The Diaphragm: Master Key to Breathwork

The neuroscience behind mindfulness

Why is it that simply paying conscious attention to breathing is so powerful?

No matter what culture, religion, or spiritual tradition you examine–this is in most, if not all of them. This 11-minute audio is from last night’s FaceBook Live hangout. Included is an excerpt from Dr. Dan Siegel‘s “Creating Harmony With Breath Awareness.”

Included is an excerpt from “Creating Harmony With Breath Awareness,” by Dr. Dan Siegel, Co-Director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA. A leader in the field of contemplative neuroscience, Dr. Siegel explains:

Mindfulness involves attuning to our own intention. Of course, mindfulness itself is an intentional state, so we could say that this creates the following tongue twister: An intention to pay attention to intention to be mindful. This appears to be a reentry loop of mental reinforcement that lies at the heart of the experience. Intention to attend to intention.

An example of this kind of intrapersonal attunement would be the practice of breath awareness. You are aware of your in-breath. The mirror neuron (a neuron that fires both when a person performs an action and when the person observes the same action performed by another) and superior temporal areas (which play a significant role in the executive attention network of the brain) as a part of the resonance circuits, automatically—through SIMA (sensory implications of motor action)—anticipate the out-breath.

With a beat of time, the out-breath indeed comes and there is a match between what was anticipated and what is happening. That matching creates coherence. Naturally the awareness of the out-breath entrains an anticipation of the in-breath, which when it comes, integrates SIMA with here-and-now awareness and reflective coherence is created. This may be why the breath is such a powerful, and common, focus of mindful awareness. It is also interesting to note that each relaxed half breath takes about the interval D. N. Stern (The Present Moment in Psychotherapy and Everyday Life. New York: W. W. Norton, 2003) defines as the present moment.

Try taking a breath break between tasks today!

One of my favorite ways to use breathwork during the day is to take a short “breath break” between tasks. This works especially well when, as is the case right now, I’ve run out of concentration and feel agitated about what I just did–and I’m not feeling ready to take on my next task. I suppose I’m describing anxiety. Anyway, I recommend you try this out. Every so often, like between one task and the next, pause and shift your attention onto breathing for a few rounds.

Feel the breath with every sense. Relish the physical sensations as you breathe in and out. Listen to the inhale–doesn’t it sound a bit like “sssssoooo”? Listen to the exhale–doesn’t it sound like “hhhhhaaaaa”? This sound of breathing is where the So Hum mantra comes from.

Here’s a little detail that really makes a breath break refreshing: when you exhale, do it with your mouth relaxed and open, and allow the “hhhhaaa” sound to express your intention to release all tension. Drop every thought, worry, concern. Drop it!

Although it takes only a minute, I find these breath breaks refresh my energy. Very quickly, I am able to turn my energy to the next thing with renewed enthusiasm. I hope it will for you, too!

 

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The iBook is coming along!

Courage, Wisdom, Serenity through breath-centered practices
Courage, Wisdom, Serenity through breath-centered practices

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.

 

If we can control our respiration we can control every aspect of our being.

“Yogis…have made extraordinary claims about the value of studying the breath. They say flatly, for example, that the breath is the link between the mind and the body, and that if we can control our respiration we can control every aspect of our being.”

-H. David Coulter, in Anatomy of Hatha Yoga, 2001. Body and Breath, Inc., Honesdale, Pa. p. 67