Inhale, exhale, inhale exhale. Breathing seems easy enough, in fact it’s probably the most essential thing that you do without even being aware that you’re doing it. The breath, that first gulp or air is an indication of life and your acceptance of it once you come into this world. So what happens as you grow older? You actually pay less and less attention to how you breathe (and sometimes what you breathe in) so that in times of stress, tension, emotional anxiety (or even excitement) you feel like the entire world has reduced you to a quivering, helpless mess. Okay, maybe a little melodramatic, but if you have ever been in a situation of heightened emotions, you probably have been this close to losing your mind or even your grip on reality, and this is primarily because you’ve actually forgotten how to breathe properly. This is the philosophy behind the practitioners of The Art of Living Foundation (AOL), a worldwide organization that promises you can achieve the life you truly desire by paying attention to how you breathe. It was that basic premise that got me to join one of their workshops recently, a three-day beginners course held after office hours at a private residence. Courses are held once a month and are normally about six days in length, but with my sked, the three-day course came as a godsend and I felt it was meant to be as my work-life balance was far from being balanced at that particular point in time. I’m not for any kind of medication and for me, most shrinks are a waste of money, so why not start with the basics and get the maximum impact of good ol’ oxygen.
Denise Celdran, founder and owner of Edgy Veggy is one of AOL’s teachers here in the Philippines and is a strong advocate of its benefits. In the last couple of years since she has practiced the breathing techniques regularly she has witnessed the stress and the often-destructive pull of worry (especially about the future) fall away. “There were many ideals and desires I would cling to before, and now, with just a breath, I detach,” she explained to me when I first asked her about the course. Timing is crucial in life and I actually learned about AOL over a year ago but despite regular invites and updates from Celdran I never got around to joining. Fast-forward to a couple of months ago when another crossroad in my personal and professional life resulted in anxiety attacks, a shorter temper and lots of blocks in my creative flow. I didn’t want to work, go out, but I forced myself to, and I was just looking for another way to find my center without having to fly off the handle to get it back. Divine timing came to my rescue, the three-day course was just around the corner and there was an opening, so I jumped in with both feet and a heart full of hope.
So what can one expect? The first lesson is not to get fixated on what you expect to happen and to just be in the present and be open to everything that is to be taught. There’s a little yoga to limber you up, which is jokingly referred to as “diesel yoga” since even the oldest participant (nearly 80 years old) is able to go through the poses, there’s meditation, there’s some sharing of insights and experiences, and a whole lot of breathing. Why is breathing so important (aside from the obvious, if you don’t breathe, you die)? Because it acts as a purifier, tranquilizer, and as an energizer. That probably didn’t make much sense, but it’s best explained that proper breathing gives you what your body needs, so if you need to detox, to relax or to get your mojo back, it all starts and ends with a breath. You go through a guided breathwork series which allows you to clear your body and mind with different inhale and exhale techniques; you’re also asked to sit in a way so that you get maximum oxidization. At the end of the first session many of the course participants already experienced a cleaning and a clearing on the physical level, a good start especially to those battling certain respiratory ailments and insomnia. I can only speak for myself so my personal experience was definitely a calming one — something I desperately needed at the time. I was also given a tool, something I could use whenever those sneaky little thoughts of doubt, worry and insecurity invaded my sanity via breathing exercises that could be done once a day, including an emergency shortcut (that could probably prevent a whole lot of road rage, since it could be done in a flash).
Others shared that with regular practice they developed glowing complexions (so yes, good breathing can make you better looking); just think of being able to achieve a deeper, more restful slumber for one. Some were able to control their appetites (kiss stress-eating goodbye) and most felt that they had reconnected with a lighter, more joyful part of themselves. Imagine all this with an inhale and exhale redux.
* * *
SOUL TRAIN By Katrina A. Holigores (The Philippine Star) Updated September 30, 2011 *Photo by Odin Nicolas