Anshu Bahanda: Welcome to another episode of Wellness Curated. As you know, the aim of this podcast is to help you lead a healthier, happier, more hopeful life. And we do so by getting you ideas, trends, tools, techniques, approaches from all over the world. This season, we’re talking about spiritual well-being. And in today’s episode, we’re going to explore the profound topic of healing from trauma. And that’s why today we have a life transforming breath work coach Christian Minson. He’s an international speaker. He’s a best-selling contributing author, a trainer and a coach. Christian was a monk for ten years, and he draws on that experience of his being a monk in a Yogic monastery to guide people through their lives, through their professional and personal lives. And he offers inspiration, practical tools for healing, and he helps them create a life they love. He combines ancient wisdom and modern techniques, which is always an amazing combination to me. Welcome to the show, Christian, and thank you for taking the time to be here with us today.
R Christian Minson: Yes, thank you. I’m very excited today.
AB: So am I, because I think our readers are going and our listeners are going to love this show. Christian, tell me, how did this journey that you went through influence your understanding of trauma healing?
RCM: Oh, boy. Well, I’d say to answer that last question, my journey helped me learn that suppressed emotions can create a lot of chaos and havoc in your life, an inability to concentrate, an exacerbation of moodiness. And so, my journey as a breath worker came from after ten years of being a monk in a meditative order, more of an Eastern philosophy, ones that you’re familiar with. There was a time when I was getting these inner promptings to leave, and it was telling me it was time to go. And this was very difficult to deal with, because when you sign up to be a monk, it’s kind of like signing up to get married. You plan to do it for life. You don’t say, “I’m going to be a monk” or “I’m going to be married for two years, and then I’ll go do something else.” So, when this is coming up, it brought up a lot of questioning in me and a lot of soul searching to sort of bridge the gap. I say it’s akin to somebody who, if you ever contemplated getting a divorce, if you’ve contemplated moving out of your hometown to who knows where next or quitting your job without something to move into next. And if you’ve ever had to make any of those decisions, you know that there’s a lot of angst and anxiety that come with that, a lot of self-doubt questioning, am I doing the right thing? What is the right thing to do? It started to stir up old energies, unresolved energies within me, and created this chaos in my brain, which made it very difficult to even practise my meditation techniques. These techniques, which were the pinnacle of our practice as monks, now became useless to me because I just could not concentrate. And this is where I got introduced to breath work, one of my monastic companions. He said, I’ve tried this breathwork thing out. I think you’d really resonate with it. So really long story short, I started to work with the breath and the techniques of breath work. And I found that it really helped to release, in a cathartic way, a lot of these old, stored energies and emotions to help me really cope, to help me to get a grounding and a footing in my life so that I could start to really tune into what was best for me, what course of action was best for me in my life. Doing the breath work, when I really tuned in on a heart level, it really helped me to see that what my soul was craving, the direction that my life wanted to go, was to leave and to re-enter the world, to continue my spiritual adventure out here. So, I took a deep breath, both literally and proverbially and made that decision to step out into the world. And I can honestly say because I took the time, again with the breathwork process to really get in touch with what was truly going on deeper inside of me. It helped me, I’ve never looked back. I’ve never felt like I made the wrong decision.
AB: What ashram were you at? Where were you?
RCM: Well, the ashram was in California, in Los Angeles, California, which surprises a lot of people. The spiritual master of that ashram now passed on, but was Paramahansa Yogananda, and the organisation was the Self Realisation Fellowship.
AB: Now, on that note, Christian, will you explain the concept of breath work to our listeners and how can it be effectively used as a tool for healing from trauma?
RCM: Oh, yes. So, when we talk about breath work, I want to make the distinction that when I talk about breath work, I categorise what I teach and what I talk about as integrative breathwork. When you start to look at the world of breathwork and breathing, there’s all sorts of techniques and all sorts of ways of approaching it, from the ancients of India in the past pranayamas to now. When I talk about integrative breathwork, I’m really talking about a modern-day wave of breath work that started around the 1970s. Okay, so what integrated breathwork does that’s different from, say, pranayamas and such which are generally for bringing ourselves into a calm state of being and mind. This kind of integrative breathwork helps dig up and bring to the surface old integrative old unintegrated energies and experiences from the past that we might call trauma. It actually first stirs things up and that can feel somewhat chaotic as these energies are coming up to be released. But really what we’re striving to do is release your grip on this stuff that we’ve held under the surface for so long, and that’s usually under the surface of your subconscious mind and bring it to the surface so it can be released, so it can be integrated. And then we reach these states of calm that these other techniques of pranayama and meditation can achieve.
AB: So, what you’re saying is that initially there will be some chaos or there is likely to be some chaos when old unintegrated experiences come up to the surface.
RCM: We don’t want to feel those energies. It’s natural that we don’t want to feel them. But to not feel them we stuff them down, we suppress them, we lock them in the closet of our consciousness, or we numb them out with alcohol and drugs, or we run from this activity to that activity constantly trying to avoid those feelings. Okay? But all that does is create a volcano underneath the surface. This energy is bubbling, and it continues to influence our life either by leaking out or eventually it’s just going to explode like a volcano. But with breath work we can in an intelligent way bring that energy to the surface so that we can release it consciously. Now as it comes to the surface it crosses our conscious threshold. So, we may temporarily re-experience some of the energies of that trauma. And here’s where it may feel chaotic or may feel like we’re going through this experience again, but the good news is that we used to say in a retreat that I worked at, what’s coming is going. What’s coming is going, meaning what’s coming up is coming up to be released. And if we just stay with this breath work process I’ve seen over the past 16 years that it literally allows that energy to release in a very cathartic way. We feel this sensation of this weight coming off our shoulders and this clarity, this lightness of being after that’s the calm after the storm, so to speak. But it does take that one brave moment of being willing to deal with that energy consciously and head on. And the stimulus for dealing with that is that if you don’t, you’re just carrying that energy with you until you do decide to deal with it. And it is going to come up in leaky ways or in explosive ways if you don’t deal with it.
AB: Will you talk us through or guide us through a simple breathwork exercise which will help people in dealing with trauma and then in carrying on with their lives?
RCM: I teach what I call a five-minute daily joy jump start. If you start doing a longer session on your own and it all starts to come to the surface, you might be a little bit frazzled in the chaos and not know what to do. So, I always recommend that before you venture into longer sessions of breath work, that you first practise it with a skilled practitioner like myself or many people out there. And then once you get used to the lay of the land, how to do it. You can, of course, go on these longer sessions on your own. That’s the ultimate goal is self-empowerment. Working with your breath, your life force energy and having that in your command. To start out with this five-minute daily joy jump start is really the same model that I’d use in the longer session. What I call a full, free flowing breath, the breath flow process, which means we’re breathing a full breath from our belly, our abdomen, all the way up to our chest, rather than shallow breathing, which is an epidemic in our society. A free breath, which means nice and relaxed, easeful, graceful, not a lot of effort, not a lot of control, but just a letting go. This is a vital part of the processes we start to get into deeper and then a flowing breath, meaning connected. This is what we might call a circular breath pattern. And like a circle, there’s no beginning or end. It’s simply continually inhaling or exhaling. Inhaling or exhaling. It’s also important for that breath to be rhythmic, cyclical, consistent, rather than disjointed and maybe pausing, breathing faster, breathing slower. So, it would look something like [does breathwork]. Now I want to make a point too. We breathe through the mouth, and we breathe at a faster pace when we’re doing this process, whether it’s the five minutes or the longer session. Now, if you want to breathe through the nose, it’s okay, especially during this five-minute session. And I just want to make a caveat here. Many people are concerned about mouth breathing. There’s some literature out there and such that espouses that mouth breathing is a negative way to breathe. And I would just like to make the clarification about chronic mouth breathing. When we’re talking about chronic mouth breathing, breathing through the mouth all the time, meaning all the time, rarely or never use your nose. That can be an issue and that ideally should be addressed. And I want you to come to me if you’re listening out here and you breathe through your mouth chronically. However, breathing through the mouth for short periods of time for the purpose of getting more flow of oxygen into our bodies, like when we’re exercising vigorously or we’re performing breath work, or even when our nose is stuffed up, we have to breathe through the mouth then. So, there are legitimate times when mouth breathing is okay. And this is one of them. Okay, so we’re breathing through the mouth to get more oxygen in. We’re getting that breath into the belly and then bringing it in the chest and then out. And you should feel this expansion meaning like a balloon you’re blowing up and then that inflation goes all the way up to the throat and then you just naturally let it go. Not and not controlling it, but just relax and then you do it again. This gentle breathing just starts to help dislodge little entities of our trauma.
AB: So, you’re saying that the inbreath is longer than the outbreath? The outbreath is almost like a sigh.
RCM: For me it ends up manifesting that way. But if they’re about the same length of time, that’s not a huge issue with the whole process. More of the issue is getting a full breath but being relaxed with the breath and keeping it continuous and cyclical.
AB: I’m sure through your experience you’ve been through lots and lots of different cases of healing with breathwork. Give me the example of something you’ve been through or someone you’ve been through who has released trauma through this journey of breath work.
RCM: Sure. One woman comes to mind. She came to me with the goal of losing weight. She had issues with her weight since a young child, always feeling like she’s fat to the point where even at one point she battled with a bout of anorexia. And this really came from and created a negative self-attitude which started to also reflect in her relationships. So not only was she feeling bad about herself, but it seemed like her world, she wasn’t very happy with her world and her relationship. surrounders. My sessions are usually about 2 hours in length. A combination of coaching and getting digging mentally into what’s going on and what’s really desired, the desired outcome. Then moving through the breath work process, then at the end kind of debriefing what happened in that process and making a plan for where we can go in the future. So anyway, through this process it began to reveal the seed experiences that made her feel this low self-worth. The early experiences with her mother and father, they’re chiding her about her weight, even these jokes, but with an edge on them. She took and amplified in her mind that that made her hypersensitive to her weight and that the only way that she could feel accepted was to feel like she was rail thin. As we worked with this and this energy came up and it came up with a lot of crying, it came up with a lot of emotional release of various kinds. She started to feel better about herself, she started to come to an equilibrium. Our outer world is just a reflection of our inner experience. And so as she started to accept herself, lo and behold, her friends and her community started to seem more friendly and more accepting. And again, that was just a reflection of her own inner relationship. Her whole life went from being depressed and always focused on the negative and hypersensitive and picky about her food and trying not to eat, to actually just letting go of all that and having a joyful zest for life. The icing on the cake was that actually she naturally lost some pounds and was of course overthrown with that, but this was now in a healthy way.
AB: So Christian, how do you cater your breath work for individuals to deal with different kinds of traumas every time? I’m sure every case is different.
RCM: Yeah, exactly. The way that I change from client to client is not so much to adjust the technique. What’s amazing is that the technique itself is good for multiple stages of healing. What we do is we adjust our intention, basically. And so I have delineated basically three levels of intention or three levels of this healing journey that we go on. The first one is what I call the coping phase. If we remember back to my story of when I started to get these desires or these inner promptings to leave the monastic life, I was in chaos. So, this is the first intention that depending on what stage people are at, this is the first thing that breath work can help with and it can just help us release some of this excess energy to bring ourselves to a more stable, grounded place. That moves us then into the second phase, which is what I call the healing phase. The healing phase is really starting to dive into the past and starting to dredge up the old energies that caused us to get into this coping crisis in the first place. Old trauma, old experiences that we didn’t like or didn’t have the capacity to express in the past. The energy of those experiences stays with us and continues to exacerbate a negative influence on our life. So the healing phase is to get in there using the breath work to dredge this energy up and like you said, have a catharsis to release that energy and bring ourselves into even more stable balance. Now, that leads then to the third phase of the process. And my favourite phase, because I think this is what we’re really designed to be here for, and that is the thriving phase. Now, we use the breath work to harness our life force energy and the prana within our life, which is, as you know, a Sanskrit term for that life force energy. And we start to use it to direct to the application of our choosing. What is it? We start to envision a life where we are fully utilising our God given talents and energies. And through that breath work, we can actually start to move more in that direction. Like I said, I think these other phases are ultimately in service to this last phase, which is really to embody the good nature of our being.
AB: That’s lovely. Now tell me, Christian, you address one of the misconceptions about breath work where people get worried when they have to breathe through the mouth. Are there any others that you want to address today?
RCM: Yeah, that’s a good point. Definitely that mouth breathing, that it’s okay to breathe through the mouth. You’re not going to hurt yourself by breathing through the mouth temporarily. Some other misconceptions. I love when it’s not happening as much these days, but for the longest time, when I would introduce myself as a breath worker and I teach breathing, people would laugh and say, I already know how to breathe. I wouldn’t say it, but in the back of my head, I said, yes, I’m sure you know how to breathe dysfunctionally. And I can be pretty certain of that because 80% of the people that come through my door have some kind of dysfunction to our breath. And it leads to the next common misperception that breathing is something that we don’t need to learn how to do. We just do it. And I think that, unfortunately, that comes from the fact that nobody has ever paid attention to breathing so much until now. And of course, the ancient Yogis and such, who were a very select subset of our culture. It stands to reason this is such a vital part. I’d say it is the foundation of our health and happiness. It’s the most vital part of our existence. To me, it stands to reason if it’s something we’re doing that is something we can learn to do better. I often connect it with the idea of walking. We all walk. We all have learned to walk. But if you watch people walk, some people walk extremely on the outside of their foot,which I think is called pronation. I don’t know, but you can correct me if I’m wrong. Other people walk extremely on the inside of their foot, which I think is called supination. And so either of these, taken to the extreme and compounded over time, will start to create problems in our physiology knee issues, back issues, hip issues. And we can even end up having to replace parts over time if we have these problems. That’s usually when they teach people to walk in the same way. So, with breathing, we can breathe too little. We can breathe too much meaning too forcefully and with too much effort. Or there’s that golden middle path of a healthy way to breathe.
AB: How does breathwork contribute to maybe greater emotional awareness?
RCM: Well, for this, it’s important to understand that the breath and emotions have an intimate link. All right, we breathe differently. We literally breathe differently with every emotional state that we go to. Fear, anxiety, stress, anger, all these kinds of, what I’d say, less savoury emotional states tend to come with a shallow, more rapid breathing pattern, or they might come with a held breathing pattern, we might find ourselves holding our breath unconsciously for periods of time and then releasing. So, the emotion causes this breath pattern to happen. What’s interesting though, is the reverse is also true. This breath pattern will help induce this emotional state. So when we’re talking about greater emotional awareness, one of the things is to recognize that if we are in, say, chronic states of stress or anxiety or depression, it may not be that there’s anything out there in the field of our life that is immediately threatening or immediately anxiety causing or such, but that we have actually habituated ourselves to a pattern of breathing that’s continually reinforcing these negative emotional states. They’re constantly saying hey, be on high stress, be on high alert. So, what’s great is happiness, joy, love, peace. Feelings of well-being tend to come with what I just expressed a full free flowing breath pattern. Our breath is relatively full, our breath is relaxed. Our breath flows freely and easily. And so those emotions induce that breath pattern. That breath pattern can also induce those emotions. So one of the easiest things we can do when we’re feeling stressed, anxious, depressed, any of these angry,is to tune into our breath and start to just take some gentlemen go into that five minute joy jump start. Just replace the way you’re breathing with a full free flowing pattern and watch how that helps to shift the emotional component or how you are feeling emotionally.
AB: What I want to leave our listeners with, and we always try to leave our listeners with some tools, is a way of starting to heal from trauma and also something that they can continuously do in their life which will carry on with that healing process. Like you said, life is a journey and you do come across situations in life which create more trauma. So, we want to leave people with both.
RCM: Yes, exactly. So, life is a journey and holistic healing, which is what we’re talking about, holistic healing takes into account the whole being and recognizes that wellness is a long-term project. Our breath is the foundation of everything we do, even astute yoga teachers anyway, will tell you that the movement in the yoga practice comes out of the breath. So, as we inhale, we come up and we arch backwards. Then as we exhale, we fold forward. It’s not that we fold and then consequently we breathe as well, but the breath is actually inducing the movements. So, the breath is the beginning of our life. If we’re breathing dysfunctionally, a month isn’t going to probably make much difference, a year might not even make much difference. But if you keep compounding that dysfunctional breath for five years, ten years, a few decades, all of a sudden, all of a sudden, you’re experiencing chronic fatigue or fogginess of the brain. All because our body needs oxygen. And through dysfunctional breathing, we’re feeding it enough to get by but we’re really not feeding it.
AB: But not more.
RCM: Yeah, not enough to thrive again, not enough to stay healthy and stay on top of our game. Whereas again, if we start breathing this five-minute joy jump starts and it starts getting in the habit of breathing healthy. 5, 10, 15 years down the road, we’re still resilient, we’re still as strong and as perky as we were when we’re in our 30s. When we’re in our health, our immune system is robust.
AB: Christian, at the end of every session, we do a quick, rapid fire round to summarise the session. So very quickly, an exercise to practise is the first step towards healing.
RCM: And we know that is the five-minute daily joy jump start. A full, free flowing breath, five minutes each day.
AB: Wonderful. One common misconception about breath work.
RCM: That the person already knows how to breathe and that they don’t need to practise breathing in order to get better at it.
AB: An important piece of advice to those on a healing journey.
RCM: The foundation of a balanced, healthy, and happy life starts with the habit of good breathing. So, practise it until it becomes an unconscious habit. And if you don’t, your breathing will just reinforce a habit that will take you out of balance, unhealthy and unhappy in your life.
AB: Thank you, Christian. Thank you so much for that lovely chat. That was so useful and I’m sure our listeners would benefit from it greatly.
RCM: Well, beautiful. And I’d just like to say if anybody’s interested in diving further into my work and such, you could find me at breathflow.com and at that website you’ll find that inhale life course, as well as other things that I offer retreats and different things to get involved in breath work in a deeper way.
AB: Thank you very much.
RCM: Thank you. Well, it’s been a pleasure chatting with you. You’ve been a very gracious host.
AB: To my listeners, thank you for being here with us today. We hope you learned something new, and we hope we’ve helped you get closer to leading a healthier, happier, more hopeful life. I would love to hear from you, so please send me any topic, suggestions, or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org and please press like if you enjoyed the episode, please encourage your friends and family to subscribe to my channel. And I also have a book of affirmations. These are the affirmations that I did every morning and people ask me about them, so I’ve made it into a little book. If you’d like a copy, please send us an email to email@example.com. Thank you for being here with us today and see you next week.