As someone who has suffered from OCD in the form of obsessive thoughts and worries my whole life, I'm always on the lookout for ways to better manage and cope with my anxieties.
Doctors and wellness gurus have long encouraged me to try meditation. And as a yoga teacher, I know that meditation is incredibly helpful for so many people—but I've never been able to get into it. When I sit down to meditate, my thoughts always begin to wander to my to-do list, recent situations that I could have handled differently, or what I'm going to eat for dinner.
What happened when I tried breathwork instead.
I didn't fully understand how powerful the breath was until I learned about the ujjayi breath, also known as rhythmic nostril breathing, during my 200-hour yoga teacher training. Once I started focusing on this particular breath during yoga flows—which sounds like the waves of the ocean or the mask of Darth Vader—it became the only thing I could think about. It made every class fly by and left me with an insane sense of calm, confidence, and awareness.
During meditation, I felt like I was just observing my mental chatter. But with breathwork, I could focus more on my body and less on my intrusive thoughts, which ultimately allowed me to enter a different state of consciousness.
Call it coincidence, but I soon started to notice that people were talking about breathwork outside of class too: My younger brother said he was practicing it as an athlete at the University of Oregon as a way to cope with the high-pressure environment. Co-workers were talking about how Wim Hof's breathwork method led to superhuman strength. Andrew Weil's 4-7-8 breathing technique for relaxation was put on my radar, as was David Elliott's mouth breathing to activate your heart space and calm obsessive thinking (yes, please).
There were clearly so many different types of breathwork techniques out there, and I was curious about all of them. So I got to thinking, why did I have to wait until Thursdays at 7 p.m. to feel good and grounded?
That's when I looked into Gwen's breathwork class on mindbodygreen.
The Ultimate Guide To Breathwork gave me a strong baseline understanding of what breathwork is, why it works, and how to use it throughout the day. I walked away with an arsenal of breathing tools and techniques that I could call upon in various stressful situations. I loved that the course gave me specific methods to try during different scenarios—such as before an important presentation at work or during a sleepless night. (It turns out that these types of stress are different, and they can be soothed using different breath techniques.)
The Key Difference Between Breathwork And Meditation
The most important lesson that I learned from Gwen, though, is that the breath is a tool that I have access to at any moment. Breath is our life source, and it's the easiest thing to leverage to help calm the mind and regulate the nervous system—and I don't need to sit in a dimly lit room in an upright position or attend a yoga class to practice it. I can implement the power of breathwork while sitting at my desk in the middle of my open-air office, on the subway, watching TV with my husband, or while out to dinner with my family.
Now, I always incorporate breathwork as a grounding practice in my yoga classes, too, and I've noticed that it helps my students (oftentimes, busy New Yorkers rushing to and from work) let go of their stress at the door and be fully present on the mat.
Why I'd recommend this class to anyone.
Thanks to Gwen's class, I know that the power to cope with my OCD has always been within me. I just needed to understand the tools that I could leverage to unlock it. In the end, I'm glad that meditation didn't stick because it led me down a path to finding something that did.