Zana Parker is a counsellor in private practice, an experienced antenatal educator and hypnobirthing instructor through which she first identified the power of breathwork. Using ‘everyday language’ rather than the technical language of Neuroscience she invited us to join in an entirely experiential and felt learning experience. It was clear just how empowering her choice of ‘experiential’ was as it duly encouraged us to relate in the moment, in the group, physically, emotionally and psychologically with what was happening within our bodies and its felt sense. Zana said trust in ourselves, others and the process is the key to positive outcomes.
Through experiential discussion, guided relaxation and exercises Zana helped us understand how important breathing deeply and calmly was to our, and our clients, wellbeing. She explained people tended to think breathing in was the most important element to staying alive but we do this action automatically and without thought. It is the breathing out effectively which is vital! We breathe in or inhale oxygen and breathe out or exhale carbon dioxide. The correct balance between these two gasses within our lungs and bodies is extremely important to supporting our wellbeing and so aiding us to face life’s issues and traumas in a calm and balanced way. This workshop, Zana said, would build our confidence to demonstrate calm, beneficial breathing to clients. It would also enable us to experiment with different aspects of breathing in a safe, accepting space and so benefit personally as well as theoretically from such a restorative day. She also stressed there are no ‘silly questions’, all thoughts and queries are valid inputs to our discussions because ‘we all need to find out something’.
Focusing on breathwork calms the autonomic system. It helps to enhance feelings of empowerment, manage pain, lower blood pressure and aid healthier sleep patterns. It is known that nasal breathing can help with allergies, such as hay-fever, and also warms the breath before it enters the lungs. Zana said, breathwork is always helpful, but not everyone will find it useful due to personal circumstance.
We learned to tense our bodies completely, from the feet up, and to hold that tension absolutely tight, to breathe in and then suddenly exhale completely with as long a breath as possible – the body instantly ‘lets go’ of all the tension. Next, we breathed in through our noses, and then exhaled imagining a gold ribbon (or something else) extending from our breath whilst we pushed it away for as long as possible – watching our breath go wherever we wished it to. Zana suggested the in-breath should be shorter than the out-breath: say 4 counts in and then 6 or more out. The idea is, over time, to build the out-breath to as high a number as possible, taking into account, of course, any respiratory or other issues we or our clients may have.
At Zana’s request we each drew on a outline of a ‘gingerbread man’ the places in our bodies where stress always goes, using colour and images to show what it looked or felt like – what colour was it, was it smooth, spiky, irregular, dark or light whilst particularly noticing how we felt.
Breathwork was then used to reduce the amount of tension or worry held within our bodies. Firstly, breathing in deeply, holding it for a moment, and then consciously exhaling all our held tensions for as many seconds as was possible. As we did this such tension seemed noticeably to reduce as we purposefully exhaled it away from us, imagining it all floating out into the ether.
Breathwork, Zana explained, may help to reduce the effects of pain, trauma, loss, anxiety, worry or fear. Such issues may arise from potential traumatic events, bereavement, pregnancy, relationship breakdown, exams or driving tests. Zana discussed this more fully (whilst protecting the confidentiality of her client work) through sharing anecdotes of her experiences with clients particularly women in labour, those with anxiety or people suffering severe and continuing pain or trauma, which helped deepen our understanding.
Towards the end of the day, Zana led us through a guided relaxation explaining that it is important to keep the voice neutral, calm and reassuring – there is no need to whisper, just ensure all can hear you clearly. When with clients, we need to ask them to think about their special safe place where it feels peaceful and calm which, of course, we would all need to do during this workshop. Initially speaking at her normal pace, Zana checked everyone was comfortable in their laying down or seated positions and then gradually slowed her speaking pace down, asking us to focus on our in-breath whilst noticing maybe a warm colour flowing through our bodies. As we relaxed through our breathing Zana asked us to focus on what we might ‘see in our mind’s eye, hear or perhaps smell’ and to just go with it – noting it is helpful to use all the senses if possible. We then needed to focus on our out-breath, exhaling as long as we could whilst Zana asked if we were aware of any change in the colour as we released the tensions or worries we had been holding. Zana talked us through the feelings and sensations we might be experiencing, saying its ok if our minds wander and to just bring our attention back to her voice. Zana explained ‘Feeling and being relaxed in this way builds your sense of inner trust … you feel more calm, capable and confident’.
Thank you, Zana, for such a nourishing, restorative day during which so much was explored which this review can only very briefly revisit. The positive joy of such a gentle, experiential day of ‘Breathwork’ was inspired by just being and not doing.
Reviewed by Jacqueline Holloway