Breathing is easy.
Until it’s not. It’s something we do every day and take for granted. Yet, how many of us are breathing properly? The way we instinctively knew how to breathe when we came into this world as babies. As we get older, we seem to forget how to breathe well.
We seek out the best diets, superfoods and life-hacking techniques to be healthy and feel better. Yet, many of us go about our days completely unaware that breath is our most important source of nutrition. Before water and before food. We simply cannot survive without breathing.
My mother, in her late-seventies has had a number of health issues since retiring at sixty but is actually doing pretty well. This brilliant woman and brave survivor arrived in a tough 1950s London as a teenager and built a life from nothing. I love that she will complain about her arthritic hip at the same time as bending down to wipe her kitchen floor. She does not see the irony that her standing forward fold is a perfect Uttananasa that would be the envy of countless yoga practitioners a quarter of her age.
Several years ago Mum was prescribed the use of an inhaler due to persistent shortness of breath. This shortness of breath meant that walking to the bus stop just a short distance from her home was struggle. She’d walk very slowly and would usually have to stop a few times on the way. Over the past year she was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. Going along to the hospital with Mum where the doctor and nurse we saw insisted that prescribing statins was the only way forward, I was sceptical. Mum, a former nurse herself and already on medication for high blood pressure was not jumping for joy at the idea but took the prescription. The supposedly rare side effects of this drug presented themselves visibly within a just a few days and Mum felt worse. So, she decided to stop taking them.
Around this time, hearing Ben mention that simple breathing practices had the potential to help conditions like atrial fibrillation intrigued me so I wanted to find out more. He very kindly met with me and generously shared some simple tips I could share with my Mum. I left our meeting optimistic and met with Mum the next day. She seemed receptive, though I also wondered whether she would really do her breathing practice consistently for twenty minutes a day.
About a week later I got an excited phone call from Mum. On her trip to the shops that day she was standing at the bus stop bemoaning the fact that the bus was taking so long when she realised something… On her walk to the bus stop she had not been out of breath and she had not needed to stop to rest. Not even once. She asked me if this could possibly be down to ‘the breathing’ as she calls it. I responded that yes, it may well be. This was the incentive she needed to keep going. She would practise on three or four days a week for twenty minutes at a time rather than every single day, yet this still seemed to be enough to make a positive difference to how she felt. Not only that, she noticed her sleep was better (no small thing as insomnia has been an on-going issue for her for some years) and she had more energy.
After about two months, Mum’s practice fell by the wayside – she blamed having a busy phase (i.e. an active social live!) – and her insomnia and shortness of breath started to return. Consequently, she resumed ‘the breathing’ and soon started feeling better again. A follow up at the hospital even showed clear improvements on her peak flow tests and atrial fibrillation and as I type she is still not taking statins.
When I caught up with Ben I was excited to share this good news. I am so grateful to Ben for his generosity with his time and in sharing his knowledge.
Breathing is magic. And easy. When you know how.
Thank you Ben. I hope you thrive in spreading this important, empowering work to as many people as possible. I feel it is your Dharma.
Ben teaches breathwork at The Shala in South London – find out more about about his ‘Breath for Life’ workshops here.
Ben Wolff is a London-based yoga teacher, clinical hypnotherapist and dream yoga practitioner. He is a tutor on Uma Dinsmore-Tuli’s Yoga Nidra Teacher Trainings and in her words “Ben has a profound depth of experience and understanding of Yoga Nidra. He has an acute and wide understanding of contemporary scientific research into meditation, neuroscience and other fields related to Yoga Nidra.” As a self styled breathmaster he has first hand experience of the healing power of the breath and fully understands that the breath can be the most powerful tool we have. “The breath is my yoga and my yoga is the breath”.