Reconnecting to the body
Experiences on the frontier of breathwork (part 1)
It’s 9pm on a Tuesday back in October of 2021. I’m sitting in bed with my thumbs plugged in my ears and my pointer fingers holding my nose, singing Voooooo-huuuum while slowly breathing out. My wife’s face is screaming "what the heck are you doing". I start to explain: "it's an exercise to shift my nervous system and increase nitric oxide", but I realize it's hopeless. She’s lost interest in all my weird experiments and there’s way more context than she’s willing to hear while winding down for bed.
So let’s back up. I’ve always been interested in physical and mental wellness. I’ve gone down rabbit holes on exercise, meditation, cold exposure, therapy, float tanks, psychedelics, and pretty much any area with a shred of potential. Yet, I always felt like something was missing.
There was a lack of contact with my experience of these things. Looking back, I did them but didn’t really feel them. Most of the experience occurred in my head with a stream of thoughts narrating the activity. I was disembodied.
Of course, I didn’t know this at the time. If this sounds foreign to you, you are likely someone who didn’t need to learn this lesson after three decades of life. I’m jealous. But my guess from conversations with friends is that many of you may be familiar with this way of being: overactive thoughts, low awareness of physical sensations, and difficulty feeling emotions. A thinking-centric way of living.
This is where I was when I joined Jonny Miller’s course on Nervous System Mastery1. I was expecting to learn some cool tricks, not to have my entire way of being called into question. That changed when he introduced a concept I’d never heard of: Interoception.
Interoception is awareness of how you feel inside your body. Not just the surface stuff like emotions but the physiological stuff most of us ignore. Our heart rate, muscle tension, adrenaline, respiration, and all the other fun stuff happening within. Collectively these make up our internal state.
I'm a bit embarrassed to admit how much this concept rocked my world. It's not that I never felt anything like some crazy robot. It’s just that it was dull background noise buried beneath everything happening in my head. I spent so much time trying crazy shit like breath-holds and ice baths without truly paying attention to the experience in my body. It was like trying to cook without tasting the food!
At this point, I’m feeling FOMO. There’s this whole world of sensory experiences that I don’t know how to access. Thankfully, Jonny is about to blow the door open and invite me on a sensory adventure. The portal is self-regulation protocols. Simple breathing exercises that can up or down-regulate your nervous system by influencing a change in your body. These techniques create a noticeable shift in how your body feels in the moment. It’s a beautiful feedback loop. The sensory changes help train your interoception, improved interoception unlocks more sensations, and the cycle continues. I felt like a little kid again, learning a new terrain of experiences.
Let’s use the crazy Voo-Humm breathing as an example. Back to me sitting in bed. As I begin the technique, the sound is startling. It's a reverberating echo that feels like it comes from your belly and then your jaw. It's weird to feel cut off from the external world but present to such loud noises. I fall into a rhythm where my exhales get longer and my humming gets louder. I feel myself start to smile. Partly because I know I look ridiculous but more so because I'm starting to feel really good. I notice my head feels like it’s buzzing. My entire body feels centered and calm. There's a spaciousness and a sense of peace that I'm not used to. If this is the nitric oxide, I want more!
So what’s happening here? The different sounds create a vibration in your belly and throat that brings sensory awareness deep within your body. At the same time, the technique creates a dramatic increase in nitric oxide which relaxes the inner muscles of your blood vessels to increase blood flow and lower blood pressure. The combination is a deep state of calm. But it’s not just a story in your head it’s connected directly to a felt sense of what is happening in your body. Intention, curiosity, and practice bring the physical sensations in your body more into your awareness. As you train your sensory clarity, you begin to notice a new world of sensations.
The coolest part is that there is a different technique to change your state in all directions. Want to increase your alertness before a meeting or energy before a workout? Try bellows breathing. Interested in improving your capacity to respond to stress? Practice breath holds.
It’s a slippery slope. Once you’ve experienced your ability to shift your state, it’s hard not to want to do it all the time. It can be tempting to start to always try to control how you feel. Yet, over time the novelty of the techniques softens and this desire lessens. You realize it’s equally powerful to simply bring awareness to how you feel within your body and align your activities to honor that. You can use your environment and the rhythm of the day to create conditions that support how you want to feel during different activities. And, then sprinkle in a quick breathing protocol when you need a nudge in one direction.
The most powerful part of my experience exploring breathwork is how the skill of interoception has extended into all aspects of my life. It’s completely transformed my approach to fitness where every workout is now an opportunity to connect to the body. It’s evolved my meditation practice where increases in sensory clarity are a frequent source of excitement and joy2. It helps me embrace more intuitive decisions in my business3 and expands my sense of connection with others. I could go on and on.
Most of all, this journey has taught me that there is deep wisdom within our own bodies that we can tap into if we learn how to listen.
For a deeper dive into these practices, check out this podcast I recorded with Jonny Miller on breathwork and nervous system mastery.
Stay tuned for part 2 on how guided breathwork journeys helped me shed past patterns, release stored emotions, and step more fully into my own body.
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Jonny didn’t ask me to share these experiences of his course and these are not referral links. I just cannot tell this story without it or recommend it more strongly given the impact it’s had on me. There are numerous ways to go on this journey. You don’t need a course to reconnect to your body. For me, there was just something magical about the way Jonny teaches it. And, I love the amount of nerdy science he shares. Stay tuned for a podcast episode I just recorded with Jonny going deeper into all of this.
Recently I have been exploring Unified Mindfulness which highlights sensory clarity as one of the three core aims of meditation along with concentration and equanimity. I’ve also been enjoying guided meditations by Reggie Ray on Somatic Descent.
If you’re curious about cultivating a more intuitive approach to business and marketing, I recorded a conversation with Rob Hardy that you can listen to here: From Rigidity To Fluidity With Rob Hardy.
The cover illustration was created and generously shared by Silvia Bastos through CC licensing. Check out more of Silvia’s illustrations: silviamakesdrawings.com and support Silvia’s work: www.patreon.com/silviamakesdrawings