Tag: stress

Buyer Beware: Not All Breathwork is Relaxing

Eoin Chakra Physiology and Hormones
In a world of extremes we love to push the boundaries of

Commit to Bliss is Unique and Powerful course to learn the tools of Somatic Breathing and Embodied Physiology so we can self regulate back to peace in any life situation.

 

Imagine being brand new to snow-skiing and on your first run you ended up taking the wrong chair lift. Instead of going to the manageable bunny slope, you got thrust off the chair lift straight into a double diamond run. How would you feel looking down that steep pitch? To many experienced skiers, this is the dream. However, to the new skier most likely provokes sheer terror.

I had a blind spot when it came to how I taught yogic breathing techniques. I now see this blind spot everywhere as people quickly jump on the bandwagons of Wim Hof, the “IceMan.”

This is why I want to share this post now as a “Buyer Beware” PSA. I believe that if breathing techniques were packaged goods they should come with a label. “Warning, not all techniques are good for all people.”

With one in five people in US has an anxiety disorder, I see many yogic breathing techniques or Wim Hof Breathing techniques being described as relaxing antidotes to stress and anxiety. I want the word to get out that breathwork is not a “one size fits all shop.”

Let me circle back to the skiing analogy and my blind spot. I had been sharing these techniques in my classes up until 15 years ago. I loved the “double diamond” runs of long breath holds (Kumbhaka) and rapid breathing (Khapalabhati,) the same way I love big waves or double black diamond ski runs.

 

 

I spent many years practicing Kumbaka (long breath holds) and Kapalabhati (Rapid Breathing) by my teacher Gioia Irwin who’s lineage goes back to B.K.S. Iyengar.

As I prepare for an upcoming book and course on the Yoga Sutras, even Patanjali describes the serenity of the breath holds as the pinnacle of the yogic Pranayama experience (Check out Sutra 2.50.) How could people not like these techniques?

However, when I would teach them to students, many of them came to me afterwards saying that they were not experiencing peace at all, but they were going through traumatic experiences.

They were not seeing chakras, angelic auras or the light of divine consciousness. Not at all. What they were describing to me was panic flashbacks. Some described it to the claustrophobic experience of being put into MRI machines after being injected with purple die to check for tumors.

It made me seek feedback from other students on these techniques. What I found was that during these breathing techniques, many of them were secretly feeling claustrophobic, light-headed, dizzy and full of panic.

You may have seen some of my Instagram memes (Eoinisms) like the popular “Less Drama, More Pranayama.” What is fully clear to me now is that for about 1 in 6 people, I was causing “More Drama, through Pranayama!”

It’s no wonder they felt agitated because in these rapid breathing techniques, we are actually hyperventilating. Those rapid exhalations lower carbon dioxide levels which in turn lead to narrowing of the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain!

When our blood supply to the brain is decreased, we will experience symptoms like lightheadedness and tingling in the fingers.

It’s actually crazy to consider that people who were already feeling anxious or trauma were now trying to fight off lightheadedness and numb fingers! And they had no tools to deal with this. And they were told this is “stress-reducing response. It wasn’t stress-reducing, it was stress-inducing!

On the other side of the coin, holding your breath too long can lower heart rate from a lack of oxygen. This causes CO₂ buildup in your bloodstream. This is called “nitrogen narcosis,” a dangerous buildup of nitrogen gases in your blood that can make you feel disoriented or inebriated.

Again, for people who are already suffering from stress and anxiety, why would we ever push them off the chair lift into the double diamond run of feeling disoriented or inebriated? Of course, you may have the tools stay grounded in this disorientated state so this may be your cup of tea, and that’s fine. My point is we cannot keep pushing people into these experiences under the label of “reduce stress with pranayama or Wim Hof breathing techniques.

To be fair, what I found is that if I worked one on one with these students, we had a lot of success to make the experience slowly more enjoyable. They gradually learned the somatic tools to stay calm in the experience to not allow the sympathetic nervous system or panic response to overtake them.

However, in large group classes, I couldn’t work one on one with people the way these pranayama breathing techniques should be taught. As a result, I stopped sharing these breathing techniques in my classes for that reason. (Again, it’s not that I don’t think they are great in some circumstances, but we have to walk before we run.)

About 15 years ago, I decided to change tacks altogether.

I set out a mission to explore ways of helping people regulate towards peace. What if we could make a goal of getting people onto the green slopes first before launching them of the chair lift into a double diamond slope that can cause the panic response?

I can’t go into the details of all the techniques here, but I am so overjoyed to share the ones that have evolved in our Blissology school.

I want to share these as a more widely accessible alternative to more stimulating breathing techniques. By analogy, I want people to enjoy the effects of a mellow “Cush” strain of marijuana before they launch into the world of Ayahuasca trip intensity. In a world where many of us with life stresses are already in the extremes of stress, I just don’t think that we need to rush to extremes.

I will be sharing many of these techniques in the upcoming Commit to Bliss course Nov 14 and my new Yoga book due out this winter.

The course is primarily about finding “Embodied Peace.” It’s about learning Somatic regulation and what I called “Embodied Physiology.” My goal is to share tools, conversations and science about how to steer our bodies back to peace when we feel anxious, angry or overly stressed.

 

Eoin Chakra Physiology and Hormones

Commit to Bliss is a coursed designed to teach you Embodied Physiology to help regulate your body and mind back to Peace.

 

In the meantime, here is a small an excerpt from page 156 of the upcoming Commit to Bliss Book under the Embodied Breath section.

The general process is to go slow and feel the breath.
Open your senses and notice the body as you breathe.

Reduce the tendency of the human mind to analyze of rush.
Simply enjoy the feeling of peace that comes when we slow down our breath.

Breathe fully into your belly noticing that when the breath becomes more enjoyable your mind feels more spacious and free.

Even as you read the sentences below, make plenty of space to pause and a savor the experience. Soften your eyes and keep the spine long.  Enjoy the slow.

See your breathing process through the lens of tightness and flow.

Feel a place that’s tight: some common places are the lower back, the upper shoulders, the lower jaw, the forehead and belly. Let them release. Breath that tightness out, as your brain sinks into a hammock with ease.

Feel the fullness and the peace in your breath as we shift into a state of mind, we call flow.

Calm is your superpower. You have the controls. Enjoy each deep and full breath

 

How can we Rewire our Response to Stress?

Everything is connected to everything…

The longer I practice medicine the more I see that chronic stress has to be one of the major contributors to illness and disease.  Disease literally means “dis – ease”, not at ease.  Disease is a result of imbalances in our core functioning systems.  Our bodies are always trying to maintain this dynamic balance in every cell – this is called homeostasis.

Stress is the physiological response to the perception of a real or imagined threat to your body or self.  The key point here is perception.  An external event is not necessarily inherently stressful – it is how we interpret the signals and how it is processed in our mind and translated into our body.  The threat could be real (biking accident) but it could be imagined (an assumption that someone was mad at us).  In either case – if we perceive the event as stressful, a cascade of patterned responses ensues.  Adrenaline, cortisol and other stress hormones are released from your brain and permeate every cell in your body. Every cell has receptors for these powerful chemical messengers (hormones).  When you “feel” stressed, your cells feel this stress.  When you feel joy, your cells feel joy so to speak.  The stress response activates the sympathetic response (flight or fright) of the autonomic nervous system causing your heart rate, blood pressure to go up, blood more sticky, increases your blood sugar levels to prepare you for emergency action. This is the right response if there is an acute stressful event that requires you to take action (run away from the saber tooth tiger).  However, if we are chronically stressed, this adaptive stress response becomes maladaptive and it causes all kinds of problems on the body.  Stress has been identified as a major contributor of many chronic diseases – heart disease, high blood dress, thyroid dysfunction, mood disorders etc.

Prolonged stress causes chronic activation of this stress response and at some point – your systems begin to get depleted.  The whole neuro-endocrine axis (hypothalamic, pituitary, thyroid, adrenal, gonads) can go out of balance -dysregulated.  Higher levels of cortisol signal your metabolism to be in an emergency mode and reduces your ability to burn fat, suppresses immune system in the long term, can cause leaky gut – which in turn can over activate immune system potentially leading to allergies, auto-immunity, causes sex hormone, thyroid imbalances as well as depression and anxiety.

This is why it is vitally important that we become aware and mindful of how stress is affecting us.  You can have the perfect diet, workout everyday but without addressing how you deal with stress, much of the other good stuff can get cancelled out.

We are an incredibly complex and resilient organism.  It never ceases to amaze me, how much stress, trauma and illness the body can handle, heal and triumph from.  We need to pay attention to what our body is saying to us.  The body communicates to us through symptoms.  What is our body trying to say to us?  It is telling us to slow down, to quit that job that we know we should have done long ago but can’t quite make ourselves do it.  The body will say “No’—if we can’t say “No. Every symptom or illness should prompt an inquiry and reflection upon what is going on in our lives.

We are learning more and more that our choices we make each and every day contribute to our overall resilience to stress, dysfunction and illness.  Nourishing our bodies with nutrient dense, whole foods provide us with all the co-factors and molecules to ensure our systems are running well and have extra capacity.  Keeping our bodies strong, flexible, supple ensures that energy is flowing freely through our systems and stress is not getting trapped.  Ensuring consistent, restorative sleep is vital.  Learning how to breath – deeply and slowly have profound effects on our stress response. Do Yoga!

Understand our thinking patterns and begin to be aware of how we often make erroneous assumptions about situations and how this causes us stress.

Once we become more conscious and mindful about our perception and responses, we can then begin to re-pattern and re-wire how we respond.

Resilience is about having extra functional capacity so that we can handle increased stress without losing function.  We can all live healthy, happier lives once we begin to understand and shift how we perceive and respond to stress

In Health,
Dr. Lawrence Cheng