Q: Why do breath-work focused meditations work so well? Is it magic? Are you a magical healer? 

This is a question I’ve heard many times after leading meditation workshops or meditation private sessions. Is it really magical? The short answer to that question is a resounding “no.” However, the effects are so strong they can oftentimes be misinterpreted as magical. They certainly create magical thinking, or as I like to call it: “Expansive Thinking.”

I do not believe in “woowoo.” I’m a daughter of a doctor and I’m fairly scientific and grounded. I love reading books on existentialism and spirituality, but I also enjoy reading books on physics, behavioral science, and medical research. I love authors like psychiatrist Bessel Van Der Kolk, and psychologists Dr. Joan Rosenberg and Dr. Edith Eger. Their work is grounded in science and time and time again, I kept reading how science supported the idea of turning off the mind to reset narrative in order to reframe our lives and heal our traumas. 

Still, there is a lot of hesitation around meditation and a lot of assumptions that even make the word “meditation” seem illogical, and to some, ridiculous. As my friend, comedian Tehran Von Ghasri, once said to me:

“Let’s be honest, I’m not really the meditate sound bath dolphin tortoise dragon pose type.”- Tehran

Tehran’s response was nothing new to me. I too had spent many years disregarding meditation. I could not understand the modality, and felt like being still was a waste of time. As a creative, the idea of turning my brain off felt foreign and downright inefficient. It sounded ineffective to my creativity, as if shutting off my brain would somehow numb it and make all my brilliant ideas vanish. The mere idea of being still felt radically foolish to my logical brain. The folks that I had exposure to who meditated wore robes, and sometimes donned themselves in phony personas and operated from ego narcissism, which garnered cult-like followings. This didn’t feel like the truth, so I didn’t even bother entertaining it. That was, until my nervous system felt so rattled, my creativity became desolate and my burnout so chronic that I had no reason not to try meditating. 

But the truth is, I began meditation by mere accident. I had just finished an intense power yoga class where the teacher had us lifting weights in a hot room when, during the last part of the class, she introduced a meditation to the sound of a Tibetan singing bowl. My body went into full blown heaves of tears and my grief was activated in ways I never saw coming. “WHAT JUST HAPPENED,” I asked the teacher. “What did you do to me just now? Because I’m losing my shit! Thanks by the way, thanks for that.” I stumbled upon using my breath to feel my deep hidden emotions using a high frequency sound that I never saw coming. Little did I know, that torturous yet wondrous moment was the beginning of my healing and my life’s work.

Human emotions are vast and ever fluctuating and when we are on high alert (i.e. pandemic, Ukraine war, mass shootings, food shortages, toilet paper shortages – take your pick) it disrupts the nervous system causing severe depression, anxiety, and restless nervous energy.

As such I’ve been on a hunt for many years, after facing my own series of crises, for ways to recalibrate the emotional system – ways to surgically remove the excess emotional pain which oftentimes translated into physical pain manifesting as bursitis, chronic migraines, depression, anxiety, a locked shoulder, and even infertility. Furthermore, I found that clients (and myself) who meditated to certain sounds and frequencies were able to put the body into super relaxed states, enough to even experience radical emotional excavation of uncomfortable emotions which were blocked out, ignored or silenced. 

As psychologist Joan Rosenberg put it on my Nurture Series podcast, “People are afraid to know what they know.” The meditation circles and the one-on-one experiences which I lead are not magical, even though it may seem like magical relief is occurring. I am merely tapping into the person’s breath work and their deep calm state to help them release the blocked emotion which is manifesting itself in the body. I think of these experiences as tune ups to the nervous system. As Bessel Van Der Kolk wrote in “The Body Keeps the Score,” 

“When you activate your gut feelings and listen to your heartbreak—when you follow the interoceptive pathways to your innermost recesses—things begin to change.”

Bessel Van Der Kolk

The centered breathing essentially allows memory to rework its narratives and to reveal the underlying uncomfortable emotion. It allows the conscious mind to ‘know what it needs to know.’ 

The difference between an animal and a person is that an animal has little to no anxiety, which makes very little sense. Being an animal means being on constant high alert from being hunted, killed and eaten. So how is it that animals have zero anxiety? 

Have you ever watch a deer run for its life while it’s being chased by a lion? Once the deer arrives safely, assuming it has outrun it’s perpetrator, the animal’s nervous system levels off back into a calm state. That’s because the hormones perpetuating the “fight or flight” reaction have heightened, but have also peeked and tapered off during the run. The adrenal glands have a chance to push out that cortisol during an elevated running state through the body’s blood vessels, which are now activated during the sprint and have a chance to flush that cortisol out. 

Although humans are not running for their lives from lions anymore, we are dealing with ongoing emotional triggers which put us on high alert, causing that fight or flight response all day long. And rather than run it off, we are sitting in a car, staring at an annoying text or sitting at a desk getting a mouthful from our superior. The body stores this cortisol, as well as the underlying emotions that go along with that heightened sense of threat, and it never runs it off. Sure, you might go for a run later, but later could be too late. You have already heightened your stress levels and stored uncomfortable emotions. You might run some of the cortisol off, but the subconscious mind has a brilliant way of holding on to that resentment, judgment, anger, frustration and sadness. The only way to really remove those emotions is through breath work, going inward, and getting re-centered.

Deep breath work unblocks us enough to become more creative and more open for new emotional expressions. It allows the body to release those stored emotions. You won’t turn into a dolphin at the end – but you might cry as you become self aware of the emotions you hold onto which you never knew you had. You’ll have the best damn sleep of your life after, and all good rest promotes even better performance. 

Meditation unblocks your mind from the rattle. That’s really how it works. But mostly, it gives your body a chance to catch up to the mind so you can operate within a place of deep authentic power. And that’s where the real magic lives.

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