As soon as we pay attention to our breath, as we breathe in, these three things- body, breath and mind- come together.
-Thich Nhat Hanh
Breath is the foundation for all conscious practice. Conscious breath practice is potent, natural, accessible, safe and effective. Respiration is the universal language of all living beings. Breath is our bond with each other, the rhythms and cycles of the natural world, and with life itself. Conscious breathing improves physical, emotional and mental health, and invites us into experiences of connection, wholeness and wellbeing. One Breath Circle utilizes breath and other holistic practices to cultivate our intrinsic human capacities for presence, wisdom and love, and the engagement of these capacities in the service of healing, growth, and awakening.
So many of us experience stress, disconnection or trauma in our own lives, as well as being witness to suffering around us and around the globe. There is a deep need for this stress to be met and attended to, to be understood and supported, and to have safe and compassionate spaces in which to heal. When we're caught up in the pressures and trials of life, we tend to think of wellness practices as a luxury we can't afford. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that conscious practices are integral to our survival. Utilizing breath and movement practices, we are able to shift out of the defensive condition of disconnection, activating the parasympathetic nervous system, and boosting Oxytocin production, which supports experiences of safety, relaxation, connection and bonding. This shift from chronic stress to a relaxed awareness can lower blood pressure, increase circulation, detoxify the body, boost the immune system, temper our response to physical and emotional stress, and naturally increase our levels of energy.
Breath heals, promoting mental clarity and acuity, creating new pathways in the brain, and re-establishing the connection of the inner self with the outer world, neurologically, physiologically and psychologically. Healing leads to growth unimpeded by fear, and the desire to offer our gifts and capacities to our families, our communities and to our world. When this essential human need for growth is supported and responded to, it can lead to vibrant health and well-being, creativity, experiences of deep connection, belonging, love, wonder, gratitude, and ultimately, freedom. One Breath Circle provides a safe, unconditional and compassionate space in which we can heal, reveal, and become who we were born to be. We are invited to consciously return to ourselves, and to an awareness of the collective, with every breath. In so doing, we return to conscious presence, making a living breathing inquiry into the possibility of being and becoming an embodied, awake and attuned human being taking up our place in the circle of life.
The science of breath as a healing practice is a newly developing field that is building on 2000 years of traditional breath practices. Thanks to pioneers such as Dr. Richard Brown and Dr. Patricia Gerbarg, , great strides have been made in understanding the power of breath, breath practices, and body-mind practices on human health and well being. Breath serves as a regulating force physiologically and psychologically. When there is a disruption to the bonding relationship and its accompanying sense of safety, and/or an imbalance in the stress response system, the voluntary control of breathing can become a doorway to "interoceptive communication," producing a calming effect on our emotions, our subjective experience of our bodies, and a felt sense of safety, bonding and connectedness. Breath practices can reduce hypertension; improve cognitive function; treat ADHD; address PTSD and depression conditions; address physiological issues such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease; and significantly impact quality of life indices in a spectrum of illnesses and trauma.
Another pioneer is Shirley Telles, MBBS Ph.D., Director of Research at Patanjali Yogpeeth, Haridwar, India. She is also the Head, Indian Councel of Medical Research for Advanced Research in Yoga and Neurophysiology, a federal research center. Dr. Telles is the most prominent researcher in Yoga, Meditation and Pranayam, or breath practices, co authoring over 100 papers in peer-reviewed journals, and authoring 4 books. To review her research: Dr Shirley Telles - Publications, book chapters, books (262 KB).
Other pioneers, such as Stanislav Grof, one of the founders and chief theoreticians of Transpersonal Psychology and a psychiatrist with more than fifty years of experience in researching the healing and transformative potential of breath and non-ordinary states of consciousness, continue to carve new pathways in our understanding of the relationship of breath to healing, wellness and transformation. Dr Grof's mission is to cultivate a world where "safe, powerful means for inner transformation are widely available to help transcend violence, foster sustainability, and enrich life." Dr Grof has not only cultivated and developed the art of therapeutic Breath Practice, but has examined closely the role of breath and consciousness in Art.
Resources for Further Reading:
The Healing Power Of The Breath, Dr Brown and Dr Gerbarg, Shambhala 2012
Non-Drug Treatments for ADHD, Dr Brown and Dr Gerbarg, Norton 2012
Carter, C.S., 2014, Oxytocyn pathways and the evolution of human behavior. Annu Rev Psychol. 65:17-39
Porges, S.W. 2009, The polyvagal theory: New insights into adaptive reactions of the autonomic nervous system. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, 76 Suppl 2, S86-90
Porges, S.W. 2003 Social Engagement and Attachment: A Phylogenetic Perspective. Ann NY Acad Sci. 1008:31-47
Porges, SW 2001 The polyvagal theory: Phylogentetic substrates of a social nervous system. International Journal of Pychophysiology, 42 (2), 123-146
Gerbarg PL, Wallace GS, Brown RP. Mass Disasters and mind body solutions: Evidence and field insights. Journal of the International association of Yoga Therapists. 2011. 2(21): 23-34
Brown RP, Muench, F, Gerbarg, PL. Breathing practices for treatment of psychiatric stress-related medical conditions. In Complementary and Integrative Therapies for Psychiatric Disorders, Ed, PR Muskin, PL Gerbarg, RP Brown. Psychiatric Clin NA. March 2013, 36(1):121-140.
Descilo T, Vedamurtachar A, Gerbarg PL, Brown RP, et al. Effects of a Yoga-Breath Intervention Alone and in Combination with an Exposure Therapy for PTSD and Depression Survivors of the 2004 Southeast Asia Tsunami. Acta Psychiat Scand April 2010, 121 (4):28:9-300
Streeter CC, Gerbarg PL, Saper MD, Ciraulo DA, and Brown RP. Effects of Yoga on the autonomic nervous system, gamma-aminobutyric-acid, and allostasis in epilepsy, depression and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Medical Hypothesis. 2012 May; 78(5):571-9.
Carter J, Gerbarg PL, Brown RP, et al. Multi-component Yoga Breath program for Vietnam Veteran Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: Randomized Controlled Trial.Journal of Traumatic Stress Disorders & Treatment. 2013. 2(3):1-10.
Smith, RC, Boules S, Maayan L, Gerbarg PL, Brown RP, et al. Effects of yoga on cognition, psychiatric symptoms, and epigentic changes in chronic schizophrenic patients. Presented at 14th Int Schizophrenia Congress, Orlando, FL, April 22, 2013.
Holotropic Breathwork, Stanislav and Christina Grof, State University of NY Press, 2010