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Breathwork CPTSD healing Meditation Recovery

How I recovered from my family’s botched drug intervention and became even stronger

A few years ago my family staged an intervention. The event caused a disruption to my life that forced me to double-down on my own mental wellness and inner work. The intervention shocked my body, and afterwards I found a series of helpful strategies to help me regain my strength and health. Some of these tools include meditation, breathwork, sound baths, yoga, journaling, group healing, and therapy. 

After decades of working on my own healing, I did not realize how my own healing would cause ripples in my family, which caused a giant wave to crash onto me. While I am on a life-long path to wellness, self-love, and self-acceptance, my family acted confused, controlling, and unwell. 

I am doing well now, and feel more resilient than ever. I got through the intervention, and I wrote some actions and takeaways to help you in your own quest for a healthy life. I’m far from perfect, yet I strive to make daily progress. I have a lot to be grateful for. I want to be clear that I felt great before the intervention, and after building myself back-up, I feel great now. 

The day after the intervention 

It is 5:00 am and the sun isn’t yet up. 

The sound of an Amazon delivery person slamming a package on the concrete outside the front door startles me awake. 

I am hungry, scared, and lying on a couch at my friend’s house in Venice, California. 

I have a new reality on my hands. 

I have no idea where my children are. 

For the past seven years I have known where my children have slept, until now.

My heart is shattered in a thousand pieces on the floor.

I do not know when I’ll see my children again. I miss them greatly. 

I feel acid reflux in my stomach after the stress combined with a loss of appetite come together with my feeling of deep loneliness. I had no appetite the night before—my body was still in shock. I feel hungover as if I had drunk half a bottle of tequila last night, yet I am stone cold sober.

I rest, covered in a blanket and my head on a couch pillow, wishing I were sleeping in my own bed. As I reflect on what happened the night before, I cry. 

I am scared. I know my life will never be the same. I am heartbroken. 

 Just twelve hours earlier, my family botched a drug intervention, for weed. 

After my diagnosis of C-PTSD, a form of on-going childhood trauma, I had been using a small amount of cannabis before practicing yoga or meditation. 

I have been into yoga for decades and cannabis helps me to deal with the physical pain of the practice. As a newcomer to meditation, cannabis helped me get into twenty minute sessions within a few weeks of practicing. Eventually I was going into forty minute sessions after a few months of practicing, it was helping to sooth my body.

WTF is going on. I openly shared with my wife that I have been taking cannabis, which is a plant-based medicine. We even went to a cannabis dinner a month prior to this intervention. 

Cannabis greatly helps me to process the physical pain in my joints, wrists, hips, and ankles. 

The cannabis helped to treat my pain when I experienced PTSD flashbacks during the practice. 

Don’t get me wrong, in my twenties I smoked my fair share of cannabis, and it could have been seen as excessive. Yet, at this phase of my life, I felt the medicinal benefits of the cannabis plant to help with the physical stress of healing my trauma.

I’m grateful that I live in California, there is a cannabis dispensary a mile from where I live. 

In order to helpmyself find answers, I meditate. I reflect on what happened. 

The last moments of my pre-intervention life are walking home from a church.

For an hour prior to the intervention, I attended a community-organized meeting at a neighborhood church with a few other local parents. We discussed a local ballot initiative to tax corporations who are avoiding paying their share of taxes. A teacher from the local school ran the meeting, and he is hopeful to sponsor a California ballot initiative to return the tax money to fund public education. 

Leaving the church, I check my email. I see a bizarre email from my wife, who is forwarding me an email from my brother-in-law. 

The email subject says: 

Fwd: ryan letter

The email is blank, and includes an attached letter. I don’t bother reading the letter, it feels too random for me. 

I text a friend about the bizarre email because my brother-in-law has rarely emailed in my ten years of marriage to his sister. In fact, he doesn’t have my email address, which I later learn is why my wife forwarded it. We have only ever chatted on the phone less than five times. 

My brother-in-law has a low key southern drawl and speaks with few words. He is well over six feet tall with blonde hair and speaks in a meaningful way so that each of his words count. Years ago he shouted at me to argue that the Confederate Flag was not racist, and that was the most in depth conversation that we have ever had.

Walking in the darkness of night, I am calm. My wife is out of town in North Carolina visiting her family with my two young daughters. Her sister just had a baby, and they are off visiting the new bundle of joy. 

My wife also has blonde hair, and is a few inches under six feet. When she is around her family her southern accent comes out, yet while we are living in California I rarely hear the draw. I can usually tell when she’s talking to her family on the phone based on how much of her accent comes out. 

My wife is supposed to be out of town, and seeing her alarms me.

I continue walking. I am a bachelor in spirit, excited to saunter home, take a bath, meditate and snooze. I am peaceful. I am excited for some alone time. Except I am not alone as I walk towards my house.

I have a work bag on my shoulder, and in it my car and house keys. 

I am shocked to see my wife in the driveway. She is supposed to be on the east coast, or so I thought. 

I get a pit in my stomach. I am scared to imagine what she is doing back. Her entire body language looks off. 

She carries herself more like a police officer than my wife, and I do not like it. 

It had been a few months since our marriage counselor diagnosed me with a form of insidious, ongoing childhood trauma called Complex PTSD. Now, my wife surprises me by standing in our driveway. What was she doing here? 

My wife’s presence was the first sign that something is about to go terribly wrong. 

I walk in front of my next neighbor’s house. This feels like a spooky Halloween movie where I am waiting for someone to jump out and scare me. 

My wife exclaims in a concerned tone and no southern accent: “Ryan’s here,” motioning to a group of people in the yard.

In shock, I sternly say: “Katherine, what are you doing back?” 

“Hi Ryan,” she says blankly, with no emotion. 

WTF is going on here, I say to myself again. 

I see bodies in the background that appear to be my two brothers who live in Northern California, and my brother-in-law. 

Then I spot a stranger, a long haired man lurking in the nighttime shadows in my front yard. 

They are all approaching me.

As I write this I am feeling the fear again in my body.

The random person I see looked like my brother Michael’s friend named Andrew. Andrew has long hair, and for some reason I think Andrew’s in on the intervention. I am scared.

“Andrew’s here?” I blurt.

“What the f*ck is Andrew doing here?” I demand.

My younger brother blurts out: “Ryan it’s not Andrew. I love you bro.”

He opens his arms up and is walking across the yard, motioning to give me a big hug.  

My brother used to have blonde hair, and now has more of a receding hairline style buzz cut. When my younger brother is upset, he has the energy of a pit bull. 

The last time we had a meaningful exchange about our family he texted me to “f*ck off” and that “I think we both agree that it’s in our best interest to not speak for a while.” 

I took him literally and we haven’t spoken very often since then. He can go from happy to angry without a moment’s notice, and I’ve enjoyed us taking a break from one another. I don’t need a hug from him.

His energy is off, he is trying to close in on me. I think to myself: 

Oh sh*t, are they trying an intervention?

I see the long-haired guy back-pedaling into the shadows. It isn’t a good feeling. I later find-out this person is an interventionist, focusing on drugs and addiction. I see his floppy hair waving in the wind, as he walks backwards hiding. 

He does not identify himself which is a sign that this is not a safe environment for me. If he wanted to engender trust I would expect him to raise his hand and introduce himself and the goal for the conversation. 

In my head:

This isn’t cool. It feels unsafe. Why isn’t this strange long-haired man identifying himself?

As everyone lunges towards me, as if they are about to ambush, my intuition kicks-in.

It feels like I was reliving my childhood trauma in real time, but I am not a kid. I have options. 

My survival instincts immediately fire up. 

Conveniently my car is right in front of my neighbor’s house. I grab the key in my hand, open the driver’s side door with the key fob, and jump into my Prius. 

Like Lightning McQueen around a turn, I peel out from my street, looking for somewhere safe to drive to. 

Thinking to myself:

What the hell is going on here? And where the hell are my kids?

I find a church a few miles away, and park close by with plenty of lights around me. I feel safe. I exhale.

What the hell just happened?

Since my Complex PTSD diagnosis, I have been aggressively working with both eastern and western methods of healing through therapy, journaling, psychedelic medicine, yoga, and meditation. I vociferously read books on trauma and healing, specifically Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery. She writes that in the 1970s, people who’d experienced various forms of trauma were labeled as “hysterical” when talking about their pain. 

Some of these patients were taken to insane asylums, clinics, and doctor’s offices to be “cured.” I got scared of thinking of myself strapped to a chair against my will, while some doctor in a lab coat experimented on me. I immediately went to the worst place when I saw these people.

After meditating in my car for a few moments, I made some phone calls. I need some grounding and reassurance that I am not crazy. I call some people who know me, and can help calm me down. 

I called my marriage counselor, but she is on another call.

I then call my two friends. They both are shocked at what is going on, and have no idea that anyone in my family wanted to stage an intervention for me. They know me reasonably well, so I am surprised to hear that they are not dialed into this intervention.

Friend number 1 is a doctor whose heritage is Hispanic. We once traveled to Istanbul, Turkey together. On the plane ride over we were both asleep when someone yelled “is there a doctor on the plane.” He instinctively woke up and went to attend to a sick person on the flight. He is surprised on the phone. 

Friend number two is a low key and mild mannered friend of Indian descent. We had recently spent a weekend together over the summer hanging out at the OC fair drinking beer, eating fried food, and watching Michael McDonald perform with Chaka Khan. He is easy going. He is a lawyer and also surprised to hear the news.

I am sweating, incredibly nervous at this point. I am breathing to stay alive. If I do not breathe, it feels like I may not live. I am anxious, scared, and very alone. 

I give my friends my wife’s phone number, and brothers’ numbers, asking them to check in with my wife and family.

Friend number 2 reports back in a few minutes, they are now at a restaurant/bar called Upper West having dinner. I exclaim:

“They just had an intervention and are at a f*cking bar eating burgers!” 

Friend number two calls back and says that they want to speak with me. I agree, and await for our marriage counselor to call me back. 

My marriage counselor, finally gets back to me after what feels like an eternity.

She is in her mid fifties, with grayish black hair, and has shows empathy for her clients. She initially diagnosed my C-PTSD and I am forever grateful for her work. She has a service dog named in her office which helps calm her child patients down. She also sounds surprised. 

“Hey, what is going on? Katherine staged an intervention, do you know anything about this?” I ask both confused and angry.

“Ryan, I have no idea what is going on,” she says, equally puzzled.

“Wait, you don’t know what is happening? How do you not know?”

“I have not spoken to your wife since our last session in which she said she was no longer going out of town.”

“Well, she changed her mind, again. And she went out of town, and came back early. She brought some out of town family and staged an intervention. WTF is going on?!”

She calms me down and says, “Why don’t we call her on a conference call.”

After trying her for a few minutes, my wife finally gets back to me.

On speaker phone, my adrenaline is pumping. 

I angrily demand that she answer a simple question: “Katherine, where the hell are our kids?”

“Ryan, they are safe.”

Terrified, I keep talking with my face in my hands: “Katherine, and whoever is on the phone right now, where are my children?”

“Ryan, we’ll tell you that when you meet with us.”

Frustrated and ready to pull my hair out, I reply: “What are you talking about? Are our kids here in L.A. or back on the east coast?”

“They are safe, and we need to meet with you.”

Why is she so adversarial? 

I have the most adrenaline going through my body, possibly ever in my life.

I am furious that they will not share my kids location.

Then in a feverish outburst, I hear a series of voices telling me such things as:

“Ryan, you’re addicted to cannabis.”

“Ryan, you’re on the verge of a psychosis breakdown.”

“Studies show that cannabis can cause psychosis breakdowns.”

After a confusing phone call with no clear agenda, we say goodbye. The people on the call demand that I meet with the interventionist, and then they will share my kids location.

My kids are now the center of a hostage negotiation for a meeting. I am appalled. 

When it’s just the two of us, the marriage counselor says to me: “Ryan, that isn’t the wife that I remember talking to during our last session.” 

I tell her thank you and we log off.

I am still terrified that they would not tell me where my kids are. I do not want to sleep in my house that night. I am scared they would come back and try another intervention. 

I think:

What the hell is wrong with legal cannabis? Are they following the outdated Nancy Reagan Just Say No to Drugs campaign? Cannabis is a plant and it is medicine. My younger brother smoked pot out of a soda can in our basement when he was in middle school. What is he thinking now? I am confused as to why no one ever mentioned this addiction before.

I received no calls from my family, in-laws, or wife prior to this intervention ever confronting me for an addiction. No one has ever asked me if I have a cannabis problem. There were twenty steps between doing nothing and taking my kids away for an intervention. WTF?

I call my friends in Venice, and they put me on their couch for the night.

Waking up the next morning helped me realize that while my heart is broken into a thousand tiny pieces, it’s up to me to put it back together. I am powerless against my family, my wife, and the drug interventionist. 

While this is a nightmare to contend with, I ultimately spend 5 weeks apart from my children, while my family attempts to shove rehab down my throat. 

I refuse to entertain any rehab, psychological evaluation, or their request to send me to a psychiatric hospital for an overnight stay. 

Over the next few weeks I created my own program to recover from my C-PTSD, that includes these elements for how I healed with over 100 sessions in a 5 week span:

  • Sound meditation baths
  • Yoga
  • Breathwork
  • Therapy sessions
  • Journaling 
  • Practicing gratitude
  • Meditation
  • Group healing in support groups
  • Ancestral healing by making amends to distant relatives

I also gave up alcohol and cannabis for the remainder of the year. 

Additionally, I celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s without my children for the first time in my life. 

I cannot control other people. I can only control my actions.

I prioritized rest, meditation, and being honest with my truths. 

I did not let anyone twist my truths into their agenda. 

In the spirit of mental wellness I share this story to help recover from my C-PTSD and the worst 14 hours of my life as an adult.

Interventions are cruel, inhumane, and punishing things. There is no due process. 

I had nothing else to do except take care of myself. I even thought about taking him to court in order to strip him of his license, except that is too much work. This man helped break up my family, and it devastated me at the time.

This felt like capital punishment as my kids were taken away without getting a hearing, or even a courtesy heads up that anyone felt like I was an addict. There was a small mob of people outside my house ready to bring me to the executioner with no just cause. Led by a man in the shadows—a stranger with long hair. 

I later found out that my parents had sponsored the intervention behind my back. It was a gut punch to get the news.

I did learn a lot after the intervention, and in some ways am grateful for it. I realized how sick my family is, and how much work I’ve done to improve my mental health over the years.

How I changed after the intervention: 

  • I am more gentle with myself. I am kinder to myself when I make mistakes.  
  • I accept that I did not cause my family to run an intervention. I cannot control them or their behavior, the intervention was their choice, not mine. 
  • I can only take care of myself and my children, otherwise I am powerless over people. 
  • I made a New Year’s intention to love myself and my children, and no longer spend time with people who are not serving me. 
  • Live and let live, I cannot change anything in the past. I accept what I cannot change.
  • I take life one day one at a time, and focus on the next step to take, focusing on the moment

The cannabis helped me go deeper into each practice, enjoy the deeper state of my mind, while soothing my pain. 

Meanwhile both my family and in-laws have generational alcoholism in the family tree. 

A few weeks before the intervention, I confronted my father-in-law about his alcoholism over the phone. He father-in-law has grayish hair, is around 6’5”, and in his mid-seventies.

He often has a Bud Light bottle in his hand anytime I see him after 6pm. When I come to visit him he usually buys me a six pack of a favorite beer, and we spend time talking about football or basketball. 

Separately around the same time, I had recently confronted my Dad about his anger and bullying ways towards me. My Dad is also in his seventies, and has a quick temper. He has two modes, calm, or enraged. here isn’t much middle ground. 

A few weeks before the intervention he yelled at me over the phone. I called him to ask a question about the time frame and urgency overbooking Christmas travel airline tickets, and he shouted at me. 

His anger upset me, and a few days later I texted our family that i would not be attending Christmas vacation with our family this year. For the first time in a long time I opted out of a family holiday trip. 

Did I shake up the family trees? Did I confront two powerful men about their own character defects? Was this intervention retaliation? 

I’ll never know. It doesn’t matter. I created my own program and now it’s up to me to keep doing the work to help myself, my children, and anyone whose love comes into my orbit.

It took me an entire year and a half to publish this piece. In my heart I knew I was right, I just had to pick the pieces and put it back together.

I have not spoken at length with my brothers or parents since that night. 

They have told me to “deal,” “get over it,” and “we don’t know how to help you.” I learned  that unsolicited feedback is criticism. So I move on.

If I had to do it again, I would not change a thing. The intervention really clarified my position towards my family. I love them. I do not think that I will ever trust them again, and that is okay too. 

I am truly happy in my life. I love myself, and that is what matters. 

I have been doing the work for decades and it is paying off. I have a solid health and wellness tool kit, and I hope that my stories can help you too. 

Big thanks to my editors:

Sara Campbell, Drew Stegmaier, Lyle McKeany, Tom White, Julie Trelstad, Zachary Zager, Maria Sweeney, Katherine Canniff, and Joel Christiansen.

Categories
Breathwork dreams healing

Lucid Dreaming: Definition, Triggers, and Controlling Your Story

It’s around Christmas time. I’m at a holiday party with friends, many of whom I have not seen in decades. 

I am back home in Des Moines, IA. I hug old friends as I greet them, and we laugh hysterically at one of our friend’s drunken grandma, who is so wasted that she goes to bed early.

It’s great to catch up with Kelly, Murph, Shuter, and Kelly’s sister. Their smiles are big. Everyone is cordial, and we are having a hysterical time. 

Except I’m not physically in Iowa. I’m having this dream while in my bed in Los Angeles.

This isn’t an ordinary dream. It’s a lucid dream—a dream where you feel like you are in control. In some cases you can actually control what is happening.

What is a lucid dream?

In a lucid dream, you are aware that you are dreaming, and the dreams feel vivid and real. Imagine if you were an active participant in your dream rather than a witness? 

In lucid dreams you are controlling the dream like it is a real-life video game. You control the story. When you wake up, the dream is deep enough that it feels like it happened in real-life. 

After the dream I wake up and jot down a few notes in my dream journal about what happens. I feel calm.

I get out of bed and walk down the hall to check on breakfast. I feel happy.

I last recall seeing these people drunk at high school parties or in the summers after we all went off to college. 

In the dream, I made amends with people who I have not seen in twenty years, enjoying one last party together. It was like we were all younger. Their hugs make me feel loved. 

My last meaningful memory with Kelly was in freshman year geometry class with Mr. Cummings. She was a cute older girl that I acted cool around, trying to keep everything low key. Our teacher, Mr. Cummings died of brain cancer that year, and I remember hiding my tears from my Dad as I walked away from his funeral towards our car. 

People like her were my surrogate family, who I confided in to help me get through the ups and downs of life.

Murph and I played baseball together in little league, where I struggled to get hits and make plays on the field. Baseball was never my sport, yet guys like Murph remained optimistic and light around me. His freckled face and monotone voice helped me to feel calm. 

Shuter and I played a lot of front yard tackle football together, and sometimes sat together at lunch in middle school. He was another person who I wanted to act low key around. 

Getting back into my morning routine, I have positive energy from this dream, lots of it, as I recall these decades-old childhood friendships.

I carry this loving energy with me as I drink my morning smoothie, drive to run an errand, and type at my computer to start my work day. 

The waking state after this lucid dream is can feel better than an orgasm. 

If you can believe it, my body feels more relaxed than it does after I have sex. 

Do you want to have lucid dreams? 

How to trigger lucid dreams

The chances for lucid dreaming increase when you practice meditation, specifically sound bath and breathwork meditations. Since I started practicing breathwork, my dreams are more alive. 

Keeping a dream journal helps me to remember these dreams.

When I wake up at 5am and have a dream, I grab my phone and type out a quick recollection of the dream. This helps me to recall my dreams in case I forget them. 

My dreams are fleeting and I need to write them down. 

Breathwork and a dream journal are my two devices to help me experience lucid dreams and train myself to write out these moments. 

Studies show that if you wake up after 5 hours of sleep, stay awake briefly, and then go back to bed to try to enter an REM  (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep period,” than you can possibly trigger a lucid dream.

You can also trigger a lucid dream if you use a Mnemonic induction of lucid dreams (MILD), which uses “prospective memory,” the act of remembering to do something in the future. When “you wake up after sleeping for 5 hours,” you “tell yourself several times that the next time you dream, you will remember you’re dreaming.”

In my recent dream, making amends at this party helped me to open up a part of myself. 

I never officially said goodbye to these friends when we all went off to college. It’s like these childhood friends were dangling in my mind and I cleared out old cobwebs. 

Lucid dreams allow me to look at my dream as if I have the full awareness of my waking state. 

Lucid dreams give me energy. 

One of the cooler benefits of practicing breathwork, meditation, and other reflective practices is that they give me a chance to have these dreams.

I was embedded in the fabric of Des Moines, IA for the first 18 years of my life, and then I moved away. And thus all my friends went away too. 

You remember old habits, ways of life, and friends from your past. Meditation helps heal lost parts of yourself. You uncover parts of yourself that go beyond the conscious mind. My brain helped me to pick specific people from my past, and have a healthy and fun interaction together. 

It is freeing, cathartic, and quite enjoyable. In this case, my dream helped to close the loop on past connections. 

If I practice breathwork before crawling into bed, I’m almost certain to have a lucid dream. It calms me down, and opens my mind to the benefits of dreaming, and it’s a lot of fun to take these dreams with me the next day.

If you want to try a breathwork class with me, you can explore the possibility of having more clear and lucid dreams. I teach virtual classes every Thursday at 6:30 PST, and you can RSVP here.

Thanks to my editors: Katherine Canniff, Sara Campbell, David Burt,Drew Stegmaier, and Joel Christiansen.

Categories
Breathwork Meditation

Do You Want to Try Breathwork? It Makes People Laugh, Scream, and Cry

“Breathwork helps me cope with the challenges of life,” is how Sarah, a working Mom describes the practice. 

“My body vibrates from my fingers to toes,” is what Jim, a single man in his mid twenties had to say after his first class.

“I cried about money, and not feeling worthy as a child growing up,” is how Jordana, a working grandmother described her feelings after practicing breathwork.

Have you been feeling stressed out with the pandemic, not seeing loved ones, or even the aftermath of the January 6th insurrection? 

If this sounds familiar, then breathwork may help you, too. 

Breathwork teaches us to release stress in an easy way – through exhaling. In breathwork you breathe with intention, which helps to over-oxygenate your blood stream.

It can be like five years of therapy in one session, and like therapy it can be intense. 

A good breathwork class is all about breathing deeply, yelling, crying, sweating, laughing, and allowing stored-up pain to leave the body. 

Breathwork is a spiritual practice to help you lower your stress, find a deeper consciousness, and heal your mind, body, and soul. 

To practice breathwork you lay on your back, breathing in a rhythmic breathing pattern. Music is playing in the background, and your goal is to relax your body. 

You breathe in two deep inhales. First in the belly, then in the chest. Then you exhale it all out. 

It goes like this:

  • Inhale in the chest
  • Inhale in the belly
  • Exhale it all out

You repeat these three steps non-stop for twenty to twenty-five minutes. Afterwards, you remain on your back, in calm and serenity for one to two relaxing songs. 

My life is now divided into two life spans: Before Breathwork (BB), and After Breathwork (AB).

I became a breathwork teacher during the Coronavirus pandemic. 

Breathwork is universal, and can help people of all ages. One class could have a profound impact on your life.

Students often have spiritual, mystical, and memorable experiences.

From single men in their mid twenties to grandmothers in their fifties to parents in their forties, this is what some of my students have experienced during their sessions: 

Sarah finds calm after surgery

Sarah is a fashion designer, who worked from home during the pandemic. She is recovering from a surgery. At the same time she managed her young daughter’s at-home learning via Zoom.

She shared that “breathwork class makes my body tingle, usually my hands and feet within a few minutes of active breathing. The oxygen going into my brain makes me feel like I have a runner’s high afterwards.”

She practices her virtual breathwork sessions in a spare bedroom. 

As many of us would, Sarah sometimes got frustrated with the at-home learning, while also managing her own life and recovering from surgery. 

After weeks of classes, she shared that:

“Recovery from surgery had not been going as well as I had expected. I was angry at the doctor and even myself for not being in good enough health to recover. Through yelling in the class, breathwork showed me that I had been suppressing deep anger. While trying to stay positive about the surgery, the focused breathing during class opened me up.” 

The surgery was a traumatic event, and she was frustrated. She shared: “Breathwork helped me choose to be grateful for the surgery, and made her feel lucky to be alive.” 

Breathwork was more active than she expected. It brought up memories. After Breathwork (AB), Sarah felt a sense of calm and serenity.

Jim grieves his friend’s passing

Immediately after Jim’s first class, he was shocked and said “I am surprised as to how effective the breathwork class was. It took me to a similar state as to when I did LSD.” During class he cried, laughed, and yelled. 

Jim shared: 

“Within a few minutes, my body began pulsing while my hands and feet tingled. I thought about my friend Max who died when I was nineteen. I cried. Obviously, I have some unresolved grief around that.”

Jim continued to share about the dream he had the night after class:

“That night, I had a lucid dream and slept deeply. In the dream, I had a chance to talk with my friend Max, and Max’s family. It was like we were catching up and having a conversation as if Max was alive. It was like we were reliving a moment together. Max told me that he is dead but not gone and that I can interact with Max through his memories.”

During the laughing portion of the practice, he said:

“I laughed when thinking about a high school memory of laughing with my friends. I had some funny friends in high school. I realized that I had not talked to many of them recently. After the class, I made a list of different friends that I hadn’t spoken to in a while. I have dangling friendships from life, and I’d like to make amends to people from my past.”

Breathwork surprised Jim, it brought up many old memories. He grieved for the loss of his friend. After Breathwork (AB), he felt a sense of peace and serenity.

Jordana heals tension with her ex-husband

Jordana is in her fifties with grandchildren, is divorced and has an office job.

She is a regular attendee of breathwork class. She carries general anxiety and stress related to her work, family, and ex-husband. She cried during the first few breathwork sessions. 

She explained, “I cried about money, and not feeling worthy as a child growing up. I grew up around a farm in the midwest and money was hard to come by. Thinking about my childhood during breathwork brought up a lot of old feelings.”

After weekly classes, she started to sleep better at night. She had vivid dreams about her ex-husband.

She talked about a lucid dream:

“After breathwork, I had a dream about my ex-husband. We have had tension in our relationship that negatively affects myself, our children, and grandchildren. During one dream, I was in my bedroom with my ex-husband. I whispered in his ear ‘You are coming into my dreams, and I think we have some trauma to heal.’ Then we hugged.”

This was a breakthrough. She shared:

“A few weeks later, I attended my grandson’s birthday party. Last year at this party, I felt a lot of tension, and my ex walked out the back door when I arrived. This year, we hugged. I credit the breathwork experience in healing the relationship with my ex-husband. The tension is no longer there. Breathwork healed me, the relationship with my ex-husband, and alleviated the stress in our family.”

Breathwork helped Jordana grieve, revealing more pain than she anticipated. It brought up vivid dreams around her family. After Breathwork (AB), Jordana felt a sense of peace and serenity.

In these examples we have people of all kinds benefiting from the practice – from Moms to Grandmas to single men. It can change your life, even just with taking one class.

Breathwork is a coping skill to deal with the challenges of life. It is both invigorating and relaxing. It’s a way to reconsider how you breathe, something we do every moment of the day. 

Breathwork helps the mind, body, and soul to heal and recover. 

Whether it is dealing with daily stress, general anxiety or long-term grief – the practice is a natural remedy to the pains of life. 

Seeing how breathwork helps heal people, it could bring you to the same too. Sign up to take a class with me Thursdays at 6:30 PST.

Note: All the names have been changed to keep the students anonymous. 

Editors:

Big thanks to my editors: Drew Stegmaier, Piyali (Peels) Mukherjee, Lyle McKeany, Steven Ovadia, Nanya Sudhir, and Joel Christiansen.

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Breathwork CPTSD Uncategorized

How Breathwork Helps Process Stress, Pain, and Trauma: Why I Practice

 

After decades of filling prescriptions of antidepressant, mood stabilizing, and antipsychotic drugs, I finally rejected conventional psychiatric wisdom. Using ancient methods, I went against doctors’ orders to heal. Through these methods, I treated the root cause, not merely the symptoms. I charted my journey in a series of essays. 

I write bi-monthly articles, publish podcasts, and host workshops on healing, recovery, and the root causes of pain. Sign up for two stories per month, that’s it. I charted my journey and this first article is Complex PTSD: When Your Therapist Thinks You May Be F*cked.

My life is divided into two life spans: before breathwork (BB), and after breathwork (AB). 

My arms and hands tingle. My body pulses from head to toe. A sensation of powerful energy flows in and around me. My left shoulder tightens and constricts, it feels stressed. I massage my aching shoulder. Comforting my clavicle, my mind is confused, yet certain. My body is frightened, yet self-assured. My shoulder is tight, yet free. It is overwhelming, yet soothing. My soul jumps out of my body. 

An increasing itching sensation hangs around my left temple. I cannot hold back from satisfying the itch. Placing my fingers on the temple, I gently massage the itch in small circles. My brain calls for me to heal it. My left temple pulses again and again. These sensations overwhelm my senses. My body needs reassurance that it is okay. My brain needs to be looked after. Then my shoulder needs help again. I triggered myself. I go deep into my subconscious to find answers to questions that I didn’t know I sought out. 

What is going on with my body?

Taking a Breathwork Class

I am in the middle of a breathwork class. The teacher, Marlize Jourbert, monitors the nearly darkly lit room of forty students. Loud rock music and rapid breathing flow around my fellow breathers. Faint ceiling lights shine on the floor, while battery-powered candles lay in the front of the room. Folding chairs cover the floor, seemingly bolted to the ground. Wearing blue jeans, an unzipped green hoodie, and colored socks, I am laying on my back. My glasses and baseball cap rest by my side. My workday is over. I’m relaxed on a Tuesday night at 7pm in West Los Angeles.

After getting diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), I felt like a frozen caveman getting thawed out. I had recently stopped taking a psychiatric mood-stabilizing drug, Lamictal. Frustrated by the mental health industry, I looked to alternative and more spiritual methods to heal. After paying tens of thousands of dollars in therapy and psychiatry bills over the decades, I felt abandoned by Western medicine. For years, I numbed the symptoms of my problems, while living in denial that there was a root cause. On the surface, psychiatric drugs improved my mood, even though the drugs covered up the deeper causes of my pain. Beneath my body lived stored-up, unprocessed trauma from my past. Like a caveman, parts of my body and psyche were frozen inside. As the ice melted, decades of triggers jolted throughout my body, head to toe.

How to do Breathwork

When I’m in a room practicing breathwork with strangers, I am vulnerable. Hearing people cry, screaming a lion’s roar in unison, and letting out belly laughs together helps to move the energy. Whether it’s from the heart, shoulders, or temple – our bodies are like a reservoir for trapped emotion. Breathwork flushes my system, clearing the reservoir. 

I breathe in two deep inhales. First in the belly, then in the chest. Then I exhale it all out. I’m breathing in a rhythmic breathing pattern. 

I repeat these three steps non-stop for twenty to twenty-five minutes. 

  1. I inhale in the chest.
  2. I inhale in the belly.
  3. I exhale.

I set an intention beforehand to direct the course of the practice. I prefer an I am statement. Saying statements like: I am loved, I am safe, and I am peaceful work as my intentions. And by breathwork, I mean it. In the classes, the teachers blast loud music, while they help us focus on breathing. We usually pause breathing about four to five times during each session. During these pauses, the teachers ask to let out a big belly laugh or scream at the top of our lungs, in order to release anything that may be holding us back. It is not uncommon to cry or hear fellow breathers weeping beside me during the course of a session. 

My eyes are closed. In a dream-like state, my body is still. My mind is resting.

I feel pain. 

I comfort myself.

I feel safe.

Whether it’s to eliminate old belief systems, heal trauma, or temper emotional suffering, breathwork allows me to hit a reset button. I stay mindful of my intention as I go. During classes, I receive flashbacks to emotional memories from the past. I process them in the moment, sometimes decades after the fact.

How Breathwork processes past emotions

I am loved.

I’m thinking about my Grandfather Roger who had a heart attack before I was born. I recall a story of my Dad giving his own father CPR after he collapsed in the family’s business office. Feeling love for my Dad, I acknowledge his pain, hurting, and suffering. I empathize with the unspoken trauma my Dad experienced. Repeating I am loved. I am loved. I am loved. My heart opens with self-love.

I am loved.

I’m eleven, riding my DiamondBack dirt bike in the streets of Des Moines, IA. At my friend Cameron’s house, we play The Legend of Zelda on Nintendo. I overhear Cameron talking to his older brother about how he doesn’t think I’m cool. It hurts my feelings. I haven’t thought about that moment in decades. I comfort myself, saying it’s okay. Grieving for that sad child in my past, my left shoulder relaxes.

I am loved.

I’m a second-grader. Asking my Mom to spend the night out at my friend Todd’s house to watch Saturday Night wrestling. She says no. She would rather Todd come to our house. My Mom controls where I sleep. I cannot change her mind. I haven’t thought about this moment since it happened. I say to myself, “It wasn’t my fault. It was never my fault.” My left temple itches.

I am loved.

Practicing Breathwork in groups

Back in the studio, Marlize pumps up a song by Radiohead. She walks around the room like a college football coach, providing inspiration, motivation, and helping us to stay focused with words of encouragement. “You’re good enough!” Marlize yells to the room. “Stop playing small,” she shouts out a few minutes later. Constantly inspiring us, saying, “You guys are doing great,” and, “I’m so proud of you.” I continue to massage my left temple. Feelings of energy slide down the side of my face. The triggering in my left shoulder continues. The knot is increasing.

Marlize then tells the room: “Surrender to the moment. Keep it up.” Not knowing what to surrender, or what she precisely means, I massage and sooth my body. I continued to breath. It feels like I could run through a wall when working with Marlize. I am ready to trust her with my life. She wants us to heal. 

What is Breathwork? 

According to one of my teachers Shanila Sattar, breathwork “helps you to achieve different altered states of consciousness. In these states of consciousness, you can unblock anything in your body that’s keeping you stagnant.” She says people “often have huge breakthroughs because they are holding on to a lot of stuff that is emotionally captured in the cellular level of the body.” She adds, “what breathwork helps with is stress, anxiety, trauma, pain, and anger. It helps process emotions physiologically in the body.” 

Breathwork feels like a compounding trigger. Complex PTSD is a brain dysfunction that comes with emotional flashbacks. In Triggers, Marshall Goldsmith defines a trigger as “any stimulus that reshapes our thoughts and actions.” Triggers can be conscious or subconscious. In breathwork, I process complicated and repressed childhood feelings of abandonment from parents arguing, my Dad yelling, my Mom controlling me, and all the chaos swirling around my life. I carry these moments from my childhood.

Throughout my life, I experienced fight or flight feelings in my mind and body. The Cleveland Clinic defines a fight-or-flight response as “a stress response, triggered by a release of hormones either prompting us to stay and fight or run away and flee.” During my recovery, I realized I sometimes I overreact to stressors that are not life-threatening. Whether it is getting into fight or flight over a boss yelling at me, an accusatory co-worker pressuring me, or a family member trying to control me, I trigger myself. 

Why Breathwork feels like five years of therapy in one session

Many instructors call breathwork five years of therapy in one session. Breathwork teaches me to release stress in a natural way – through exhaling. A good breathwork class is all about breathing deeply, yelling, crying, sweating, laughing, and allowing stored-up pain to leave my body. These classes give me space to grieve. I vary my breathwork from doing it once a week, to going through 30 sessions in 30 days, to practicing every morning before I get out of bed. It helps me conjure up old painful memories and process them appropriately. While therapy can help with discussing past feelings, breathwork goes deep into your non-verbal memories. 

Breathwork is about soaking in the tears from your wet eyes, screaming at the top of your lungs, and feeling pulsations all around your body. 

  • It’s about giving yourself permission to belly laugh. 
  • It’s about breathing like you want to live. 
  • It’s about danger, and risking the feelings of your old wounds surfacing. 

It’s about past heart-wrenching break-ups popping into your mind, your parents’ argument when you were five years old, and traumatic moments coming into the television of your mind. 

Your first ten minutes may send you to the darker regions of your subconscious, and your last fifteen ten may transport you into a state of indescribable ecstasy. 

Modern medicine has never taken me to a place where breathwork has in my recovery.  Breathwork helps the physical body recover. Simple actions of courage, strength, and hope can help us to heal better than any “miracle drug” from a consumption-driven corporation. It’s a natural medicine to me. I practiced it over 150 times in 2020.

Breathwork practice heals your pain, stress, and trauma. It could bring you to the same too. Sign up to take a class with me Thursdays at 6:30 PST.

Big thanks to editors:  Stew Fortier, Tom White, Marcus Whitney, Drew Stegmaier, Diana Hawk, David Vargas, Lyle McKeany, Anushri Kumar, and and Chris Holinger.

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