IDK about you, but life these days feels like riding a surfboard during an earthquake in the seventh circle of Hell. If you feel constantly overwhelmed, you are not alone. I am here with you.
But let’s be real: Life has kinda always been this bananas. The only difference is that the fantasy of “normal” is officially over. Gone are the days of ignoring the chaos that always surrounds us. Maybe in the past you could keep it at bay or check out from it every now and again but most of us don’t have that luxury anymore. The chaos feels inescapable.
As long as this inescapable chaos is the new normal, all we can do now is learn to breathe through it. As far as I’m concerned, at this point, breathing through the bullshit is our only option. Why mindful breathing? Because when we focus on breathing, we’re able to keep our shit together when we’re reading the news, scrolling through Twitter, when we’re in the streets, and when we’re in difficult conversations with loved ones. In these ways, I think of breathwork as political action. After all, we have to take care of ourselves if we’re going to ride the waves of chaos into a future that’s no longer heavy with oppression’s veil.
Focusing on breathing is a way to harness a sense of control when everything around you seems completely out of control. In fact, in chaos, the power of inhales and exhales is undeniable and nothing less than revolutionary.
For me, when I focus on mindful breathing, I’m reminded that I’m able to carry emotional weight and that I don’t have to cocoon my trauma in shame. Trauma is part of life. And connecting with that can be an invitation to connect with who you are beneath the masks that we wear in everyday life.
In an era where we’re constantly forced to choose between warring factions, breathwork illuminates the limitations created by our perceived divisions. Breathwork shows us what can be gained when we value our inner wholeness and our connection to ourselves, over everything. Breathwork is the key to the difficult conversations that each of us has to have with ourselves and society at large if we’re ever going to move forward together.
Your next stressful moment is probably coming sooner rather than later. We practice breathwork to prepare for life’s most stressful moments, not the chill ones. If you intentionally practice breathwork when you’re chill, you’ll be able to access the same tools under duress.
It’s easy to underestimate the importance of breathwork because it seems so simple and automatic that it’s basically forgettable. Maybe you’re thinking, “I already know how to breathe! What’s the next step?” Start slow and don’t obsess over the details. Breathwork is all about finding your own rhythm, going at your own pace, and making the practice your own.
It’s pretty much impossible to practice breathwork too much because each inhale and each exhale offers a new lesson.
1. Acknowledge that you’re already breathing.
Feel the breath passing in and out of your body, whether it’s through your lips or nose.
Don’t try to change anything; instead, try to accept your breath as it is right now. Accept its curvatures, tight spots, and ragged edges.
2. If it feels natural to do so, allow the breath to move exclusively through your nose.
Try to let the breath flow organically. If you have trouble breathing through your nose, maybe you’ve got some snot gumming up the works. Blow your nose and try again. If breathing through your nose is still difficult or uncomfortable, just go back to breathing through your mouth.
3. Don’t worry about establishing a specific rhythm right off the bat.
The breath will follow the cadence of your spirit. It’s a rhythm that’s unique to you. Let it flow naturally.
4. Close your eyes (or don’t).
If it helps, close your eyes. But it’s not a requirement. Eyes open or closed, breathing is a requirement of life.
5. Find a posture that works for you.
Sit, stand, practice handstands, whatever you like; every physical posture is an opportunity to connect with your breath.
6. Don’t try to think about anything specific or “clear your mind.”
Your mind isn’t supposed to be “clear.” If you’re alive, your mind will be active. Focusing on breathing doesn’t stop thoughts; instead, it allows you to find peace with even your most erratic, chaotic, and scary thoughts.
7. Challenge yourself to sit with your breath for as long as possible.
If you start to think “well, this is pretty fucking boring,” let your mind follow that path. See what happens when you make space for your boredom instead of using it as a reason to give up.
8. Try out intentional breathwork techniques.
Intentional breathwork techniques are a great way to hone control over the breath and provide a portal to deeper meditation. When it feels right, start integrating techniques like alternate nostril breathing (this is a good explainer on what it is and how to do it) and breath counting (which you can learn how to do here).
Practicing breathwork allows you to spend time quietly concentrating only on the air entering and leaving your body. It’s a powerful way to remember that keeping yourself going can be as simple as inhaling and exhaling. In fact, for me, establishing a connection with my breath is the one sure thing that allows me to survive when the waves of life are crashing around me.
Spending time with my breath has helped me find a home within myself. Because I have that home, I know I can weather any storm.