Breathing, the most natural thing we can do; from the first inhale at birth to the last exhale at death, every breath in between is regulated by the innate wisdom of the body, and is activated by a trigger response in the brain part known as the medulla oblongata (the red part of the image above). It's the one physiological internal functions of the body that we have control over and can self regulate, and in my view it's our greatest medicine.
This part of the brain emits impulses that inspire you to take a breath, and this comes as a result of a natural bodily occurrence, the fluctuating balance of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood. As carbon dioxide (Co2) builds in the cells, certain chemo-receptors in the body alert your brain "Houston, we have a problem!" and send an impulse to regulate this by forcing a contraction of the diaphragm and the intercostal muscles surrounding the ribs. This forces us to inhale deeply taking in more oxygen (O2), which in turn triggers a process of self regulation of levels of Co2 and O2, a balance vital for cellular vitality and blood health. As air rushes into the lungs, the brain stops it's 'alert' signal and the diaphragm and ribs relax...ad infinitum!
Most of us however, despite this innate response do not take in anywhere near our lung capacity in oxygenated fresh air, nor do we fully and completely exhale the waste air that will remain in the lungs if we are perpetually shallow breathing.
On average, people inhale and exhale a total of 500 ml of air with each breath, however we can take in much more than this. The amount of air we inhale and expel is known as the tidal volume, or TV. The maximum volume of air that can move through your lungs is known as your Vital Capacity, and by breathing deeply, we can generally reach a volume of 3,100 ml, quite different to the average 500 right?
Some of the air we breathe in never even reaches our lungs, how funky is that! This 'homeless' air is known as 'dead space' and is the air that lingers in your pharynx, trachea and nasal cavities, places where the earlier mentioned gaseous exchange doesn't happen, and that's ok, it just means there's always more air we can consciously take into our lungs by intentionally increasing our capacity to breathe deeply.
As a breath worker, and a regular breather, I am constantly amazed by what I discover in the stories in my body which lie just beyond the breath. I have lain down to breathe convinced there's nothing much to do and been in deep process within minutes, and equally, when I've imagined there was some big 'work' to do, I've experienced unparalleled lightness of being.
What is consistent for me however, is that this breathing technique has immense healing powers. It takes me to places I have long since forgotten, relegated to parts of my subconscious mind to gather dust in some wee corner, allowing these dusty parts of my psyche to rule the show in the form of emotional, mental or physical triggers. I've managed to tame many of my triggers these days, to recognise them for what they are, illusions of conditioning, however, that taming has come about through a willingness to go there and persistently do the work.
I am passionately committed to breathwork; it's become crystal clear to me it's my life purpose and the representation of my soul medicine. The breathing part of my work I have called INSPIRE BREATH as I believe that true liberation comes not only in the physical act of INSPIRING, but in the space we create from healing our stories, freedom comes riding in, lightness finds its place, and we really do experience inspiration; the releasing of the chains that have bound us that allows us to return to our essence, our true nature as emissaries of love.
For all of my upcoming breathwork sessions and collaborations, please go to my what's on page. Inspire yourself!
I'm just back from the Liverpool TEDx talks yesterday and I'm inspired! Two men and one woman, ChauKei Ngai billed as a 'fierce yogini' in particular inspired me, well three men actually but one completely unrelated in some ways to this post, but who made me laugh so much I had to include the wonderful Mr Bingo! Actually Mr B isn't so unrelated in fact as he was evidently a living, breathing example of following your flow and your creative passions!
The two men I mainly mention here though were Dave Evans of Silicone Valley and Stanford's Life Design Lab, and Dan Cable, a professor at the London Business School, whose own story of sudden diagnosis of stage 4 lymphoma totally re-routed his life. These two men, in differing but similar ways, are both strong advocates of finding and following your passion in life, and for Dan, this crucial awakening led to him concluding that a 'seeking system' is an innate human trait that needs to be honoured in order for us to truly thrive. In fact, when ignored or squashed it can actually create physical illness, so what exactly is a 'seeking system' and why can it so negatively or positively impact us?
A seeking system is basically an inherent need for a human being to experience contrast, fulfilment and variety in life, a trait which leads us to 'seek out' new experiences and create change in order to fulfil that need. Of course we spend most of our adult lives and time in the workplace and so it makes sense that we need this variety and expression whilst there! I've always recognised and responded to a huge range of stimuli in my own life, I'm sure many of us have, and in fact it was in another TED talk on multi-potentialites that I first came to accept that perhaps it wasn't such a bad trait to have, this 'mistress of all trades' thing I had going on!
It's been a long time since I lived a life where I spent all of my weekdays dreaming about how I could escape the mundanities of work until the weekend, or the next holiday. According to statistics, 70% of people do not feel they can be their best at work, and this can actually have a physiological effect as well as a psychological one and here's how...
The Ventral Striatum is the part of the brain that seeks new things and experiences. It's also where our reward system lives with the delivery of dopamine, the neuro-transmitting chemical messenger that makes us feel alive and well. Without the stimulation of this part of the brain, there can be very real effects of our cellular health, and studies are now being done which highlight the fact that the regulators for immune function are inherently linked to this sense of wellbeing, so much so that without this stimulation and reward system, immunity begins to shut down. In other words, our resilience is directly affected by our engagement with life and what we do.
We need 3 things in order to really thrive:
1. Self Expression
2. Exploration and Experimentation
3. The Personalisation of Purpose.
And yet there has been what Dan and Dave might call a 'creative apartheid' in the work place for many, where those at the top, rather than seeking out employees strengths and pleasures and maximising on those, instead choose to create hierarchies where there is little to no chance of true creative fulfilment in their day to day experience of employment. The best indicator for survival and healthy longevity evident in one recent survey undertaken with over 7,000 participants, and then reviewed some 14 years later, was having a feeling of meaning and purpose in life.
In my work and life I have most definitely found this to be true! The more I'm living with variety, fulfilment and creative self expression, the more well I feel on all levels. How about you? Are you activating your seeking system or are you suppressing it? Do you recognise the link to your health and wellbeing with living a fulfilled life?
If you're not currently living with that, what small steps can you make to create change? Don't wait until you are ill, or dying before you choose life...start today!
...but there is freedom waiting on the other side.
I've just landed from what I can sincerely describe as two of the most intense weeks of my life. I am in part, quite a large part it seems, undone!
Over the two weeks I was away on the beautiful island of Ibiza, I learned a lot about myself. I saw my unrecognised wisdom, I saw how and where I have not claimed my authority, I saw my shadow and my vulnerability and I saw patterns that I have never realised I'd passed down to my own children in learning them from my parents before me, and I welcome it all.
I was in Ibiza to graduate as a breathwork facilitator with the Alchemy Of Breath, a school of breathwork I am proud to be connected to and in whose name I work. This whole journey has been a process of self discovery on much deeper levels than I could ever have imagined when starting to breathe consciously a couple of years ago.
You may wonder what all the fuss is about - we breathe every day right? Wrong! We breathe but we don't breathe well; we fail to breathe deeply into the essence of our being, and when we do, wow...everything changes, and I mean everything!
I have seen people fall apart, break their hearts and souls wide open, weep a million unshed tears, scream and rage for all that went unexpressed, laugh manically in deep knowing of truth and curl up into corners of their deepest vulnerability, and I've seen all of that being held in pure love. I've held all of that myself in this essence of love as a witness, a supporter and as a facilitator. It's extremely humbling to see humanity laid out like this before you. Walk with diamonds on the soles of your feet and the breath of the butterfly if you're ever blessed to witness or experience this work - I believe we owe each other this grace for the human soul is delicate and mighty at the same time.
As human beings, we walk a many faceted journey through this life. For some, it's as much as we can do to stay here, to commit to living, to feel and to just allow ourselves to be enough. For others, it may be easier in some ways, but one thing I have learnt for sure is that we all have our vulnerabilities, those tender places inside of us that need to be held and seen through the eyes of love.
When I began my training, motivated by a profound and utterly unexpected experience of this conscious connected breathing technique whilst on holiday in Bali last year, I didn't expect it to take me where it has, both internally in my emotional and mental landscape/s or externally in the physical world too.
My teacher is one of the most loving and transparent men I've ever met in my entire life. He works from a place of unconditional love, a commitment to conscious communication and a presence that changes many, many people's lives simply in the act of being himself; he is what I consider to be a 'safe' man and a steady harbour in which to land. He's worked hard to get to that place, and this commitment to self awareness shines through in everything he is and everything he does. He would shy from this adoration, but I'm saying it anyway!
So back to the unlearning - as children we are born in pure essence. Our imprinting begins at a young age, where we are powerless to do anything beyond receive those imprints really because 1). we are too small to know any different and 2). we don't have the understanding to question it whilst so young, so we grow up believing that these messages are 'true'; messages about ourselves and about the world around us, but they're not true, they are simply a reflection of those people's experiences and their own conditioning.
Unlearning takes time, effort and integration. INTEGRATION is key! I see so many doing this deep work, perhaps with the breath, or with plant medicines, or other healing modalities and simply not giving themselves the time necessary to integrate all that has been felt, therefore repeating ad infinitum the stories that reveal themselves. I have landed from this two week journey feeling completely undone, and I'm glad I'm 'undone'! I'm glad because I know that this mining into my soul's landscape is what heals me if I can sit with it, reflect on it, and be with it.
Take the time you need to integrate from your experiences whatever they are. Stay present to yourself and your true feelings, tune into your felt sense and allow it the space to land, and seek out those who support you in changing yourself. We're unused to stillness in this fast-moving day and age, but it's crucial to drop into it deeply if we are to really create true health and healing.
Alchemy - The transmutation of matter, the seeking of a universal elixir, the conversion of lead into gold.
Discover your very own personal alchemy and watch as your life becomes authentic, beautiful, inspired and free, and remember to always gift yourself time for integration to take place.
With so much love - Steph xox
CHANGE YOUR LIFE!
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