The Practice of Breathing

“You really need to try this one day! Wauw! It’s really crazy how it can make you feel both high and zen from within. It’s like a getaway,” my friend Sascha wrote to me last week. She attended a breathing workshop facilitated by Aaron Benjamin Metzger, a 3rd year student at Kaospilot. Feeling that strong emotions from breathing sounded almost surreal. I felt intrigued by her powerful experience and decided to catch up with Aaron to understand more about this concept of breathing.

 

So Aaron, tell me more about you and what you are working on!

“My name is Aaron Benjamin and for my Pilot Project – the 3rd Year Project at Kaospilot – I am developing a concept called “Transformative Experience Design” also called TED. This is a new framework combining experience design and transformative practices. Across culture transformative practices like meditation, rituals, hypnosis, and several other techniques have been used to support personal growth and to achieve non-ordinary states of consciousness. Those experiences are different to our ordinary everyday experience. With these frames, I have facilitated breathwork sessions in South Africa, Amsterdam, Germany, Denmark and Oslo”.

When we are able to focus our attention on the breath, we are able to become aware of our presence in this very moment of life

Breathing is a necessity for staying alive. What is so special about the breath? 

“A lot of people are not aware that when they are stressed, their breath gets flatter, which leads to an undersupply of oxygen in the body. In the long-term, this causes serious health issues, as we need oxygen on a cellular level for every process. It’s the element that keeps us all connected”.

“A person that inspired me a lot to dive deeper into the power of breathing is Wim Hof. He is also known as The Iceman and has developed something called The Wim Hof Method combining breathwork, mindfulness, and physical exercises. He climbed the Himalayas without an oxygen bottle and in nothing but shorts. Wim Hof proofed in clinical studies that he could consciously influence his immunesystem to reject viruses that got injected into his blood system, simply by controlling his breath. Wim Hof showed that by focusing our attention on the breath we can achieve extraordinary physical performances. Wim Hof is one of the main reasons that breathwork has become even more popular in Europe”.

During a breathwork session you are able to go past the trauma and liberate yourself from the effect it has on you

What is breathwork and where does it originate from? 

“The famous Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Than says: “Breathing connects life with consciousness“. When we are able to focus our attention on the breath, we are able to become aware of our presence in this very moment of life”.

“Cultures and religions around the world have used the manipulation of the breath to alter consciousness, for centuries. Breathing plays an essential part in Buddhist meditation. We know that the Inuits used it, Pranayama Yoga uses a very special way of fast breathing and high-performance athletes know about the importance of breathing. Until this day the Kung Bushmen in the African Kalahari Desert will enter a healing trance together using drumming and breathing to achieve these non-ordinary stages of collective consciousness”.

“A man that brought breathwork back into a therapeutical Western context is the well-known transpersonal psychologist, Dr. Stanislav Grof. In the mid 1970’s, he studied the effect of LSD on the psyche. After LSD was banned, he found breathwork as an alternative approach to achieve the holotropic (non-ordinary) states of consciousness”.

“What I observed facilitating workshops for over 300 people is that breathwork gives you access to your emotions. It is a safe, natural and supported process that offers dramatic healing from trauma; recovering from addiction; and growth both personally and spiritually”.

“Holotropic stages of consciousness function like a radar. It pulls forward the emotion within you with the most presence. Almost everybody has gone through traumatic experiences, which affect their lives and form patterns of behaviour. Holotropic stages of consciousness is a safe way to get in contact with our subconsciousness, fully release our trauma and finally let go of it from our lives. During a breathwork session, you are able to go past the trauma and liberate yourself from the effect it has on you”.

Aaron and TED participants

What is your own relationship with breathwork? 

“My mom has taught yoga for over 30 years, so breathing played an essential part of my upbringing. The day I left to start my studies at Kaospilot, my mom copied a chapter of a book with the headline “Breathwork – A strong collaborator in healing processes”. After I started my own meditation practice, I realized that when I was challenged or stressed, for example during my bigger projects at Kaospilot, I would unconsciously deepen my breath”.

“I discovered the real depth and power of breathwork when I started to challenge myself in winter swimming in the Scandinavian ocean, by exposing myself to -2 degrees water. I got introduced to the Wim Hof method and started to experiment with extending the period I would stay in the cold water by focusing my attention on the breath. Like we go to the gym to train our body, we can use mindfulness and breathwork to train our mind”.

 

This is why I believe that practices like breathwork and mindfulness can be the most powerful forces to create world peace

How do you see society and your community benefitting from breathwork? 

“Mental disorders are skyrocketing globally. Antidepressant use has exploded and depression, anxiety disorders, and suicide rates keep climbing. I am convinced that we have to find new ways to protect ourselves from stress and burnout. If we are able to take a deep breath when we are challenged, provoked, or angry, we are much more likely to make choices that align with our values. This is why I believe that practices like breathwork and mindfulness can be the most powerful forces to create world peace”.

“I was at Africa Burn in South Africa during my second year of Kaospilot. The Burning Man festivals have 10 principles – One of them is to give gifts to the community, so I decided to offer breathing sessions and I ended up facilitating 3 workshops in just a few days for more than 60 people. As Pablo Picasso says: “The meaning in life is to find your gift, the purpose is to give it away””.

“I run prototypes where I combine breathwork and the topic of social media and the effects it has on our society. We know that engagement with social media and our cell phones releases a chemical called dopamine – that’s why it feels good to receive a text. It’s the same chemical that is released when we gamble, smoke, or drink alcohol – in other words it is highly addictive. I used breathwork, and other tools, to enable participants to experience the power of the present moment so they can reconnect to themselves and make the decisions they want to make in life”.

TED session in Amsterdam

After talking to Aaron, I was curious about my friend Sascha’s experience, attending one of these breathwork sessions. How does breathwork feel when you’re not necessarily aware of it’s effect but simply try it on your own body? 

Sascha, what happened during the session and how did you feel?

“During the workshop – Waow – I went on a journey. It started with me being focused on Aaron’s voice and what he told me to do. All of the sudden I found myself being truly inside myself – it sounds weird… Well it was weird! But magically weird. My ears closed slowly from surroundings as if I was under water and really listening to myself.  I had been working 48 hours non-stop, standing up, in the days prior to the workshop. Suddenly, it felt like my knees were getting blood, just like if your legs have been sleeping and the blood suddenly runs back. This experience truly gave me awareness of how I physically and also mentally had been treating myself. I had forgotten that my body is “mine”, and I sometimes use it like a machine. Through breathing, this experience gave me a gracious mind-set around me and my body”.

Actually, the keyword for me must be a soul-hug. A hug that I will practice to give myself much more often

How do you feel now and how does your body feel? 

“I feel more grounded in my body after this experience, and therefore I am seeking to discover other opportunities to do breathwork. This feeling is good, it’s calm, it’s focused, and it’s gentle. Actually, the keyword for me must be a soul-hug. A hug that I will practice to give myself much more often”.

If you are curious in knowing more about Aaron, Transformative Experience Design or the history of breathwork , or you want to attend a session, you can follow his facebook page “Transformative Experience Design” or write him on aaron@kaospilot.dk for more information.

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