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Yeah, I said it! The people sitting in the pants on the pillows with the third eyes might not appreciate my candor. But there’s a reason why Google searches for “meditation” trended down for the first time in a decade in 2021.
People were Googling a more potent tool: breathwork.
Here’s everything you need to know about this benevolent power-practice, and how you can utilize it to think, work and create in more innovative and intuitive ways, have rich and deep relationships, and sleep like a rock in 2022.
Meditation sucks … or does it?
It’s not that meditation doesn’t work. It’s a centuries-old, rich spiritual practice. But meditation is not aging well in our hyper-connected society. We’re a collective raw nerve right now, teetering on the thin end of a Covid-exhausted metaverse wedge. Meditation is not fit for current-day purpose.
Apple inspired a generation to “Think Different.” But that’s easier said (or thought) than done. Why?Because story (our thoughts) follows state (our body). It’s actually very hard to think differently if your body’s providing stressed-out, anxious input. If we’re not breathing well, we’re not living well, and our mind is more likely to be a poisonous and fearful place.
Breathwork can shift our emotional state, which, in turn, changes what we’re thinking about. If we’re breathing better, or even a little more intentionally, we’re probably feeling more human too.
Also, if you have a loud mind (who doesn’t?), breathwork is a pretty epic channel-changing or full-on mute button.
Related: Why You Should Stop Meditating and Focus on Your Intentions
Why should you stop trying to meditate?
Most meditation practices center around learning how to observe your thoughts while separating who “you” are from the swirl of fear-based opinions circulating the circumference of your skull. If thoughts are traffic, meditation is the intentional attempt to fall behind the noise and watch the craziness with calm and centered curiosity.
It’s a beautiful practice, in theory. But most of our bodies and minds are so hyper aroused by Slack pings, yet another Zoom call and doom-scrolling social media that the lasting relief felt from meditation is minimal, at best. If you’ve tried and failed to meditate many times, you’re not broken, and you’re definitely not alone. There’s nothing noble about practicing failure. It’s time to iterate and evolve.
Enter breathwork, stage left!
So what is breathwork?
You’ve probably heard of Wim “The Iceman” Hoff. You might even have seen people writhing around on Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop collaboration with Netflix. These are both extreme examples of breathwork, but you don’t need to blast out of your body or sit in a frozen lake to learn how to speak your body’s language through breathwork.
In short, breathwork is an active and powerful practice where you use a variety of different breathing patterns, holds and session duration to quiet the mind and drop into your body. You can also layer visualization on top of a breathwork scaffolding for a creative and potent exploration of your inner world.
Breathwork can recalibrate a nervous system (the main controlling, regulatory and communicating system in the body) that's looping in fight-flight-freeze, or pull a sad and swampy day out of the gutter. It can spark creativity, help you dig into your subconscious mind, help you access lost memories, offer visions and deep insights, and even take you on a psychedelic ride. It can also help you sleep better. That’s worth more than its weight in crypto.
Related: How to Find Clarity Through the Conscious Breath
Also, your body is a scrapbook. All evolving research on trauma and the impact it has on our minds and bodies point to the deep need for every human to process and clear emotional sediment from his or her body.
Breathwork is a perspective- and state-changer. If you want to feel better, more lucid, connected and present, breathwork can change the way you feel. Fast.
It's too good to be true, right?
Actually, no! When a woman goes into labor, the first cue she’s given is to breathe. Same goes when a child falls off a scooter, or you slam your toe in the door. These are acute examples of the cycles of activation and generous nervous system wear-and-tear we experience every day in our work and personal lives. (Which now occur in the same room!)
In a culture set to a very urgent rhythm and dissolving and evolving life setups, the vast majority of us are talking too fast and breathing too shallowly. Our society is crying out for a collective exhale.
So be the change.
Step one: Slow down, but keep moving!
Slow breathing is healthy breathing. Research on ancient religious texts and meditative chants from African, Hawaiian, Native American, Buddhist, Taoist and Christian traditions share more than the odd deity in common: Chanting and prayers across belief systems settle the body into almost-identical breathing rhythms: six rounds of breath per minute.
Breathing this slowly increases blood flow to the brain and syncs the heart, nervous system and circulation into rhythm. That's why this pattern is often called resonance breathing!
Resonance breathing also increases our openness and receptivity. So next time you’re pitching business to a new client, perhaps start by leading yourself, or the Zoom call, through the following:
Inhale for five seconds. Exhale for five seconds.
Repeat for 3-10 minutes.
Seriously, that’s it.
Resonance breathwork also serves as a not-green-capsule-based alternative to popping Nyquil.
Less cringey, too.
Step two: Flip reverse it!
Another simple way to find calm in life's proverbial storm? Flip your body’s natural tendency to inhale for longer than you exhale with elephant breathing.
Here's how it's done:
Inhale for seven seconds.
Exhale for eight seconds.
Repeat for three to five minutes.
The “number” of seconds is irrelevant. Depending on where your body is at, a three-four pattern is just as "good" as 9-10. Start with something comfortable, then build from there.
A simple way to remember this pattern: Pretend you traded in your nose for a trunk!
A big breathwork bonus?
You don’t need to close your eyes to entirely shift the experience of your day. You can fire off resonance or elephant breathing in the presence of others. No one will notice, except you.
You’ll probably be more valuable and insightful too. Love a twofer!
Related: Getting Ahead, One Breath At A Time: Walid Aboulnaga, Founder, NAFAS Journeys
Go on, practice.
Humans are meaning-making machines. We are particularly good at making up stories based on the feelings in our body. So if you’ve got an active mind at the best of times, give it something good to talk about.
Rather than falling on the sword of meditation’s cruel and elusive promises, change the story of the day by changing how you feel (and therefore think) by deploying a silent breathwork weapon. Total samuari move!