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.

Categories
Uncategorized

How Breathwork Heals the Mind, Body, and Spirit: 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 second article is How Breathwork Helps Process Stress, Pain, and Trauma: Why I Practice.

I breathe. 

I cry. 

I scream.

I laugh. 

I roll over on my side. 

In short, I leave behind a lot in my garage during each session of breathwork. Laying on a worn-out, plush, olive green couch, I wear blue jeans, a zipped up green hoodie, a black Iowa golf hat, and unmatched colored socks. I am under the weight of a warm blanket. Resting on my back, my arms lay next to my body. The garage door is shut, the ceiling lights are dimmed, and the dryer is on pause. 

On the floor lie half folded t-shirts, my running shoes, and a box of Christmas ornaments. I am preparing for my nightly, pre-bedtime ritual of breathwork. Breathwork is a routine to heal the mind, body and spirit before sleep. 

The next thirty minutes are mine to enjoy.

This breathwork sequence is a regular, virtual class that I take during the Coronavirus pandemic:

I close my eyes. 

Taking a few deep breaths helps me to shake out the cobwebs in my head. I push play on my iPhone. The black bluetooth speaker connects, and I hear my teacher, David Elliott, talking.

How to practice breathwork 

He asks me to set an intention. Tonight, my intention is self-love. I create an I am statement to recite to myself: I am loved.

In my head, I repeat the affirmation three times. 

I am loved. 

I am loved. 

I am loved.

David explains that we will inhale through two parts, and then exhale. We will be focusing all of our breathing in and out of the mouth. 

I start a rhythmic breathing pattern with two inhales in, and one exhale out. 

  • I inhale through the belly.
  • I inhale through the chest.
  • I exhale it out.

My heart softens. 

I repeat in my mind: 

I am loved.

I am loved. 

I am loved.

After my diagnosis of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), breathwork has become a regular part of my recovery routine. Whether first thing in the morning laying in my bed, or in my garage on a couch before sleep, breathwork calms me down. It allowed me to stop taking pharmaceutical drugs prescribed by doctors. Natural medicine like breathwork, which along with sound healing, psychedelics, yoga, and other ancient practices help heal my mind, body, and spirit. 

These modalities help me to discover mystical ways to recover my aching soul. Stuck in a state of disease, and I found ease after my first breathwork class. 

Breathwork is a spiritual practice to help me find a deeper self-awareness. 

Back in the garage, I actively breathe with the two-part breathwork inhale and one-part exhale for around twenty minutes.

With the intentional breathing pattern, my thoughts slow down, while my heart opens up. 

I relax. I let go. My mind is distracted from my current state. I am at ease. The practice opens up a deeper consciousness. 

I expand my capacity to love myself. I repeat in my head: I am loved.

As I start the breathwork, I want to quit. It feels overwhelming at first. It’s like riding a horse, you have to get comfortable in the saddle. I fight through my urge to stop. Focusing on the breath, I relax more.

  • I breathe through the belly.
  • I breathe through the chest.
  • I exhale it out.

Within a few minutes, my arms buzz. From shoulder to fingertips, I tingle. My mind is wide open. It’s as if I am running a 5K race, and have a runner’s high. 

I love this feeling and do not want it to stop. The urge to quit the breathwork is gone. I am in rhythm. 

Breathwork releases stress

David asks us if we want to let out a yell. He counts to three, urging us to take a break and scream. Knowing my garage door is completely sealed off from the outside, I let go. Taking a deep breath, on the exhale I scream at the top of my lungs. 

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAAHHAAHAHAHAHAAHAHA

I do not hold back on this yell. I am sinking deeper into the ground as I let out another loud and long yell.

AHAHAHAHHAAAAAAHHHHHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHAHA

I shake my head from side to side while I exhale out. The yelling opens up space in my head. 

I am free.

I yell one last time, and exhale during the scream. This yell is a shorter and higher-pitched scream. It’s as if I am back in high school, jumping off a bridge into a lake. I scream like somebody taking a risk, and not afraid of getting caught. 

AHAHAHHHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHHAHAHHAAAAAAA

I shake it out. I wonder if my neighbors can hear me. I imagine them in the backyard next door. I remember how thick the walls are, and do not worry. I get back to the breathwork.

I ask myself: “What is going on with my body?” David is in the background, hyping me up, saying that I might be “drunk off oxygen and that “my body is warmed-up.” 

Coming to breath again, I go a little deeper. My lungs open up. I am more purposeful taking longer breaths. I am controlling my body. 

My arms continue to tingle by my side. My legs extend long, they start to tingle too.

I’m having fun and a smile cracks on my face. There is now a buzzing sensation coming through my tailbone. I am rooted to the couch, as if I’m touching the core of the Earth with my tailbone. It is like I am glued to the couch. I keep it up:

  • I breathe through the belly.
  • I breathe through the chest.
  • I breathe it out.

I repeat the breathing pattern again and again.

I am safe in my garage. I snuggle deeper under the blanket to warm my body.

Breathwork can bring up old thoughts and memories

During breathwork sessions, old thought patterns come up. Faded memories emerge.

I have flashbacks from my youth. An old memory comes up as I breathe and I emotionally travel back in time: 

I am eight years old visiting my Uncle Seamus and his family in Connecticut. My cousins, aunt, uncle, and family are having fun. In the background, MTV is showing a music video for the movie Ghostbusters. It’s the Ray Parker Junior version of the theme song. Like a soundtrack to my life, I hear:

“If there is something strange, in your neighborhood. Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!”

My family and I are on our annual summer road trip. We drive from Iowa to the east coast in a wooden station wagon, with a roof top carrier on top of the car. We usually pass through Connecticut to see my relatives. Tonight we are having fun, eating dinner. 

I am happy. I am loved.

I recently called Uncle Seamus after we had lost touch for thirty years. I am grateful we chatted. I forgot this memory. I enjoy reconnecting with the emotions. 

A side effect of my C-PTSD is that I blocked out memories from my childhood. Until recently, I could not recall some of the best memories from when I was a kid. 

I tear up as I reflect on my childhood. I loved being a kid. My nose sniffles. I think about my life as a child. 

I find my child-like spirit in this memory. 

Breathwork reboots my operating system. It cleans-up my mental hard drive. 

Breathwork releases joy

As we continue the breathwork, my teacher asks us to laugh. He recommends I let out a big belly laugh. I am tired of breathing. I welcome the laugh to break-up the session. 

Breathwork over-oxygenates my brain. I am pushing through to finish the class. I let out a big laugh:

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAAHAHA

Again, I laugh one more time. My mind, body, and spirit are free:

HAHAHAHAHHAAHAHHAHAAHAHHAHHHAAHAHAHAHAHAAHHAHA

I acknowledge that I’m laughing so hard my neighbors may hear. I don’t care. During the laughing I imagine: 

I am twelve years old. I am at my friend Jay’s house. We are drinking Coke from a bottle in his basement. We are in his furnace room that doubles as an indoor tool shed. We are sitting on the floor, enjoying our drinks. It’s Friday night, and it’s NBA basketball time. I am laughing hysterically with him. I am laughing.

HAHAHAHHAHAHAAHHAAHHAHAHHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH

Breathwork calms anxiety and worry

I go back to the breath. I have another episode. This one flashes forward:

I think about my to-do list for tomorrow. I worry. I have a job interview. I am anxious in anticipation. 

The voice in my head panics. Stressed, I think about the job interview. The voice says: “I haven’t done this before” and “I haven’t interviewed in years.” I accept my feelings. I acknowledge my concern. I am gentle as I breathe. I think: “I’ve done this before. If something comes up in this life, most likely I have done it before.”

The voice in my head calms down. I think: “Hey, you got this. You interviewed for a job recently and it went reasonably well. You weren’t the right fit, but the interview went well.”

I reason with myself. I am calm. I stop concerning myself with the job. I am happy. I heal. I am grateful to have a job interview. I am happier the more I heal.

I continue breathing:

  • I breathe in through the belly.
  • I breathe in through the chest.
  • I exhale it all out.

I am buzzing from head to toe. I do not want this session to end. My nose lets out its remaining sniffles from when I cried earlier. I am okay with that. I accept that it’s okay to tear up. I am grateful for my life. I am connected to my roots. My tailbone is vibrating. 

The session ends. I stop actively breathing. I enter the cool down portion of the practice. For ten minutes, I lay in silence. I think to myself:

Breathwork heals the mind body and spirit

I love myself, and admittedly I haven’t loved myself previously like this. I am ok with my life. 

I am on a runner’s high. It’s like a completed a 5k.

My consciousness is expanded beyond my own self. I am rooted in the world, as my tailbone keeps vibrating. My entire body is buzzing. I am profoundly loving myself, that is the biggest difference in my life.

Breath in. Breath out. I cool down. My body feels cold and I wrap myself up more in the blanket. I am intoxicated by the world. After a few more minutes, I gently open my eyes. 

I sit up on the green couch. I grab my journal and pen to collect my thoughts. I take a sip from the cup of water next to me. I jot down some notes, and enjoy the fruits of my labor. I have spent thirty five minutes jump-starting my mind. I am exhausted, and whole.

Breathwork is a spiritual practice. Yelling, laughing, and crying are common experiences during my sessions. It feels good. Breathwork helps to process the unconscious. 

Whether it is emotional, spiritual, mental, sexual, or physical healing – breathwork brings up a lot of stuff. It is about healing, forgiving, and loving yourself. Through the classes, I expand my to a deeper consciousness. 

Breath in through the belly. Breath in through the chest. Breathe out. 

Breathwork helps the mind, body, and spirit recover from the ups and downs of life. 

I open up my heart, filling myself with radical self-love. Breathwork heals the mind body and spirit.

Breathwork heals my mind, body, and spirit. It could bring you to the same too. Sign up to take a class with me Thursdays at 6:30 PST.

Link:

Listen to my teacher David Elliott’s breathwork here

Editors:

Big thanks to the writers who helped edit this: Asad Badruddin, Stew Fortier, Tom White, Drew Stegmaier, Piyali (Peels) Mukherjee, Stephen Scott,  Chris Angelist,  Philip Thomas, Kelly Walborn, Brett Friedman, Kyla Scanlon,Ergest Xheblati, and Chris Holinger.

 

Categories
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.

Breathwork Resources:

 

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CPTSD Recovery Uncategorized

Complex PTSD: When Your Therapist Thinks You May Be F*cked

This is part of a larger series of writing around my recovery from Complex PTSD. 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 ancient healing, I treated the root cause, not merely the symptoms. I charted my journey in a series of essays. I’ll be writing bi-monthly articles, publishing podcasts, and hosting workshops on healing, recovery, and the root causes of pain. Twice a month, I send out a personal story of healing. Sign up for two stories per month, that’s it.

“Ryan, I think you have a form of insidious ongoing childhood trauma called Complex PTSD. Let’s talk more in the next meeting.” 

Towards the end of the couples’ therapy session, our social worker looked at me and said those exact words. 

That first sentence rocked my world.

I was shocked, surprised, and scared.

What does insidious mean? 

What does it mean to have trauma? 

I had the pressures of a family, work, and being a dad. 

How would I go through trauma recovery?

I felt desperate. After years of following the traditional rules of mental health: chatting about my feelings on therapy couches, ingesting mood-stabilizing drugs like candy, and trusting medical doctors’ advice—I felt that Western medicine abandoned me.

Since college, I ran the gauntlet of mental health professionals. I saw a therapist, psychiatrist, group psychologists, cognitive behavioral experts, and many different doctors. I accepted that I was in pain and had to manage it. I knew there was a better way to live, yet  no one showed me how to get on that path.

Healing trauma with ancient methods

To heal my trauma I went against traditional health advice. I sought out the wisdom of fourth-generation sound healers, and connected with some of the best breathworkers and meditation leaders in the United States. I experimented with psychedelics, plant-based medicine on the bleeding edge of mental health, dove into an emotional balance workshop through the Dalai Lama, and met with modern-day shamans to build myself back up. I conversed with the legendary Buddhist trained monk Jack Kornfield, learned Vipassana meditation with Mingyur Rinpoche, studied Pranayama breathwork meditation under David Elliott, and worked with sound healers who liberated my body with Tibetan singing bowls.

Now a year later, I’ve survived to live another day. By the grace of God, I finally found the healing practices of thousand-year-old eastern traditions. Many of these practices are from India, pre-colonial America, and indiginious tribes around the world. These ancient methods helped solve my modern mental health problems. Resiliency came through my bones. My healing work culminated in a series of mystical journeys that changed my life.

How We Treat the Symptoms, and Not the Root Cause

I’m grateful that my wife and I opted into marriage counseling. On that day we were in a dimly lit room, sitting next to one another on a small couch. While in the offices of a clinical social worker Dr. Julie Hoine, Wally, her service dog, ran around the floor. Julie sat across the room, on a sturdy black office chair, with a desk and an Apple computer behind her. 

I always seem to misremember things. However, I would not soon forget this day. I had been taking a drug called Lamictal for well over a decade. On the surface it stabilized my mood. In addition to therapy, I had been seeing a psychiatrist for years. While the drugs treated depression/anxiety-like symptoms, they also covered up the root cause of my pain. I recall specifically crying during one therapy session over a painful childhood memory. The psychiatrist’s solution to my grieving was a prescription for an antidepressant. I began doubting this psychiatrist over the past year. Like many Americans, I numbed the symptoms of my problems, while living in denial that there was an actual root cause. 

Julie told me something that shook up my life, my family, and my mind forever. 

“Ryan have you ever been diagnosed with trauma?” 

“No. What do you mean?” I replied. 

“You sound like you’ve been through trauma, would you like to go through a trauma checklist with me?” 

After hearing this, I stopped breathing. In utter disbelief, I agreed to do a trauma checklist with Julie. She asked my wife if it was okay for us to go down this trauma rabbit hole. She said yes. 

Julie spun around her chair to her computer, and searched online for a trauma checklist. I had no idea what she was doing, and was equally curious and shocked. In my decades of searching for answers to my symptoms of depression, anxiety, frustration, sadness, relief and anger, I had not heard the word “trauma” any time in any doctor’s office. 

What is Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (Complex PTSD)?

Wally was now on the floor resting on her back, no longer running around. The room was calm and we waited an eternity for Julie to pull up the complex trauma checklist. She then asked me if I sometimes felt like I had: 

  • A lack of emotional regulation
  • Changes in consciousness (dissociation)
  • Negative self-perception (extreme guilt or shame)
  • Difficulty with relationships (lack of trust) 
  • Loss of systems of meanings (feeling hopelessness and despair).

I barely recall my answers. My mind felt blank. Complex PTSD is the result of prolonged exposure to trauma over long periods of time, often during the formative years of childhood. It’s different than PTSD, which is often a result of one single traumatic event. C-PTSD is a result of ongoing and long-lasting trauma. The trauma can last for a series of months or even many years. C-PTSD is repetitive trauma, and if left untreated the effects can last a lifetime.

Some of the most common aspects of C-PTSD are:

  • Nightmares 
  • Memory issues (often blocking out reminders of the traumatic event) 
  • Heightened irritability 
  • Decreased interest in once-enjoyable activities 
  • Dissociative flashbacks (oftentimes emotional flashbacks) 
  • Severe feelings of guilt and shame 
  • Difficulty maintaining close and trusting relationships with others

Suddenly I felt exhausted. I learned from my therapist that Complex PTSD and complex trauma is under-diagnosed. To which I said, “No shit.” 

Since graduating from college, I’ve been on as many different pharmaceutical drugs as you can imagine. Feeling like a human guinea pig, I’ve been prescribed antidepressants, anti-psychotics, and mood stabilizers. None of them has completely worked. 

Past doctors diagnosed me with depression, anxiety, and other normal-ish symptoms around mental health, but never trauma. Complex PTSD sounds like something that military veterans and survivors of sexual assault have, but I had experienced neither. I was a father and husband with a career, and I was floored by the diagnosis. I thought to myself, “WTF?”. I felt totally f*cked. I asked myself, “what does recovery even look like?” I wondered, “How am I going to meet my client deadlines next week?”

How Recovery Works

Now I am in recovery; something I will happily continue for the remainder of my life. In the coming series of essays you’ll hear how, why, and which ways I’ve healed. I merged Eastern and Western treatments to get better. Rather than return to the well of psychiatric and psychological evaluations, I forged a new path. I’m the happiest I’ve ever felt. I have to thank microdosing psychedelics, breathwork, meditation, practicing gratitude, journaling, and yoga for some of this continual effervescent feeling that I have. Now in retrospect, I understand what worked for me. Equally as important, I learned what did not work for me. I’ll share my results, as I experimented with many different types of healing methods. I waited decades for my oneness with the world to bubble up to the surface from down below. I genuinely feel whole, connected to people, and believe that my best days are ahead. This feeling is a stark contrast from how I felt just a year ago.

I want to share with the world the story of how my final trauma therapy uncovered the truth. I would like no one else to go through the decades of pain that I felt. What many people call healthy isn’t necessarily right. Rather than fighting a traditional mental health system of what we define as healing, I invite you to follow along so that you too might chart your own path through the recesses of the mind and psyche. The needless suffering that I went through must end now, and we can all collaborate to work on a more human experience to help people who’ve been traumatized. There are more people like me —zombies living with unknown pain, looking for answers to questions that they don’t even know exist. I invite you to follow along so that you too might chart your own path through the recesses of the mind and psyche. This is the journey to getting unf*cked.

Big thanks for edits from: Ross Gordon, Stew Fortier, Tom White, Joel Christiansen, Drew Stegmaier, Sara Campbell, Richie Bonilla, John McGarvey, Chris Holinger, David Rosenblatt, Lyle McKeany, Steven Ovadia, Charlie Bleecker, and Joshua Mitchell.