How To Use The Breath For Everyday Transformation
Our breath is a process of alchemy, transforming the air we breathe into the sustenance of our very lives. And when we intentionally manipulate our breath, we can use it as a tool to alchemize other aspects of our experience too — such as difficult emotions or a cluttered headspace. Let me introduce you to a simple practice that I like to call Breathwork for Alchemy that will help you transform your difficult thoughts and emotions into an energy you can more easily work with.
Breathwork for alchemy
The intention of alchemizing breathwork is not to rid ourselves of a difficult experience. Rather, through the vehicle of the breath we are able to soften and meet ourselves where we are with a more open, aware, and compassionate response. From a centered space, we can become more curious about what our challenging experience is trying to signal to us, rather than fight against it, which typically prolongs the difficult feelings. This is where the true medicine of breathwork lies.
The breathing technique begins by balancing the length of our inhales and exhales sending the message to our system that we are safe. Here we relax the body, calm the mind, and use our focus on the breath to ground into the present moment.
Next, we slowly extend the length of just the exhale. Now we are signaling to the brain through the vagus nerve to turn down the response of our sympathetic nervous system (‘fight or flight’) and turn up our parasympathetic nervous system (‘rest and digest’). This aids in our body’s and mind’s response to difficulties. The longer we extend our exhale, the more our diaphragm and abdomen (but not the chest) are engaged to slow and steady the breath equalizing our respiration cycle into a state of deep relaxation.
With the system in a more balanced and relaxed state, you will begin to feel the alchemy occurring. Often it will feel as if the energy in the body is moving from a scattered pattern to a more channeled direction. Stay here as long as you need, perhaps finding that you are more able to accept and allow whatever arises.
Once we’ve softened the body, calmed the mind, and created a bit of a distance from the intensity of our experience, we may gain some clarity. In the final breaths, there is one last invitation to alchemize difficult emotions and thoughts using a positive “I AM” affirmation. If you are feeling fearful, try “I AM SAFE”. If there is a lot of negative chatter, try “I AM LOVED”. And if anxiety has the best of you, try “I AM KNOWING”.
Here is a step-by-step guide to the Breathwork for Alchemy practice:
- Begin laying down on your back with your eyes closed or sitting-up softly gazing at a point in front of you.
- Count the length of your natural exhale (e.g. count of 4). Match your inhale length to the exhale (e.g. inhale for 4, exhale for 4). Stay here until you notice a shift in the way you are feeling.
- Begin to extend only the exhale by 1 or 2 counts (e.g. inhale for 4, exhale for 6). Stay here for at least 2 breaths, longer if needed.
- Extend the exhale by another 1 or 2 counts, slowly working your way up to doubling the original count (e.g. inhale for 4, exhale for 8). Allow each exhale to soften you deeper into the body. Imagine a melting sensation. Stay here until you achieve a more centered and relaxed state of being.
- In the final breaths, let go of counting but continue to keep the exhales long, slow, and gentle. Repeat your “I AM” affirmation with each exhale, melting the affirmation into the body.
- Thank yourself. Breathwork is deeply compassionate self-care.
A couple of notes:
- You do not need to continue to lengthen the count of the exhale, especially if doing so produces any anxiety. Stay at a count you are most comfortable with and just focus on long, slow, and gentle exhales.
- A shortened version of this breathwork can be done anywhere—while sitting at your desk or in your car. The most important piece to focus on is exhaling longer than the inhale.
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