A Breathwork Technique For Eliminating Stress And Strain Once and For All!
It has been proven again and again that laboratory rats develop stomach ulcers, shrinkage of lymphoid tissues, enlargement of adrenals, as well as heart attacks, kidney disease, arthritis and more when constantly “attacked” by bright lights, loud noises, extreme temperatures, and constant or repeated frustration. And there seems to be no doubt that the same things can occur in humans when exposed to such stress.
The AMA reports stress is the basic cause of more than 60% of all human illness and disease. It is by far the leading proxy killer disease of our times. And guess what? Breathwork is by far the most effective body-mind approach to understanding, preventing, unraveling, and eliminating stress!
I read somewhere that Hans Seyle, who coined the term stress, confessed that it was a mistake. English was not his first language; and he said that had he known the precise meaning of the word stress, he would not have used it. He would have used the word strain instead.
Stress and strain are engineering terms. As I understand it, “stress” refers to the force per unit area acting on a body—a structure—such as a bridge or a building; and “strain” refers to the deformation produced in the structure.
Dr. Seyle originally defined stress as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.” He later redefined it as “the rate of wear and tear on the body.” Stress is in fact a very subjective thing. It actually defies definition.
He tried to clarify the situation by coining the term “stressor” because we are dealing with a “stimulus-response” situation. He observed the three phases of what is called the “General Adaptation Response,” which are: alarm, resistance and exhaustion.
And that is where we have a tremendous advantage over your average lab rat! We have the ability to actually condition our own reactions to stress. We can consciously choose how we respond to it.
Stress is not the problem. It is our conscious or unconscious reactions to it that is the problem. In fact, stress is actually good for us! It is a natural and even necessary element in our growth and development. It’s what happens when we exercise: stressing a muscle is what makes it bigger and stronger. But this is not the same thing as straining a muscle.
With Breathwork, we can train certain vital resourceful auto-responses into our system. We can use the “stressors” of life to build and strengthen character, to learn how to maintain grace under pressure—equanimity in the face of adversity. Breathwork can help us to remain clear and focused when we are stressed, and to be peaceful and loving, when everyone around us is going crazy!
On Breath and Breathing
When we are under stress, we often do things that cause more stress, that contribute to the stress, and exacerbate it. Certain situations may be naturally stressful, but our conscious and unconscious reactions to them can make the stress much worse.
Most people have hidden weaknesses—dysfunctional or un-resourceful reactions that only show up, come out, or reveal themselves when they are under stress.
We are generally not aware of these weaknesses or un-resourceful reactions because they only show up when we are tired, under stress, or at our wit’s end. Then they come up and stop us; they interfere in our life, they sabotage our success, they destroy our relationships, or they thwart our creative endeavors.
And so it is important to locate and identify these internal stress points, hidden blocks, or unconscious dysfunctional reactions. That’s why we use awareness, relaxation and breathwork to identify and clear them.
And so, this month I’d like to introduce you to a powerful technique that we use at our Advanced Trainings and Practitioner Intensives.
For this exercise, we breathe for a short time in a powerful active provocative and even chaotic way, in order to produce some stress in the system. It does not need to be a lot of stress: just enough to locate and identify any weak links in your chain of adaptive responses.
We use the breath to reveal those hidden reactions, the unconscious habits and patterns, the hidden fears and pains and blocks that normally remain dormant until something in life triggers them.
Perhaps it is simply adry throat, or some slight pressure in the head, a mild pain or a side-stich. You need not force or strain yourself at all. You only need to breathe enough to activate the automatic or unconscious reactions that make your experience of the situation worse.
Once we have activated an uncomfortable feeling, we then practice soft circular breathing, or gentle sighs of relief—cleansing breaths—to dissolve or integrate the discomfort, to clear or release the stress-producing or stress-increasing reactions.
Next, we modulate the breathing rhythm. We consciously breathe into the discomfort, and we bring relaxation to that place. The key is not to stop breathing; instead, simply adjust the breathing. Make it softer, smoother and gentler. We switch to a soothing and strengthening pattern of breath.
We don’t try to use the breath to make the discomfort go away: that will only push it back down into the unconscious… Instead, we breathe in a way to make ourselves comfortable in the presence of the discomfort.
The idea is to use a rapid powerful breathing rhythm to trigger the weak links… to reveal your unconscious dysfunctional, self-sabotaging reactions to stress or discomfort. It is like a mini breathwork session, and the whole process of activation and integration takes only a few minutes. This is a very powerful technique, and so you want to be sure to not push or strain yourself.
Start with awareness. Tune into your body. Scan your body from head to toe. Notice all the feelings and sensations. Get a sense of your energy. The first part of the technique is something like chaotic breathing. The idea is to activate a lot of energy in the body and watch for the first feelings of discomfort. Where do they appear? What details can you notice about them?
For some people one minute of deep rapid or chaotic breathing is enough to activate some uncomfortable reactions somewhere in the body. And two or three minutes are more than enough for most people. Breathing with awareness is the key.
Where exactly does the discomfort manifest? What exactly is happening there? What exactly does it feel like? What are you doing in reaction to it? Stay with the process until you have gleaned some important details.
Next, adjust the breath. Don’t stop breathing. Keep breathing, but shift out of chaotic forceful breathing into a therapeutic pattern: either long slow gentle sighs of relief or quick smooth gentle connected “baby breaths.”
Keep breathing and track the feelings and sensations. Relax and let go into the feelings. Don’t fight them, or try to change them, or try to make them go away. Breathe and relax and get comfortable in the presence of the feelings.
Keep the breath moving softly, gently, continuously, or give yourself gentle pleasurable sighs of relief until all the feelings and reactions dissolve or integrate. Then do another cycle of chaotic breathing. You should be able to tolerate the chaotic breathing a bit longer. You should be able to go a bit longer before activating some discomfort.
If the same discomfort occurs again in the same place, then you have identified a pattern. You are doing something to cause it. It has nothing to do with breathing. You have uncovered an important stress point—an unconscious block or reaction or contraction, resistance, a fear or a need to control.
Perhaps you are creating tension, muscular contractions, in certain places in your body without realizing it. Perhaps you are holding a memory or a fear there. The key is to breathe gently into the place of discomfort; to breathe into the feelings, and bring relax into them.
Your suffering in life is due to events but your reaction to events: conscious or unconscious, physical, emotional or psychological.
If you would like to master this Breathwork Technique, then by all means come to one of the seminars, workshops or trainings; or schedule an individual session.
Good luck with your practice! And feel free to contact me with any questions or comments.
Love and Blessings,
Dan BrulÃ© has studied and practiced breathwork with more than 80,000 people in over 40 countries since 1976. His travel and teaching schedule is posted at www.breathmastery.com.