Breathwork for Alchemy
How to use the breath for everyday transformation.✺
Our breath is a process of alchemy. Transforming the air we breathe into the sustenance of our very lives. And when we intentionally manipulate our breath, we can use it as a tool to alchemize other aspects of our experience too—such as difficult emotions or a cluttered headspace. Let me introduce you to extended-exhaling breathing, a favorite among my clients.
This breathwork is a practice of modern day alchemy. Transforming difficult emotions (anxiety, stress, fear, sadness… you name it) into an energy form that we can more easily work with. When alchemizing your emotions into a more efficient form of energy, it is important to allow the breath to be gentle to aid in the relaxation of the body. By focusing our attention on the breath, even in a calm state, we stay alert and present in the mind. The intention of alchemizing breathwork is not to rid ourselves of a difficult experience—whether we are traversing through those pesky feelings of fear or anxiety-inducing negative self-talk. Rather, through the vehicle of the breath we are able to soften and meet ourselves where we are with a more open, aware, and compassionate response. That is where the true medicine of this pranayama lies.
The breathing technique begins by balancing the length of our inhales and exhales sending the message to our system that we are safe. Here we relax the body, calm the mind, and use our focus on the breath to ground into the present moment. Then slowly, we extend the length of just the exhale. Now we are signaling to the brain through the vagus nerve to turn down the response of our sympathetic nervous system (‘fight or flight’) and turn up our parasympathetic nervous system (‘rest and digest’). This aids in our mind's and body’s response to difficulties. The longer we extend our exhale, the more our diaphragm and abdomen (but not the chest) are engaged to slow and steady the breath equalizing our respiration cycle into a state of deep relaxation.
With the system in a more balanced and relaxed state, you will begin to feel the alchemy occurring. Often it will feel as if the energy in the body is moving from a scattered pattern to a more channeled and control direction. We stay here as long as we need, perhaps finding we are more able to accept and allow whatever arises. We’ve softened the body, created space in the mind, and with a little bit of a distance from the intensity of our experience, we may gain some clarity. In the final breaths, there is one last invitation to alchemize difficult emotions using a positive “I AM” affirmation. If you are feeling fearful, try “I AM SAFE”. If there is a lot of negative chatter, try “I AM LOVED”. And if anxiety has the best of you, try “I AM KNOWING”.
Here is a step-by-step guide to the Breathwork for Alchemy practice:
*Begin laying down on your back with your eyes closed or sitting-up softly gazing at a point in front of you.
*Count the length of your natural exhale (e.g. count of 4).
*Match your inhale length to the exhale (e.g. inhale for 4, exhale for 4).
*Stay here until you notice a shift in the way you are feeling.
*Begin to extend only the exhale by 1 or 2 counts (e.g. inhale for 4, exhale for 6).
*Stay here for at least 2 breaths, longer if needed.
*Extend the exhale by another 1 or 2 counts, slowly working your way up to doubling the original count (e.g. inhale for 4, exhale for 8). Allow each exhale to soften you deeper into the body, imagine a melting sensation.
*Stay here until you achieve a more centered and relaxed state of being.
*In the final breaths, let go of counting but continue to keep the exhales long, gentle, and slow.
*Begin to repeat your “I AM” affirmation with each exhale, melting the affirmation into the body.
*Thank yourself. Breathwork is deeply compassionate self-care.
A couple of notes:
*You do not need to continue to lengthen the count of the exhale, especially if doing so produces any anxiety. Stay at a count you are most comfortable with and just focus on long, gentle, and slow exhales.
*A shortened version of this breathwork can be done anywhere—while sitting at your desk or in your car. The most important piece to focus on is exhaling longer than the inhale.