This past Sunday I found myself lying on the floor with a room full of strangers waiting for Alan Dolan, of Breath Guru, to teach me how to breath. His conscious breathing technique requires an open mouth, a long inhale, a short exhale and absolutely no pauses in-between - which is harder than you think. It's been hailed by celebrities and high level executives as the secret to optimal health, increased energy and mental and emotional clarity. Say no more, sign me up! I would have preferred hopping on a flight to Lanzorate for a few nights at his luxury retreat but at the moment, the 55 quid for 3 hours with him seemed more within my means at the moment. But maybe one day.
So there I was, lying on the floor, eyes closed, hand on my belly, listening to Alan's cues. I was trying really hard to nail the technique and experiencing the flip flop between breathing and thinking that I'm sure you've experienced if you practice yoga or meditate.
Feeling my belly inflate like a balloon.
Noticing the longer inhale, shorter exhale.
Keeping the breathing continuous.
Totally in the moment.
How long have we been doing this?
How long are we going to do this?
Am I doing this right?
Is my mouth still open enough?
It must be, it's dry AF.
Alan alternated between moments of silence where all we could hear was the breath and moments fuelled by music. I have to admit it came as a bit of a surprise when The Black Eyed Peas started blasting through the speakers. That got me thinking again, this Alan dude is my kind of guy. There's a lot going on in the room and even more energy moving through my body. Breath is a powerful force. The music proceeded to match the energy we were creating and eventually shifted gears as we started winding down. We moved our breathing back to a natural rhythm with a closed mouth and eventually were told to open our eyes. It felt like about 45 minutes had passed. I was shocked - we're talking jaw to the floor shocked - to hear that I'd been lying there for a full 90. In just 3 hours on a Sunday afternoon my eyes were opened even further to the incredible transformative power of tapping into breath. It's a powerful force available to us all yet so many of us rarely give it a passing thought.
It might seem funny to some of you that the yoga teacher who shows you how to move and breath is paying someone else to teach her how to breath. I'm a yoga teacher, shouldn't I already have that down? If there is one thing I've learned over the past decade of immersing myself in the world of yoga it's that there is literally an endless pool of knowledge to explore. We will never reach a point where we know and understand everything and that's what makes this practice so interesting.
I also believe that with the ever increasing connectedness of present day society and the addictions that the vast majority of us have to our devices - exploring these practices is becoming more important now than ever before. I believe that these ancient traditions of asana, pranayama (that's breath for those of you new to this world) and seated meditation are becoming increasingly relevant to modern day society. Why? Because I feel how much more important they're becoming to me.
I'm a yoga teacher - a lot of my job is talking to people and moving for a living even if that's just walking around a classroom. I spend time on my feet and I still feel the soul-sucking, energy draining effects of how much time I spend glued to my computer or with my nose in my phone. I'm sure some of you out there feel me on this. All of this screen time that makes us 'connected' to the world around us is pulling us further and further away from our connection to ourselves.
When was the last time you stood in line for a coffee and didn't pull out your phone to catch up on emails, scroll through Instagram or text a friend?
When was the last time you ate dinner at a restaurant and looked around to see the entire room focused on the people across from them instead of the screen they're holding in their hands?
When was the last time you didn't check your phone at least an hour before going to bed and an hour after waking up in the morning?
I'm guessing most of you can't remember.
We've lost our ability to just be with ourselves and I can confidently say, because I feel it in my own heart and soul, that this is not the path to living a life of fulfillment and joy. This needs to change, for you, for me and for the mental and emotion health of our entire generation. We need to learn to put the phone down and implement the tools - like Alan's breathing technique - that bring us back to ourselves, back to our bodies and back to the moment.
So on this Monday morning I ask you, what are you going to do this week to deepen your connection to yourself and find some distance from your phone?
It might look different for each of you and I get that work and life responsibilities sometimes get in the way of spiritual pursuits and emotional wellbeing so start small. For this week, when you wake up, go through the first 5, 10, 15 minutes of your morning without checking your phone. Carve out some time to go to your favourite yoga class. Download a meditation app and sit in stillness for a few minutes each day. Pick one thing that will bring a deeper connection to you and the present moment and try it for 7 days. Then see how you feel. I'm willing to bet that even if you feel pretty good right now, with these small changes, you'll feel even better.