Curious Mind Grapes

Praising Pranayama: On the Amazing Benefits of Breathwork

May 22, 2024 Mary Hoyt Kearns, PhD and Christine Szegda, M.Ed., ACC Episode 15
Praising Pranayama: On the Amazing Benefits of Breathwork
Curious Mind Grapes
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Curious Mind Grapes
Praising Pranayama: On the Amazing Benefits of Breathwork
May 22, 2024 Episode 15
Mary Hoyt Kearns, PhD and Christine Szegda, M.Ed., ACC

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Join us as we talk about the many wonderful applications of breathwork, or pranayama, in our daily lives! In this episode, we share personal stories, along with insights from experts, about how this simple but powerful practice can create a sense of grounding, sharpen our focus, and enhance our physical well-being. We also delve into some of its more esoteric applications, such as inducing altered states of consciousness, including the psychotherapeutic potential of holotropic breathwork, and the energizing effects of Kundalini yoga. Whether you're seeking calm before the storm of a hectic schedule, need a tool to enhance mental clarity, or are hoping to explore alternate realities without the use of drugs, you'll find this episode a breath of fresh air!

Show Resources

Breathing Their Way to an Altered State, Ernesto Londoño, New York Times, January 10, 2024 https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/09/style/therapy-breathing-psychedelics.html

Grof Holotropic Breathwork https://www.holotropic.com/holotropic-breathwork/about-holotropic-breathwork/

Cuyamunge Institute, Ecstatic Trance Ritual Postures https://docs.google.com/document/d/1jvBnf_K2QTu58_jqPyUMBovtA1N9zBw-IpiKczQPv2E/edit

Sama Vritti Prânâyâma, The Biomedical Institute of Yoga and Meditation, Pranayama Manual, February 21, 2023 https://biyome.com.au/pranayama-manual/sama-vritti-pranayama/

Box breathing: how to do it and why it matters, Calm https://www.calm.com/blog/box-breathing

Exploring the Therapeutic Benefits of Pranayama (Yogic Breathing): A Systematic Review, Jayawardena R, Ranasinghe P, Ranawaka H, Gamage N, Dissanayake D, Misra A. International Journal of Yoga, 2020 May-Aug;13(2):99-110 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7336946/

What is Prananyama? Medically Reviewed by C. Nicole Swiner, MD on April 30, 2023, WebMd https://www.webmd.com/balance/what-is-pranayama

Visit us on Instagram @curiousmindgrapes!
Feel free to share your questions or episode requests. Thank you for listening!

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

Join us as we talk about the many wonderful applications of breathwork, or pranayama, in our daily lives! In this episode, we share personal stories, along with insights from experts, about how this simple but powerful practice can create a sense of grounding, sharpen our focus, and enhance our physical well-being. We also delve into some of its more esoteric applications, such as inducing altered states of consciousness, including the psychotherapeutic potential of holotropic breathwork, and the energizing effects of Kundalini yoga. Whether you're seeking calm before the storm of a hectic schedule, need a tool to enhance mental clarity, or are hoping to explore alternate realities without the use of drugs, you'll find this episode a breath of fresh air!

Show Resources

Breathing Their Way to an Altered State, Ernesto Londoño, New York Times, January 10, 2024 https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/09/style/therapy-breathing-psychedelics.html

Grof Holotropic Breathwork https://www.holotropic.com/holotropic-breathwork/about-holotropic-breathwork/

Cuyamunge Institute, Ecstatic Trance Ritual Postures https://docs.google.com/document/d/1jvBnf_K2QTu58_jqPyUMBovtA1N9zBw-IpiKczQPv2E/edit

Sama Vritti Prânâyâma, The Biomedical Institute of Yoga and Meditation, Pranayama Manual, February 21, 2023 https://biyome.com.au/pranayama-manual/sama-vritti-pranayama/

Box breathing: how to do it and why it matters, Calm https://www.calm.com/blog/box-breathing

Exploring the Therapeutic Benefits of Pranayama (Yogic Breathing): A Systematic Review, Jayawardena R, Ranasinghe P, Ranawaka H, Gamage N, Dissanayake D, Misra A. International Journal of Yoga, 2020 May-Aug;13(2):99-110 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7336946/

What is Prananyama? Medically Reviewed by C. Nicole Swiner, MD on April 30, 2023, WebMd https://www.webmd.com/balance/what-is-pranayama

Visit us on Instagram @curiousmindgrapes!
Feel free to share your questions or episode requests. Thank you for listening!

Speaker 1:

Welcome to Curious Mind Grapes with your hosts, mary and Christine. Hey Mary, hey Christine. I have been trying something new for the past I guess, like it's been about a month and a half. It's a breathwork video that I do every morning, now before before I even get out of bed. Someone passed it along to me. It's like this 15 minute breathwork video where you are doing rhythmic breathing and breath retention and it's this really like chill Hawaiian sounding dude who's like guiding you through it and like reminding you to love and laugh the whole time. It's really kind of funny, but I do it every morning and it has been amazing. I have really loved it, but it has really made me feel really relaxed a lot of days.

Speaker 2:

Oh interesting. So why do you start your day with it if it makes you feel shit?

Speaker 1:

Well, that was the instruction I got from the person who passed it along to me, because I was saying that sometimes in the morning I wake up and I feel a little agitated, a little anxious, like thinking about my day or I don't know if, like, my cortisol levels are just, you know, pumping up in the morning getting me ready. And she said it works really well if you do it before you look at your phone, before you get out of bed, before you talk to anybody, because it resets your, I guess, parasympathetic nervous system because breath retention involved in it.

Speaker 2:

Oh, interesting.

Speaker 1:

So it's supposed to also make you relax, but alert.

Speaker 2:

Okay yeah, okay yeah, cause usually when I wake up in the morning I'm relaxed because I've been sleeping.

Speaker 1:

Yes, yes, well, what I slept well. Or yes, I definitely relaxed first thing. But yeah, for some reason some mornings I wake up and I don't always feel relaxed and then I kind of take that into my day. So she said I really love this video, why don't you try it? And the first time I did it I definitely felt relaxed and more calm and spacious. Right afterwards I don't notice like a real cause and effect quickly now, but I noticed that it just throughout my day. I just feel more grounded after doing it.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah, what's the name of the video. We'll have to share it in the notes.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I'll share. We can share it in the show notes. It's just this. It's this guy. He has a bunch of different breath work videos and I guess he calls it triangle breathing. So you're going in for two, holding for two, out for four, so you have that longer exhalation. You do that for many cycles, I don't know, maybe like 10 or 15 cycles, and then you breathe in and you hold it, breathe out, breathe in again and hold it and then breathe out, like with your pursed lips, which I guess also triggers your parasympathetic nervous system, and then you do that three times. So it takes about 15 minutes. And then, luckily, he keeps playing his soft, plinky, plunky music afterwards for a few minutes, so you can just enjoy.

Speaker 2:

So it sounds like an isosceles triangle because the sides are not equilateral.

Speaker 1:

Yes, yeah, it's been really. It's been really interesting and, coincidentally, I don't know if I can't remember if I told you this, but I had been having a little bit of trouble breathing when I'm exercising.

Speaker 1:

And it kind of happened after I had COVID. But my lungs were fine. I wasn't sure if it was asthma and I said it just feels like my timing isn't right If I'm trying to walk and talk at the same time. And my doctor said you know, that actually is more the domain of a speech language pathologist than a, you know, pulmonologist. They checked my lungs, of course, they looked everything. Everything was fine. But the speech language pathologist said I somehow have developed like a habit to tense my vocal cords and my throat and it's like my body has learned this bad habit. So she actually taught me breathing exercises to keep them open.

Speaker 1:

And it's almost the same thing oh, fascinating yes, breathing in and then breathing out for a long breath with a visualization of like. The visualization I use is where there's this one part of I-95 up by the city where it's all these lanes come together and she goes. You know how sometimes, if you're on there really early in the morning, everything's open and you're like, ah, you can drive. So for some reason that really works for me. So I actually picture I-95 with no traffic and I say the car is open.

Speaker 2:

That is a really relaxing moment, because that's not usually how it is.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, you're like whoa, where is everyone? And so I picture that as I breathe, it as I breathe out, and then occasionally what still happens when I walk, I just tell the other person to keep talking and I do my three rounds of that and it opens everything up as I picture 95 going into Wilmington.

Speaker 2:

Right, aren't there like six lanes at some point and they're all kind of coming together? People are crossing over to go to 495?.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, yeah yeah, it's kind of a mess, yeah yeah. So it was just interesting that both those things happened around the same time. And I've known about your breath and breath work. But it's one thing to remember it occasionally and do it, and it's another thing to practice it when you're having trouble, and it's another thing to do it like you know beforehand. It's like money in the bank for the rest of the day.

Speaker 2:

Right, yeah, I've also heard of it being used in acute situations Like one of the, like one of the breath patterns. It's box breath, so four equal sides in a square, which is breathing into the count of four, holding for a count of four, exhaling to a count of four and holding to a count of four. So it takes a lot of concentration and they're pretty long breaths and holds for like under normal circumstances, but it really, really is relaxing and it helps get you, yeah, again back into your parasympathetic nervous system to activate it. And I learned it in yoga, but then I read later that maybe seals are trained to use in stressful situations.

Speaker 1:

I think I had heard that like it's like tactical breathing, but that they're using it when they're yeah, they're not trying to relax or trying to handle something that's focus as well, so it it can be relaxed, so it calms you, but it also gives you focus, which is really fascinating. And I think I had heard it was. It is based on, like pranayama breathing, like is that, yeah, you're the yoga expert.

Speaker 2:

Well, pranayama means breath work and so, yeah, all of these breath techniques, all the different variations of lengths of holds and inhales, exhales were developed by yogis thousands of years ago. So there is research, if you look in Indian medical journals and things on breath work.

Speaker 1:

It seems like there's a lot of different kinds, like the box breathing, where it's all the same the one with the longer out breath. I've even heard Tara Brock when she does a relaxation. I listen to her meditations all the time, but she does even breaths six in, six out to really slow down. And I remember one time I want to say it was might've been Hillary Clinton right after that election. She was talking about some of the things that she was doing and she was talking about the alternate nostril breathing. Yeah, that's another one. Yeah, breathing in through left, you know, then breathing out to the right, then in through the right, then out to the left.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah, that's a meditative technique that I've seen in Tibetan Buddhism, as well as yoga practice.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. So I had read when I was working with students years ago. I had read this something that said if you're breathing in and out through your I think it was your left nostril, it's triggering your vagus nerve or it's creating vagal tone. So it's making you relax, and if you're breathing in and out just through your right nostril, it would make you feel activated, excited, awake and alert. So I did an experiment with my couple of different classes where I said I'm not going to tell you what they say about each side.

Speaker 1:

Okay, the question I'm asking you is do you notice a difference on one side or the other? Let's do like 10 breaths on the left, 10 breaths on the right. With the other classes. I reversed the order and every single class it was either nothing or they all said the left felt more relaxing and they all noticed that they felt and I hadn't given any cues like you're gonna feel relaxed or excited. I just said what do you notice when you do this? Those were the words they used. I feel. I feel energetic, I feel like I want to get up or I just feel really sleepy right now.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah, I'm looking at a little blurb from nature. It says yoga practice suggests and scientific evidence demonstrates that right nostril breathing is involved with relatively higher sympathetic activity or aroused states. Left nostrils associated with a relatively more parasympathetic activity or a stress alleviating state.

Speaker 1:

okay, very interesting yeah, and I I just wonder, like what nerves are running where that you're, that you're triggering or stimulating Right, and then the one going back and forth you're doing both Right, you're balancing it because, from what I understand, at different times of day we do bring in more air through one side versus the other.

Speaker 2:

Just naturally Our bodies kind of adjust.

Speaker 1:

Really yeah.

Speaker 2:

Oh, that's funny, I'd never heard. Never heard that. Yeah, it's a pretty miraculous system also in in eastern medicine. Um, the left side is associated with the feminine and the right side with the masculine, so it's also to the activated versus the calm.

Speaker 1:

I mean, I've definitely tried it, like when I want to relax, you know, hold the right side, or before something important. If I'm feeling a little too relaxed, maybe just wake myself up a little bit.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, that's very cool. Yeah, scientifically based.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I mean vagal tone is really interesting, because I think you can't really talk about breathing without thinking about that and the nervous system, I don't know. What do you know about?

Speaker 2:

I feel like it's very popular now to talk about vagal exercises and, yeah, I mean, when I was studying um physio, physiology and stuff for yoga and stuff, we we didn't really talk about vagal tone that much. This is like seven years ago. Um, I have heard it brought up in some classes. It's more the parasympathetic versus sympathetic nervous system, the kind of overall system, and I know the vagal nerve like runs throughout the entire body, like from the base of your brain all the way down your spine. So it's um, clearly, clearly involved with a lot of these things. But I don't know the specific. I can't speak to the specific mechanisms of it, right, yeah, yeah, so I have an article that I've had saved for a long time and I haven't read it yet, but it's on breath work or holotropic breath work. There's the groff holotropic breath work training, but the new york times had an article about it. It's a pattern of breathing that tends to be rapid and it can actually get you into alternate states, like consciousness states, when I was learning how to moderate ecstatic trance postures, which is have we talked? I don't know if we've talked about this and I don't think we've talked about this in other episodes. We'll definitely go into this later.

Speaker 2:

Um, it was developed by an anthropologist who worked with a bunch of students, um, based on the work of another anthropologist she worked with who found that patterns of breathing helped to put people into alternate states. She combined that breath work with postures that she found repeated in ancient statues around the world that had kind of common postures and found that, um, the breath work combined with the different postures, it gave different sort of awareness states. So it's like the classic goddess pose that you see in a lot of those goddess statues. When you hold that it it produces a certain type of um vision, oh wow. And then there are ones that they found in common around the world that are sort of shaman poses or seer poses or dream poses. So I'll go into that in another episode.

Speaker 2:

But in preparation for it they play either a drum or rattle at a certain beat that matches the heart, natural heart rate, along with breath work and it's kind of a steady, steady, rapid breathing at first and then then you relax into it with the rattle and yeah, and I've seen that in other kind of shamanic work too so you start with a kind of rapid breath and then get. Then you get in tune with the rattle or the drum and it somehow synchronizes your brainwaves, I guess, gets you into that theta stage like between. So you're not, you're in a waking dream state. I believe that's what holotropic breath work does too, and that was kind of a clumsy way of describing it all. But um, yeah, it's really fascinating.

Speaker 2:

So breath work can be used also to put you into that, that state where you're. Um, I don't know if it's not. It's not quite hypnotic because you're totally in control. I guess hypnotic states you are too. But um, yeah, so that you can be in a waking dream state that allows you to see or perceive things at the subconscious level while you're alert, and I just find that fascinating can you say more about what you mean by holotropic breathwork?

Speaker 1:

I mean, is that just what it is? It is that exactly what it means to just do different speeds to get you into different states, like what's the general definition of yeah? I'm looking it up like what is holotropic breathing do?

Speaker 2:

so it just involves breathing at a fast rate for minutes to hours. Most people it's just minutes, so kind of like that kind of um. They also use that in kundalini yoga too.

Speaker 2:

A fire breath, yeah, and that's usually with the mouth, usually with the mouth closed, like you're just yeah you can do it with the mouth wide open, but it seems to mostly be done almost like little puffs of air out, out, out, out out, and this says it changes the balance between carbon dioxide and oxygen in the body. Oh yeah, and it's used in some forms of psychotherapy, but the main thing is finding these altered states of consciousness and it's really amazing. It's been used in trauma work, it's used in journey work. It's fascinating, and I'll find that article in the Times where they talked about it as preparation. I'll find that article in the times where they talked about it as preparation. It can be preparation for, or even a substitute for, psychedelic therapy.

Speaker 1:

Oh, and it's always fast breathing, right Okay?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and again in Kundalini yoga. The first time I took a Kundalini class, we did a lot of that kind of breath work with our arms raised, so it is like really changed the oxygen levels and it was so energizing and I just I felt elated. At the end I didn't feel an alterative consciousness per se, but I felt like a sense of euphoria. Wow, it was beautiful.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I used to take a yoga class and they would end with the fire breath, where we were kneeling, sitting on our heels and then like, almost like pushing the air out.

Speaker 2:

I don't know if that's the same thing or not?

Speaker 2:

That's not the same as fire breath. Fire breath is, yeah, that is like kind of clearing out all the metabolic waste. You have that one at the end of a practice. This one is like usually I think, in the middle of the practice and it's super rapid fire for a sustained period where you almost feel like you're going to pass out, but you don't, oh wow, and then you're just so oxygenated it's like ridiculous and you said sometimes you were doing it with some of these postures.

Speaker 2:

So have you tried it with a lot of different postures or yeah, that was with the um kaya manga institute, which I'll talk about in another, because that's a whole other story. Yeah, in those you continue the breath work, while you're not as rapid as in Kundalini, but not fast, rapid, actually. Only you do that work, that breath work in preparation, and then once you get into the posture, you just breathe right. Okay, the milani class where you had, where you had our arms in a different position, um for this, yeah, you just use that to get to that state of altered consciousness.

Speaker 1:

Hmm, yeah, I think most people don't realize how much you can purposely change how you feel with your breath. But then we also don't realize, you know, when we're not breathing correctly all day, how that it's actually affecting how we feel. I remember the first time a physical therapist told me I was breathing wrong years ago, that I had I was. She asked me to put my hand like just below my clavicle, one just below my diaphragm, and she was noticing that it was just my top hand lifting all the time. So I was just breathing into my chest and thinking I was doing a really good job, breathing in really big and not really breathing into my belly at all, and what a difference that makes. Yeah, imagine your diaphragm just being pulled down, pulling the air in.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah, um, but definitely learned about that in yoga.

Speaker 2:

But years ago, the first time I went to a naturopath to have a full physical, he had me do a 24-hour urinalysis, like urine collection for urinalysis oh really I don't remember the other results, but one thing that came back was he said you're a shallow breather, like it was not just affecting the oxygen levels but it was affecting something in my metabolism. And and he he explained it was the same thing like try to just breathe beyond your chest. And he explained it was the same thing Like try to just breathe beyond your chest. And he had me do the same thing, placing my hand on my abdomen and my chest to see.

Speaker 1:

From your urine.

Speaker 2:

He knew that that's amazing. I don't know. So it was a long time ago, so I don't remember what he was measuring exactly, but it was like it was showing certain metabolic stuff. So, um, yeah, but that was the first time I had heard the phrase shallow breather. Ever since then, whenever. And he said and at that time I was in grad school and had little kids and life is crazy, um, so it made sense that I was like in constant stress mode. Take time to breathe and if you notice yourself like pay attention, like pay attention to your breath and catch yourself feeling stressed out, just try to get the breath into your belly and you'll notice the difference. So he was the first person to explain that to me.

Speaker 1:

Interesting. The other interesting thing that I, when I was Googling looking at breath work, there was a study where they looked at the effect of yoga breathing on what they called SSRT, which is it's a stop signal reaction time. So they were sort of looking at people that might be like sort of like ADHD type candidates, where you just don't have that inhibition, it's not kicking in fast enough. They found that it did. It had a positive impact. It enhanced that response inhibition and people who had less ability to do that just by doing yoga breathing.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, cause I do think all of this breath work helps focus attention and helps regulate our nervous system. So that totally makes sense, that that would work.

Speaker 1:

So if someone wanted to get into breath work, or they just were like oh, I've never even done breath work, Like, what do you think to breath work? Or they just were like oh, I've never even done breath work, Like, what do you think? What would you recommend they try first or look into?

Speaker 2:

One of the basic things I do with people just to start a really basic form of pranayama is just taking your regular breath, sitting with it and just noticing how long your inhales and exhales are and then slowly extend them.

Speaker 2:

So if you normally breathe in and out to a count of two, do that for a while and then move to three in and three out or in and four out and just see how far you can get and still be comfortable and get to the edge of comfortable and stick with that for just a couple of minutes your first time, just to experience the difference and notice. Then notice how you feel and your normal breath and um, yeah, and then you can get into the fancier ones if you find that's helpful yeah, that makes sense, I think, for me.

Speaker 1:

I I feel like for me it was just very helpful to do hand on the belly, hand on the chest and just notice where the breath was going in. I just checking in occasionally during the day to catch myself and I didn't really have to tell myself to not do it. It's just the more often you check in like you're at a stoplight check in, your body starts. Your body wants to do the more healthy thing, so it gets used to that.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it gets used to it, but it does take a little training in the beginning because we are not taught to breathe deep, right, yeah, yeah, when you, when you look at babies, they just know how to belly breathe.

Speaker 1:

Yeah.

Speaker 2:

I don't know where we stop along the way, but somewhere we unlearn that that is a really good question. Yeah, I don't know where we stop along the way, but somewhere we unlearn that that is a really good question.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I'd be interested. I wonder if anyone's looked into that, like where, where, where do we stop doing that? Why do we stop doing that? Like, how do we get to that point?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it could be at the point where people start becoming self-conscious about their bellies. That's definitely a thing in our society.

Speaker 1:

Oh yeah, that is really a thing. Yeah, people don't want to stick their bellies out. People are so used to holding their bellies in all the time.

Speaker 2:

That's my guess. Yeah, yeah, I feel like counting your breath, like, yeah, definitely checking in on where you're breathing into. But if you want to start getting into pranayama, just a simple count, just to be aware of what your normal count is, and bringing awareness to that and then expanding, is really simple and it can take. It takes you to your edge without being scary or force me to do some things. I know the first time that I did breath work, a yoga teacher had us do something with really long inhales and exhales. It was really uncomfortable because a lot of times too, they're not doing it with you. They're counting out loud and they're talking and they forget and they say words and then they say the numbers. So it's actually, instead of six, it's like 10.

Speaker 2:

I really hated that. So when I'm teaching it, I'd like to let people find their own pace, because I found that not only annoying and disturbing, but also very uncomfortable and anxiety producing. Yeah, so it is really fascinating how many different ways we can maneuver our breath to get all sorts of effects, and it's something that we just take for granted every day, that we can relax ourselves, we can energize ourselves, we can focus our attention, we can get into alternate states of consciousness and so much more, just with our breath. It's pretty miraculous. Yes.

Speaker 1:

Thanks for listening to Curious Mind Grapes. Check out our show notes for more information about the topics we discussed today.

Breathwork Benefits and Techniques
Exploring the Power of Breath Work
Breath's Powerful Effects