Yesterday, at the last minute, I decided to jump into an online workshop with my teacher Kiely Wolters at Practice Yoga, back in Austin, Texas and I rediscovered the power of breathing together. It was a powerful shift in this moment of feeling totally disconnected from the people and places that I love.
Here’s what I learned about a new breathing and meditation technique called Resonance Breathing.
COVID-19 and BLM have Connected Us In Ways We Didn’t Expect
Thanks to the magic of the internet (and the fallout from COVID-19 which has wreaked havoc on the yoga world, as a whole), I was able to practice with her from more than 3000 miles away. I trained with Kiely during my 200-hour work and continually seek her guidance, teaching and inspiration, and she and the team at Practice never cease to amaze me with their skill, education and care for their teachers and students. Seriously, if you want some of the highest quality yoga in the country, check out Practice.
While here in California we’re dealing with a resurgence of the virus, Texas has once again reached an all-time high. I fully expect California to be forced to slide back into stage two opening, closing gyms, restaurants and bars once again, to prevent the dangerous sickness from spreading further. A lot of the success of sheltering-in-place, wearing masks and washing your *damn* hands, however, depends on just how careful and how much care we take of one another going forward.
In addition to all this, I have recently, been deeply steeped in a lot of social justice journalism work for a fantastic outlet called Shondaland and run by the incredible black television producer, Shonda Rhimes. As many of you know I am a full-time freelance journalist and cover (and have covered) a WIDE variety of topics. Most recently the editors at Shondaland asked me to pen a piece about the fallacy of “All Lives Matter.”
I am immensely proud of the work and grateful that Shondaland chose me to write the piece. At the same time, doing the kind of work I do, can be tremendously challenging. I have always worked to portray and profile people of color in my stories, but, honestly, prior to BLM, most of my white, male editors simply weren’t interested in hearing me out.
The one benefit (if you can call it that) of COVID-19, at least from my perspective, is that it has made plenty of yoga classes, courses, and even teacher trainings more accessible to those of us who don’t have the money, nor the time to, say, spend two weeks in San Francisco or Vancouver to learn from some of the best teachers in the world. It has brought some of the foremost teachers into my living room and allowed me to deepen, strengthen, and enhance my practice in ways that I never thought possible. It’s also offered up some amazing opportunities for me to share what I know and what I teach.
While being forced to move by a greedy, horrendous landlord in the midst of a pandemic and national stay-home orders has significantly disrupted my plans to continue to offer free yoga classses online, (sorry guys, I know quite a few of you are anxious for new practices! I’m working on getting the yoga room set up, STILL!), I’m going to start trying to spool the production back up and maybe entertain the option of offering IG classes for free, as well.
Breathe Together, Feel Connected
In the light of all this, I have, like many of you, been feeling somewhat disconnected. The days blur together as we continue to stay safer at home (despite the wider opening here in my state). My father is a high-risk case and though he’s on the other side of the country, I wear a mask, and stay home except for absolutely necessary trips because I want to keep people like my dad safe. I want to keep other people’s dads safe, too. While gyms and yoga studios open, I stay home and practice in my tiny, still box-filled space.
Yet, yesterday, the practice I worked on with Kiely was different.
She began her workshop, as she usually does–connecting with each of the students she’s known and taught for years. We talked about the resurgence of COVID-19 in Texas and the people we knew who were affected by it. We talked about fear and the larger idea of collective karma, and we talked about BLM, and then we began a meditation.
Rather than using the familiar methods, Kiely introduced the Zoom class to something I’d never known about before: Resonance Breathing.
Resonance Breathing is slow, regular, diaphragmatic breathing that works to calm the body and brain (and has all kinds of proven benefits to the vagal nerve) and it helps you reset your parasympathetic nervous system. I know, that all sounds like a ton of scientific gobbledygook, but hear me out. My personal experience in the 15 minutes we did: It grounds you, calms you down, and makes you feel a whole lot more connected.
First the scientific facts: There have been quite a few studies on resonance breathing and it’s effects. Like this one from 2019 on the effects that resonance breathing has on heart-rate variability (known as HRV), blood pressure and mood. Or this one from the same year on the effects of resonance breathing on cardiovascular regulation. Both studies show that resonance breathing improves many aspects of our stress regulation and mental well-being.
Our 15-person class breathed together for what was probably only 10 minutes, but about midway through I realized, “Here I am, breathing in unison with people who have all trained with and worked with my teacher. No matter where we are, we are breathing together, and that makes us connected. That makes us one, no matter where we are coming to our mats, what color our skin is, what we believe, or what we do. Our breath unites us.”
That realization felt like a lightning bolt of gratitude that shot through me, and it’s something I’ve decided to make a part of my regular online classes as well as my own personal practice. This morning I got up, practiced and went on with my day, all while feeling more connected to the people I love and miss all over the world.
How Does Resonance Breathing Work?
You don’t have to pay anything, or sign up for anything to learn a bit more about resonance breathing. Turns out there’s an app for it.
Eddie Stern is an Ashtanga yoga teacher based in NYC, and he and his team have built a simple, elegant, easy to use app that you can download on Android or Apple devices for free.
Want to practice resonance breathing for free? There’s an app for that!
You can choose a variety of methods for practicing, whether you prefer to watch a video animation on your phone while you breathe with an expanding and contracting circle, or you are like me and prefer to do it with a pair of headphones in and just time your breaths with two notes, one higher and one lower to indicate when you should breathe in and when you should breathe out.
The trick with resonance breathing is to reduce your breathing pattern to four to six breaths per minute. The app helps with this as it allows you to customize the length of your inhale and exhale to a level that is most comfortable for you. The longer your exhale, the more relaxed you’ll end up feeling.
Whether you do it for two minutes or thirty minutes (another customization you can make using the slider at the bottom of the app), the effects can be profound. I liked it so much that when I took the dog for our daily walk I listened to it and tried to match my breath to it for the full 30 minute wander. By the time I came back to the house, I felt much more focused and calm.
The practice is simple, and elegant, and useful as we all deal with continuous blur of days and a feeling of being increasingly disconnected from it all. If you’re missing your teachers or (in my case) your students, give this practice a try and see what comes up for you. It’s well worth the free download.