In March of 2020 I returned home from 12 days in Hawai’i to a world shut down. We were officially in lockdown. I wasn’t allowed to work. I wasn’t allowed to do the thing that I’ve done for years. I wasn’t allowed to lay my hands on people because suddenly people were dangerous. God that was painful. To be denied my calling. To be prohibited of my craft. My artistry. My expression of hands & heart in flow.
Like many people at that time I decided to turn inward. Accepting what I could not change, I put away my equipment knowing that at some point it would emerge. But for now my table, like myself, would rest. A few months prior to my journey to Big Island I had listened to an interview with Wim Hof, aka the Iceman. He spoke of practices he had developed in the wake of his wife’s suicide when his children were young. A way of navigating the pain & loss of his wife’s death. A way to survive the trauma of a life cut short, one where four young children were waiting for him at home.
One of the practices that he developed was something he calls Interactive Breathing. He described and then executed it with his podcast host. Essentially, timed, intentional breathing combined with long breath holds. As long as you can possibly go. Holding your breath until your body thinks it’s going to break…pushing the limits of your body, mind, and sanity. He spoke of the benefits of this practice which include: stress reduction, faster recovery from physical exertion, better sleep, improved physical performance, enhanced creativity, more focus & mental clarity. I got curious. So, I got the app.
I remember my first session. Yes, my very first one. It was a sunny afternoon in April. I sat down in my living room and I tried it. It was uncomfortable. I was wearing jeans. That was a mistake. I decided to really give this a go and see how well I could do. After all, I wasn’t working so I had a lot of extra time on my hands. After a few weeks of trial and error I developed a routine of waking early and siting down into my practice. After a few months I was hitting 90 second breath holds. I was also having powerful visions during my sessions…those are between me and God. By February of 2021, ten months after I had begun my journey, I had reached my all time best of a 3:19 breath hold. I was amazed. I was proud of myself. I could not believe the results that I was getting. I had developed my technique within this practice and I was so so happy with what I had achieved.
And then I told my husband at the time that I wanted a divorce. So, my life was now in turmoil, transition, and many unknowns. I had to find a new home for both myself and my practice. I fell away from my Wim Hof breathing sessions. I just didn’t have it in me. I was surviving for quite some time, more time than I would prefer to admit. And such is life. We ebb and we flow. We start and we stop. We contract and we expand. We marry. We divorce.
In my time of temporary renting/caretaking on a large property in Springfield I would find myself making half hearted attempts to re-start my Wim Hof breath work. Every time I thought I was ready to commit I would find myself in the whirlwind of inconsistency. Lacking focus. Lacking drive. Lacking alignment. Over months of reflection I came to realize that part of why I was so committed in the beginning was because it was an excuse to avoid spending time with my now ex-husband. I put a lot of shame on myself for this. My breath work had become what I thought was a spiritual practice. Now that I know what spiritual bypassing is I can way with certainty that I was bypassing. I was using the time I would spend in pursuit of greatness to avoid a very important part of my life. My marriage.
Faced with this new understanding I decided to just let it be. I knew that someday I would come back to the stillness of breath work. But right now was not the time. Then, in January of 2022 we came down with Covid. My daughter was asymptomatic. My partner, now husband, had a pretty shitty two weeks and then made a decent recovery. I however was now in the throngs of long Covid. Now you may think that given all the benefits of Wim Hof that the obvious answer to recovery was to jump back into the breath work immediately. But for some reason the drive was still missing. I just couldn’t do it. Cue the chronic fatigue, brain fog, irregular heart beat at random times, migraines, muscle cramps, breathlessness, digestive issues, along with a general lack of ability to do a lot of life. It was hell.
In September of 2022 we bought a house and moved to Chester where we now reside. My practice is also here. I am so grateful to be working from home again. Eight months out from Covid made moving absolutely draining. Between our personal belongings and my practice we moved over the course of three weekends. I was wrecked. My body exhausted and depleted. I had a prolonged period of nesting and unpacking. All I could do was just take it one box at a time. By early November we were comfortably settled. No more mountains of boxes looming over us. My practice had been up and running for a few weeks. We had survived one of the top 5 items in the list of most stressful life events. Phew!
By December I was really noticing a difference in how I was feeling. I could walk up the stairs without needing to sit down. The muscle cramps had pretty much subsided. The migraines had stopped over the summer while I was in Norway. Everything else had gently retreated. I was almost a year out from one of the most treacherous illnesses of my life and finally feeling markedly better. What a relief.
Then, one day in early January I got curious. I asked myself the following question, “what if I just tried it again, what if I just sat down, with no expectation, and see what happens?” So I did. The first few weeks were a myriad of breath holds. Some days all I could muster was 1:30, others were better with breath holds of 2:45 or higher. I was pleased with how quickly my progress was occurring. I decided to set some small goals. The first was to focus in on the quality of my breath hold so that I wasn’t forcing myself in extreme discomfort. I created a mantra for myself, “I am safe in my body, I am strong in my body.” This made a big impact in keeping myself calm when my lungs would start to override my brain in their desire for oxygen. I was determined. I kept at it while using my mantra. Again, healing is far from a linear process. Some days were great with breath holds over just over three minutes, while others still sucked. I was patient with myself. I was gentle with myself. I approached every single session with the curiosity of “what if.”
The last few weeks especially have been powerful. insightful, and expansive…pun definitely intended 🙂 Again, I’ve had great breath holds and I’ve had unexpectedly short breath holds. And through this the quality of my holds has increased because I created the space for it to show up with ease. Each hold has gotten successively easier and easier. Less strained. Less intense. Less uncomfortable. Today, February 14th, 2023 I accomplished the unthinkable. A breath hold of 5:01. Yes I will post pictures of my results and of the past week or so. If you feel called to give this technique a try for yourself I recommend the following tips & tricks:
- Do it first thing in the morning, ideally before dawn or the kids wake up.
- Do it on an empty stomach. This gives your lungs more room on the inhales and makes the exhales easier as well.
- Be consistent. Through this practice I have learned that consistency is a gift that you give yourself.
- Wear loose fitting clothing so that your belly can expand fully on the inhales.
- Sit comfortably. Doesn’t matter wear, just make sure your spine is straight.
- Let go of all judgement, expectation, and just have fun!