On October 24, Kevin and I attended the Breathing Master Class with Vladimir Vasiliev at the Systema HQ in Toronto. Many of the exercises focus on removing fear from the body and psyche. I have never been in a fight, nor do I ever plan to. Physical struggles for me are wrestling laundry basket up and down the stairs or battling weeds my garden. Even though the exercises were put in the context of combat and physical confrontation, I found myself relating to the work from the perspective of day-to-day life.
Calm the Mind
The first exercise we practiced was “light breathing”. We started with a light inhale, feeling the sensation of air entering the nose. Then gradually we extended the focus to the whole body. The light breathing gathers the mind through physical sensation and action, rather than thinking or imagining. There are times I feel anxious and restless with thousands incomplete thoughts swarming in my head. I cannot think to myself “Focus!”, because that would be adding another thought to the bubbling cauldron of thoughts. But by feeling my own breath, I can center myself in my physical being and ground myself in the here and now.
Awareness & Recovery
Often we have unnecessary tension in the body because we didn't notice it. In one of the exercise we were instructed to sit or lay in awkward postures holding our breath, notice the discomfort that built up in the body, then use breathing to remove it. If the stress on the body is acknowledged and dealt with at the level of “discomfort”, it will not have the chance to accumulate and develop into something worse. At the workshop we learned to constantly and quickly evaluate the internal state of the body and recover fully and honestly before any stress accumulate.
Breath is the bridge between the physical and the psychological. State of mind effects the way we breath and vice versa. When emotions becomes more intense (e.g. from fear, anger, grief, etc.), breathing becomes compromised. When there's not enough oxygen, body becomes tense. When the body becomes tense, it's harder to breath. Then we tend to become more emotional. On top of that, physical discomforts (e.g. pain, fatigue, tension, etc.) often negatively effect the emotional state, feeding the vicious cycle. At the workshop, we practiced breathing under the effect of physical and emotional challenges. Instead of letting negative emotions surge and swell, we treat it the same way as physical stress and remove it with breathing.
Breath work is healing both for the body and the mind. We now practice these exercises and more at our weekly Breathing for Health classes. If you would like to see what breathing practices can do for you, please join us every Monday & Thursday at 4:30 pm.