So for anyone that saw the UK TV show Freeze the Fear with Wim Hof where viewers witnessed a group of celebrities, having what appeared to be, to the untrained eye, some kind of breakdown. It turns out this was in fact Wim Hof guiding the group through a breath class.

Whilst the slight sceptic in me wondered how much of what we were viewing was for TV ratings, I am an innately curious person. (A curious combination you might think, coming from a person that is currently on a 3 week long yoga retreat in the middle of Central America).

So in light of the inner sceptic in any of us, I wanted to share an experience. One that proves if you open your mind and lean into curiosity a whole wonder of experiences can open themselves up to you.

Last week, I took my very first breath class

Now, before I explain what occurs in a breath class, I want to just recap. I had no idea what I was entering into, other than the understanding that breath work is centric to yoga, so perhaps in my mind I was just going to practice new techniques, who knows? I don’t think I really thought, I just went. Remember, I’m I’m all for the power of saying yes!

I’ve been trying to muster up the courage to recount my experience here, but every time I think about what I experienced I’m not sure how to properly articulate it. That is without sounding like I’ve been kidnapped by a cult and to be honest I don’t want my family to worry should they read this. Not that they would, as I think my family have practically zero understanding of what kind of ‘holiday’ I’m on. I think they think I’ve headed off to some kind of singles retreat, probably to sit cross legged, whilst chanting and consuming only nuts and veggies. (Ok some of this may be true 😉, but just for their info I am fine, I’m getting better at sitting cross legged, I love eating nuts and veggies and no it’s not a singles retreat!)

Any how back to the break work class…..

For those of you that have no prior knowledge of what I’m talking about, all breath work is central to yoga. When done effectively it can help your focus, reduce anxiety, build resilience and concentration and calm your nervous system, to name just a few of the benefits. For anyone that practices yoga you will also know how important it is to when focusing on postures, deepening stretches, or switching off your mind from busy lives. The latter is something I struggle with, so anything that will help I’m all for!

A breath class takes on your mind and body to new levels

A breath work class takes things to a completely different level than simply practicing breathing techniques.

So picture this.

Everyone lies on their back with their eyes closed and the person leading the class (in our case Remy, one of their retreat owners) guides you through a sequence of breathing techniques, with a back drop of music that reflects the experience as it goes through different phases.

Now I suspect many of you will be thinking, but how difficult is breathing, isn’t there just two kinds, IN or OUT? But no, there are many different types of breathing techniques. In through the nose, out through the mouth, what we tend to do with out much thought. Alternatively in through our nose and out through our nose. (Better for calming, relaxing and balancing our breath). And some where we’d hold our breath between inhaling and exhaling and all while changing the rhythm and length (depth) of each breath. Imagine ‘in’……1, 2, 3, out 1, 2, 3……., then ‘in’ 1,2,3,4….. out 1,2,3,4 you get the idea.

Whilst Remy guided us through each sequence, you could feel the intensity change, and the themes that Remy talks us through encouraged you to think deeply and inwardly. The Physiological changes that are brought on by these different breathing techniques are largely driven by the autonomic nervous system, which is what can create extremes of emotions and physical bodily effects.

In times of consistent high levels of stress our nervous system can get locked into staying in a heightened state and it is in these examples, that it can be hard to then get away from this panicked feeling. Being able to activate the parasympathetic nervous system in times like this can help calm both the body and brain down quickly and help restore a sense of peace.

An out pouring of emotions created through breathing

The only way I can describe what I felt was that your body takes on a weightless feel, almost numb. At one point I couldn’t actually feel the ground I was lying on.

Aside from the physical affect on my body the more prominent feelings were of an out pouring of raw emotions.

Firstly, I started sobbing, but not hysterically, more like a numbness of sadness that seemed to focus around the passing of my Dad. I remember feeling incredibly sad that I wasn’t going to see him again, but there was no hysteria, just an emptiness. These emotions started off slowly, as a release of tears, but was soon replaced with the kind of outburst you typically see at funerals, or at high emotional stressful times.
I don’t remember the exact tipping point, but I do remember what Remy said that seem to trigger the next level of emotions and that was ‘focus on what you’re grateful for’.
In hindsight, I would have thought this should have filled me with joy, but instead my immediate thought went to Erik (someone I had become close to on the retreat) and what he ‘must’ be thinking in response Remy’s dialogue – his children.
At that very moment it felt like my heart had been pulled out of my chest and ripped apart by a pack of wolves. I know this may seem melodramatic, but the feelings were real, deep and overwhelming.

It seems strange writing this, as it was such a huge reaction, after all, how long have I had to process that having a family wasn’t going to happen for me, but there it was. Pure, raw emotions for the loss I have experienced.

Upon reflection, the inner critic was proved wrong by breath work!

As the pace of the class slowed, and Remy calmly eased us through, I struggled to catch my breath. (Crying and breathing at the same time is quite a challenge I can tell you in this environment).

We were encouraged to keep our eyes closed and focus on slow balanced breathing through the nose. I remember this part as I was so blocked up through crying that it took sometime to equalise my breath.

When I eventually opened my eyes, there was just 3 of us left in the room. I felt shell shocked, but also an enormous sense of release.

The view from our yoga deck (pictured) has an incredible way of centring you and making peace with your feelings, so I was able to slowly gather my thoughts.

As I returned to the lounge of our retreat it is no understatement that I rejoined the group somehow lighter, leaving behind some of what I’d been carrying around, unbeknownst to me.

So as I tell this, I know some of you will also be sceptics, some will have mixed feelings of my recount and some perhaps passing judgement on me sharing these experiences and inner thoughts. And that’s all ok.

One thing I’ve learnt through this experience is that it’s good to be vulnerable and letting go of things that no longer serve you allows space for new opportunities/people/experiences.

Thank you to Remy for guiding us through this experience. An experience I didn’t even know I needed.

A big shout out to my yogi friends, for their compassion and friendship. Who knew you could become so close to set of people in such a short space of time.

Namaste


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