The Art of Conscious Breathing
Variations of this breathing technique have been used for millennia to induce altered states of consciousness and connect more deeply with the divine. On the surface, it’s hard to fathom how breathing alone can take us to such great heights. I had doubts myself – until I gave it a try. As it turns out, I hadn’t given my lungs enough credit – the experience was cathartic in ways that defy description.
When was the last time you thought about how and when you breathe?
Biologically speaking, breathing is a rhythmic, involuntary process regulated by the body. Most of us do it about 12 to 20 times per minute. It’s kind of a requirement on the standard “staying alive” checklist.
But spiritually speaking, your breath is far more than that.
In Peru, one of the most well known shamans, Roman Hanis, shows us the power of using the breath to access higher realms of awareness. He leads us through some deeply trans-formative breathing exercises that combined both Amazonian and Tibetan mystic traditions.
Before beginning each session, he reminded us that we all begin our lives in a primordial state of peaceful love and kindness and through breath work, it’s possible to return to that place.
In Roman’s words:
“Within many archaic languages, including Andean Quechua, Amazonian Quechua, Tibetan, Aramaic, Latin, Greek, Hawaiian and others, the word for “breath” is the same word that is used to describe life, spirit, and soul.”
This begs the question I’m always asking myself – what did the ancients know that we’ve forgotten?
For thousands of years, up to this very day, people have used conscious breath work for many reasons. Here are just a few:
- To access healing and insight
- To expand consciousness
- To release stress or anxiety
- To re-energize the body
- To gain clarity and vision
- To connect with higher forces / spirit guides
A Simple Yet Powerful Breathing Exercise:
The breath work exercise I will share below is intended as a simple intro, to give you a taste of what your breath can do. However I was on the fence about whether or not to share this exercise, because it can be intense and needs to be used with care.
A friendly warning before proceeding:
This type of breath work should be avoided by anyone with a history of the following: cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, glaucoma, retinal detachment, aneurysms, significant recent physical injuries or surgery. Pregnant women should avoid this type of breath work as well.
Keep in mind that during the process, it’s common for you to experience a wide spectrum of feelings. Such sensations can include deep relaxation, joy, serenity, sleep or meditative states, and possibly the release of past trauma. Reliving the birth process or even past life experiences have been reported too.
With this in mind, it’s strongly recommended that you have someone with you who is aware of what you are doing and is willing to assist if you need anything along the way.
Remember, if you experience any overwhelming sensations it is OK to stop at any time.
Preparing your space:
Find a firm, flat surface to lie down on – a yoga mat on the floor is ideal. Many people also put a pillow under their head and a rolled blanket under their knees. An additional blanket can also be used for warmth if you become cold during the exercise.
Important: If this is your first time trying an exercise like this, I strongly recommend keeping it to 20 minutes max, before gently bringing your breath back to normal and letting your body relax for 10 minutes in a laying position.
Again, this practice should be done with a partner who can supervise you. Take turns at 20 minute intervals, one experiencing while the other holds space. Using a timer with a gentle sound is also recommended when trying this outside of a workshop or class setting.
Read through all of the steps below before starting and familiarize yourself with them.
Lie down on your back, with pillow under the knees and any blankets positioned in a way that makes you comfortable. Close your eyes and relax your body and breathing for a few minutes.
Take in a slow, deep breath. Gently breathe all the way to the bottom of your lungs so that your stomach moves outward a bit. At the end of your inhale, immediately begin to exhale at the same speed. At the end of your exhale, immediately begin breathing in again, slow and steady.
Be mindful of continuous, “circular” breathing – where there are no gaps between inhale and exhale. And be sure not to hold your breath. When your lungs are almost full, begin to exhale, then before your lungs are empty, inhale again. You want to create a pattern of constant breathing either in or out. Think about the breath as making a circular motion in, through, and out of your system, and repeat.
You will need to breathe a little bit faster than you would under normal circumstances. However, and this is very important, you don’t want to breathe so fast that you create tension anywhere in your body. The lungs and entire body should be as relaxed as possible. In this way, the breath cycle can be maintained for a longer period of time.
Breathing in and out through the mouth will support emotional release more completely. But if you find that it’s more comfortable to nose breath, that’s ok too. In about 10 minutes or so, your body will find its own rhythm and way of breathing.
(At about the 10 to 15 minute mark, you may begin to feel a tingling sensation in your extremities, a feeling of euphoria, or an “altered” state of awareness.)
After 20 minutes, your preset timer will sound (remember to set a peaceful alarm sound) and your partner will gently put a hand on your shoulder to let you know that it’s time to slowly and intentionally bring your breath back to normal. Take some time in this in-between state to notice how what you’ve learned integrates and interacts with the reality that comes back into focus around you. *Some find this to be the most revelatory piece to this exercise.
You are complete ?
I hope this practice gives you a glimpse of the innate wisdom that is available when you tap into the power of your breath. Conscious breath work is yet another way to stay connected to the sacred in your life.
Thank you to the ancient masters who gave us this deeply trans-formative wisdom.