this kind of personal transformation is to remove whatever is in the way of an unfettered ‘natural state.’ This so-called natural state is typically said to be a state of happiness, wellbeing, joy, and, ultimately,  a transpersonal experience of Oneness.

The difference between these two meanings of transformation is outer vs. inner: in business, what is pursued is a specific state of affairs of the organization; in spiritual growth, on the other hand, what is pursued is a specific state of affairs of/within the individual. This is an oversimplification, of course; yet it effectively highlights the contrast.

How can these two disparate worlds of transformation enrich one another?

Please give to BreathCon2015 scholarship fund!

As a rule, I never post requests for my personal gain. This is an exception. You will gain from this, too. That is my intention, at least. And you’ll be supporting a truly worthy cause. Oh, yeah, and there are some amazing perks for anyone contributing $20 or more!

I hereby request that you make a donation–even if it is for only $1–to our scholarship campaign for BreathCon2015 (Breath Immersion Conference: From Science to Samadhi). When given at the beginning of a campaign, even a $1 donation helps build momentum by demonstrating broad support for the cause. It encourages others to give when there are a lot of people giving, no matter how large the contribution.

I am requesting this as a personal favor because I am one of those who need this scholarship money. I do not have the funds to attend. I really want to attend.

If you are a current or former student of mine, you likely know that breath has always been my passion. It is one of my absolute favorite topics to study, to practice, and to teach. While I have stopped teaching for the most part, I do continue with the series of workshops at Sky House Yoga on breath. I am excited to attend this conference and bring back to you what I learn in upcoming workshops.

If you are not a student, perhaps you will want to read my blog posts and articles during (and after) the conference.

Attending the conference will help me finish writing “Transforming Breath.” In it I will compare and contrast two disparate ‘camps’ that study and/or deliver  transformation. One camp is the academic field of Transformative Learning Theory, as expounded by Jack Mezirow. The other camp is the field of therapeutic breathwork, as typified by Dr. Judith Kravitz’ Transformational Breath.

The members of each camp are not even aware of each other’s existence, or so it seems. For members who do speak of the other camp, it is typically to criticize the other: those in the academic camp criticize the lack of intellectual rigor among those participating in so-called spiritual pursuits, such as Transformational Breath or Stan Grof’s Holotropic Breath; those in the breathwork camp criticize the ineffectiveness of cognitive theory without a somatic praxis. Basically, TL theory is criticized for being heartless and the breathwork camp is criticized for lack of rigor.

It should be noted that the breathwork field does embrace medical research, and is thus grounded in sound anatomy and physiology. I am concerned, rather, with the other major aspect of experiential breathwork: transformation. My contention is that whether you call it spiritual growth or transformative learning is more a matter of semantics, of terminology, than of substance. The two camps are saying much the same thing, just in two different languages. What a difference it could make if these two camps incorporated each other’s strengths!

Anyway, that is the best I can do today to explain why I want to attend this conference. Thank you for reading. Thank you for considering my request. Now, get yourself to the IndieGoGo scholarship campaign and make a difference!

P.S., As part of my contribution to the conference, I created this video.

Breath: Science to Samadhi Immersion at Kripalu!

I am happy to be volunteering on the production team for the Breath: Science to Samadhi Immersion at Kripalu! Sounds like an amazing event and I would not miss it. Please let me know if you are interested in attending and/or helping.

“One conscious, optimal breath can transform you and the world. Immerse yourself in the full spectrum of ancient and modern practices that cultivate conscious, optimal breathing. The international faculty is drawn from pioneers in the movement and newly emerging leaders.

This highly experiential, collaborative, and innovative program explores the potential of breath as:
*The unifying language of the human species
*Friend, healer, teacher, lover, awakener
*Guide and nutrient for enhanced relationship resonance, parenting, sexuality, creativity, service, and social activism
*Medicine for physical, emotional, and cognitive imbalance
*The doorway to consciousness and enlightenment.

Breakout sessions cover a variety of breath modalities, offer information on becoming a breathworker, and provide supervision from master breathworkers. Join us for healing, personal growth, spiritual development, enhanced creativity, increased intelligence and wisdom, improved relational harmony, attuned access to intuition, heightened mystical realization, and fully participating in building a healthier world together.

*Note This program is ideal for everyone, including beginners, health professionals interested in incorporating breathwork into their practices, and master breathworkers who want to expand the breadth and depth of their knowledge.

Hallelujah Breath

Lying in bed, mid-morning, listening to H-Nap 2 (from Monroe Products/Hemi-Sync) through my Bose noise-canceling earbuds. I’m wearing a blackout meditation mask (MINDFOLD) that allows me to have my eyes open without discomfort. An Ace bandage is wrapped around my head several times over the mask to block the light more. It also keeps the earbuds in place and blocks a bit more sound. My head has settled comfortably into my favorite memory-foam pillow. In my right palm rests an amethyst egg; in my left, one of rose quartz.

This new breath technique I’m practicing is good so I want to share it with you. It’s not really anything new, except for the way the elements are combined. But it feels like a new technique to me. I feel like it really helps power up and center my gyroscope. It helps me to focus and strengthens the ‘eye’ of my ‘hurricane.’  I like it a lot. Try it and let me know your experience!


 

Hallelujah Breath

  1. Inhale slow and deep and full (Diaphragmatic Breath). Fill your lungs comfortably yet as full as possible. Start at the bottom and fill towards the top.
  2. Hold for a count of 8 with the tip of your tongue touching the round, bony ridge just above your upper front teeth.
  3. Exhale long and sweet and slow–with tongue still touching–through a slightly open mouth. The sound will be a gentle “hhhhaaaaa.”
  4. While holding the air out, pump your navel 8 times. Each pump involves drawing, or pulling, your navel straight back as though to touch the front of your spine with the belly button. Imagine your navel is attached to the spine with a bungee cord: after each pump it releases.

Repeat steps 1-4 for three cycles or four cycles. Once you have mastered the technique and are ready, increase each session up to a maximum of eight cycles.


 

If you do try this please let me know your experience. There’s no reason why you can’t do this sitting or even standing rather than lying down.  Oh–and by the way–the mask and quartz eggs are optional.

*NOTE: Below you will find additional details listed as options. I thought it better to keep the instructions short and simple initially, in case you are new to pranayama. You may prefer to think of these options as progressive stages towards the full technique:


 

Hallelujah Breath

  1. Inhale slow and deep and full (Diaphragmatic Breath). Fill your lungs comfortably yet as full as possible. Start at the bottom and fill towards the top.
    *Option 1: Silently count to 8 while inhaling. “In-Hale-Three” fills low lungs; “Four-Five-Six” fills middle, armpit lungs; “Seven-Eight” fills top lungs.
    *Option 2: Inhale in 8 separate sniffs/segments.
    *Option 3: Listen to the sound of your inhale as the syllable “So” or “Sa.”
    *Option 4: As in the Microcosmic Breath, imagine and feel the inhale traveling from your pelvic floor, up the back body and spine, over your skull towards the front until–at the conclusion of your inhale–this movement brings your attention to the round, bony ridge just above your upper front teeth.
  2. Hold for a count of 8 with the tip of your tongue touching the round, bony ridge just above your upper front teeth.
    *Option 1: If you can feel your heartbeats, count 8 of them.
    *Option 2: Gently ‘tap’ this ridge with the tip of your tongue with each heartbeat.
  3. Exhale long and sweet and slow–with tongue still touching–through a slightly open mouth. The sound will be a gentle “hhhhaaaaa.”
    *Option 1: Silently intone “Ex-Hale-Three-Four-Ha-Lay-Loo-Yah!” (and feel the meaning!).
    *Option 2: Listen to the sound of your exhale as the syllable “Hum” or “Ham.”
    *Option 4: As in the Microcosmic Breath, imagine and feel the exhale traveling down your front body, down through the throat, heart, lungs, belly, sex organs, until it ends–at the conclusion of your exhale–back at the pelvic floor.
  4. While holding the air out, pump your navel 8 times. Each pump involves drawing, or pulling, your navel straight back, in as though to touch the front of your spine with the belly button. Imagine your navel is attached to the spine with a bungee cord: after each pump it instantly snaps back.
    *Option 1: On each pump, silently repeat “Wa-Hey-G’Rue!” (“Great, indescribable light!”).
    *Option 2: Each pump is actually comprised of three distinct pulls: first, draw your navel slightly back; second, more back; third, as far back as possible.
    *Option 3: The first part of the pull is “Wa,” the second is “Hey,” and the third is “G’Rue.”
    *Option 4: Before you begin the next inhale, imagine/feel this vitalizing energy– generated by the navel-activating pumps–down to the pelvic floor, the origin point of the next inhale.