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Breathwork 101: A Mental Escape for Those Who Need It Right Now
Breathwork meditation guide and Pilates instructor Chauna Bryant shares tips for how breathwork can help heal, how to start, and the importance of inclusion in the fitness industry.
There are many people struggling with their mental and physical well-being right now. Current world events can make it difficult to battle the sadness and fear. The feeling of being out of control, stressed or disconnected from yourself can be overwhelming, and that’s why finding methods to help can make all the difference. The practice of breathwork is centered around focused breathing exercises and techniques. It’s an active meditation that uses a simple pattern to quiet the mind and relax the body. These practices can help improve your mental, physical and spiritual well-being to bring you back to a place where you feel centered.
Breathwork meditation guide and Pilates instructor Chauna Bryant has been teaching breathwork for about three years. She says what provides the healing is the peace that breathwork can bring to someone. “Breathwork is like a mental escape. A lot of times people feel almost a psychedelic effect. There’s nothing ingested but it is very much, for a lot of people, a way to quiet their thoughts and have a couple moments of peace. When you’re in an environment that can feel very overwhelming, a couple moments of peace even for twenty minutes can feel like the biggest re-set button of your day.”
Bryant says the technique of breathwork allows you to build a better connection with yourself and potentially discover a new way of thinking. “Breathwork is a really good way to connect to your deeper self. What that means is, building deeper self-confidence, more self-trust and being more comfortable with the decisions you’re making. It’s about being able to sort out your feelings and being able to understand or interpret what is going on in your head.”
There are multiple styles of breathwork, like boxed breathing which helps with instant relief or Kundalini breath of fire which is a bit more intense. Bryant leads a two pattern breathwork style where you breathe through your mouth into your belly, then into your chest, then exhale and release. Choosing a style all depends on what you’re looking to get out of the practice.
During this time of uncertainty in the world there has been a clear shift in the way people are thinking and searching for ways of coping. Bryant says, “I think with this pandemic and everything going on in the world, people are having to hit the pause button.” And in hitting pause, people are reevaluating what’s important. “Now that the busyness is gone, we’re having to really focus and ask, what am I doing? Am I happy? Where am I going with this career?”
Even though Bryant was already offering breathwork sessions online, taking her Pilates classes virtual as stay-at-home orders were released has proven to be a bit of a challenge. But she says she’s become a better instructor by learning how to communicate more clearly and effectively. She’s also been partnering with organizations who are doing important work, especially during these tough times. As a member of the LGBTQ community, when Bryant was told that OUTWOD was looking for instructors to teach online classes she reached out. She says, “I love that OUTWOD is creating spaces specifically with the LGBTQ community in mind. I think it’s important to create those spaces where people feel safe and can be whoever they want to be unapologetically.”
While June is Pride Month, it’s important to remember that safe spaces for the LGBTQ community are still too hard to find. Bryant says Pride is a reminder that there’s more to be done. “To me, Pride means self-acceptance. Pride also represents a time to celebrate and honor the history of the LGBTQIA+ community and the ongoing fight for equal rights.”
And it goes far beyond just the LGBTQ community and Pride Month. The fitness industry still has a long way to go when it comes to inclusion. Bryant says, “Wellness in general is having a really big moment right now, especially with a lot of the racial injustice that’s happening in the world. I think as a black woman in wellness, if you look at ads, they don’t showcase people with all bodies, or of all genders or all races. For a long time, wellness has been a one-type-only marketed industry.” Bryant emphasized that representation is the first step. “I think it’s beautiful that organizations and companies are putting different types of bodies and faces and non-binary people out in front. Hopefully it’s welcoming because people are going to resonate with it more if they see someone who looks a little bit like them.”
As for what brands like Reebok can do to remain authentic and ensure that they are toeing the line when it comes to inclusion, Bryant says to continue to break the stereotypes that have been built around fitness. “It’s just showing people that represent different walks of life. The whole industry world doesn’t have to be the good-looking hunk with the perfect haircut or the skinny girl with the ponytail. It’s just diversifying that and showing what real bodies look like. Showing that all are welcome is a good way to do it.”
As the world continues to try to make sense of everything that’s happening in all different communities, it continues to be important not to forget about taking care of yourself. It’s the best way to show up for not only yourself but for others as well. Bryant says “A simple breathing pattern distracts your mind and it gives your mind something to do. When you can quiet your thoughts, then your body can feel what it feels. It disarms your guard and lets you address things that are going on.” Breathwork is just one way to opt into self-care and to give yourself a moment to sit with your thoughts. Check out Bryant’s five tips to starting a breathwork practice below.
1. Start small: Even a five-minute breathwork session can make a big difference, begin with a short amount of time then build from there.
2. Explore: There are many different styles of breathwork, check out different methods and facilitators, and see what feels good to you.
3. Let go of expectations: Every breathwork session is different, begin each session with an open mind.
4. Embrace your emotions: Breathwork has an amazing way of bringing pent-up and stuck emotions to the surface. Let yourself feel everything.
5. Keep in mind that breathwork is a meditative practice: It may not be the only answer, some deeper topics might also require the guidance of a trained mental health professional.