December 16, 2020

I could Hardly Believe I was Only Breathing: Tales from my First Breath Flow Class.

*Editor’s Note: Elephant is not your doctor or hospital. Our lawyers would say “this web site is not designed to, and should not be construed to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, or treatment to you or any other individual, and is not intended as a substitute for medical or professional care and treatment. Always consult a health professional before trying out new home therapies or changing your diet.” But we can’t afford lawyers, and you knew all that. ~ Ed

I’ve never seen so much with my eyes closed.

Images were appearing almost like floaters, only much, much more distinct. These were recognizable faces, figures, and colors—especially purple, a vibrant purple.

I wasn’t dreaming, at least not in the traditional sense. I was completely conscious of my surroundings, as well as my thoughts. I was doing my best to stay open to everything that was occurring while maintaining a certain level of skepticism. I wondered how this was happening, how much of it was I creating, and if I was aware of it. This was far too vivid and felt too real to be just my imagination.

I didn’t actually expect to find the answer to any of these questions, and in those moments, I really didn’t care to. I was more than content to just lie there on the floor and enjoy the experience. No substance or medication had ever made me feel so at peace or created such blissful sensations, but I hadn’t taken anything—aside from a transformational breath flow class.

This was actually my second time taking the class, but the effects were twice as pronounced as on the first visit. I knew that part of what was happening had to be on account of the amount of oxygen I was taking in, but I would never expect this type of outcome. And though the end result was damned near euphoric, the entire process wasn’t nearly as pleasant. In fact, at times, it was incredibly uncomfortable, but I would go through hell for this type of payout, and that’s sort of what it felt like.

There were six of us in class that night: four women, myself, and our instructor. Two of the women were first-timers, and two were actually certified transformational breathing practitioners themselves. We each took our place on one of the plush yoga mats forming a circle in the middle of the room.

After a brief introduction to the technique, we were all asked to share our aspirations for that evening’s class, doing our best to narrow it down to one word. I settled for freedom, letting that encompass anything and everything in my life that I felt no longer served me. Then we were all invited to lay back and begin breathing.

Before I mention any of the particulars of the technique, I should probably advise that this only to be done with professional guidance. Not that I would expect most people to be willing to go through this type of discomfort on their own anyway. It really was quite the testament to the power of group influence, and I still considered leaving despite the presence of my peers and the reassurance from our instructor that no one had ever not made it through.

As I understand it, the basic technique is to get as much oxygen into the body as quickly as possible. This can be done in three stages. First, inhaling deeply into the belly, letting the stomach expand to its full capacity, and exhaling quickly. Moving next to a dual breath stroke—filling the stomach, then the chest, and the quick exhalation. Finally, the breathing needs to become cyclical, stomach to the chest in all one motion, almost like a belly roll. A simple concept, but a difficult experience.

Anytime when we experienced any strong physical or emotional sensations, we were instructed to tone—a method of releasing the pent up energy by vocalizing loudly and kicking and pounding on the floor. I didn’t expect to feel comfortable, or rather uncomfortable enough to actually do this, but it ended up being the least unexpected event that took place.

Our instructor hit the lights and started the music. It was a relaxing playlist of ambient synthesizer resonance and harmonics. Not my day-to-day listening, but fitting for the class. He also began calling upon any sages, spirits, and deities to guide us through that evening’s session. It would be enough to freak some people out, maybe illicit some nervous laughter, but I wanted to stay open to the possibility and was much too focused on my breathing to do much else.

About a minute into the techniques, I started to become pretty physically uncomfortable. My mouth and throat were dry, and the fast pace of the respiration was taking a good amount of effort. As we were instructed to begin the two-stroke breath, my entire body began tingling. This was much more intense than the typical pins and needles from an appendage falling asleep. This was throbbing full-body paresthesia stretching up past my neck, to my face and temples. It was quite uncomfortable but bearable. The worst was still to come.

Right before the instruction to begin the circular breathing, panic set in. Extreme anxiety washed over my body and mind. I felt both trapped and out of control. I was terrified just to be breathing on the floor with these uncomfortable sensations. The feelings were much more intense than what seemed appropriate for the situation.

In retrospect, I wonder if this was some suppressed core emotion that had been conjured up by the technique. One of those emotions that our instructor had mentioned working through. So I continued and cursed myself all the while for coming to the class for a second time. Why hadn’t I remembered how painful this was? Why would I ever choose to do this again? And then I started to get my answer.

Our instructor invited the class to try the toning technique, and I found myself kicking, pounding, and vocalizing without reservation. Everyone else was doing the same. It seemed to work as some sort of release, and I felt more comfortable staying with the breathing after doing so. The instructor came by to touch some acupressure points around my stomach. He offered a few reassuring words and sat me up on to a wedge. I suppose this was done to make the breathing even deeper, and in the process, I was becoming more and more comfortable.

I heard the young woman to my left begin sobbing, and I noticed myself laughing quietly every time she would cry out next to me. I was happy for her. I thought she must have been having a release. At this point, I was also pretty sure that I was also high as a kite. I knew laughing wasn’t a fitting reaction, but I couldn’t help it. The breathing had become easy; the panic had dissipated. Now, I was just laughing gently and toning almost as a means of encouragement. That was until I became too tired or just too relaxed to continue. She stopped crying, and I stopped breathing.

When I say I stopped breathing, I mean the technique, not my flow of breath. My respiration had slowed so much that I barely noticed it, not that I was paying much attention to it anyway. This was when the visions began. Again, I was completely conscious of my thoughts and surroundings, but what I saw with my eyes closed was now part of that in a way that escapes my best attempts at explanation.

I couldn’t believe this was just my imagination, and if it were, I wanted to explore its boundaries even further. It started with images resembling the likes of Siddhartha, Budai, and Ganesh. At one point, I believe an image of Jesus came by as well. It wasn’t as if I was having a conversation with any of them or that they were giving me direct messages. They were just floating in and out, letting their presence be known.

I’m far from being a religious scholar, and I don’t have extensive familiarity with any of the figures that appeared. I even had to look up Ganesh’s name after the class. I considered the possibility that this had been prompted by our instructors’ spiritual callings at the beginning of class, but this didn’t feel like a crafted formulation; this seemed to be an authentic occurrence.

At another point, I thought I recognized the outline of a face as a bright light contrasted against the dark of my closed eyelids. I realized that it was my face. I still felt very much in my body, but I was looking at myself lying there like some paradoxical duality of looking out and in. As that image faded, it was replaced by a purple square, which I was told is a color of the highest vibration. It started quite subtle and then intensified to the point where I began to wonder if someone was shining a light over my face. I even opened my eyes to check, but the room was now much too dark for this to be anything showing through my eyelids. I closed my eyes to resume the show.

I began picturing the room we were in, and that began to change as well. It was still the same room, but it was as if I were seeing it in a different place or time. I knew the room I was actually in, but I was in this other one as well. They weren’t even necessarily different rooms. It was as if I were cognizant of being in a dream without having ever fallen asleep, like a vivid and lucid daydream with an additional component of awareness.

Just as incredible as what I was seeing was what I was feeling. The last time I felt anything close to this, I had just been woken from anesthetics. I doubt the sedative effects of most narcotics could come close, and I would be afraid to touch anything so powerful. I wondered how long it would last, but I wasn’t worried about trying to hold on to it. I didn’t care to try to change the experience in any way. I just wanted to be there with it.

The images had now ceased, and I was becoming more aware of the immediate surroundings. I started paying more attention to the sound of the fan blowing and our instructor walking around the room. It was around this time that he instructed us to bring some gentle movement back into our bodies and to open our eyes when we were ready. I looked around the room. The two practitioners looked content; the first-timers excited and stunned.

We were invited to share anything about our experience or ask any questions that we may have had. I mentioned working with the panic, but not what I saw. In fact, nobody actually mentioned the particulars of their experience or seeing anything. That’s a question I’ll bring up next time.

I did ask our instructor if he was pumping extra oxygen into the room, and he assured me that he wasn’t. One of the first-timers shared that it had been years since she had touched a drug and that she had done copious amounts of trauma work, but nothing had come close to an experience like this. I believe it.

The young lady who had been crying seemed almost dazed. She spoke clearly and eloquently but just stared blankly at the center of the floor. She insisted that it was beneficial, but she still seemed to be processing everything that had happened. I think we all were.

I have been taking it in for the past week now, and all that I’m sure of is that I really can’t be sure about any of it. I think I know what I saw and what I felt; I just don’t know why. I have no way to prove that it was anything more than oxygen high and no way to prove that it wasn’t something much more profound.

Did it help me work through some deep-rooted anxiety, develop a higher level of consciousness, or help me heal myself and those around me? Maybe. I guess that all depends on what I choose to believe.


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