I have always struggled with meditation. I enjoy and definitely believe in its health benefits. But being able to block the outside noise and actually focus on my breathing and on my inner thoughts has never been easy for me, which is why I was instantly intrigued when a good friend of mine mentioned breathwork and movement to me.
Last month, I hit up a breathwork and movement workshop that took place in the attic floor of an old church building in the Lower East Side. I had no idea what I was walking into and no idea how extraordinary an experience this was going to be. Awelis Juls, a.k.a Mystic Magic Mama, was the one that lead the peaceful and in many ways, mystical session.
“Breathwork is a powerful ancient modality, consciously using the breath to activate, heal, and bring harmony into the body through the use of inhalation, and breath holds,” says Juls. “We are constantly in flow with our brain, moment to moment. In bringing the breath into a focused container and using various techniques with an intention, we can profoundly shift stagnant energy, patterns and blocks.”
The class started off with everyone sitting in circle with their legs crossed surrounding a beautiful altar. Juls slowly guided us into breath exercises that started off with simply breathing and eventually led to chanting, releasing various other noises, even laughter. I was surprised by the number of students that attended and appeared to have had previous experience with breathwork before. But apparently it’s a practice that’s becoming particular popular in the West Coast, especially California, and has quickly been making its way to East Coast cities like New York.
It’s become a popular discipline not just for meditation and yoga lovers but fitness industry experts are also incorporating it into their training. According to the New York Times, breathwork doesn’t just have mental and psychological benefits, but it’s also shown to enhance both athletic performance and speed muscular recovery.
There’s breathwork and then there’s breathwork and movement. I went to a workshop that entailed both and that’s really what led this to become such a profound experience. The movement aspect of this specific type of meditation brings an element of playfulness and calm that I’ve never been able to experience before with traditional meditation.
There’s a reason why doctors and experts suggest you take slow, deep breaths when you’re in pain, stressed, or anxious and it’s because deep breathing actually works. Add physical movement and you’ll experience a whole new level of calm and tranquility.
In fact, a 2017 study published in Science found that controlled breathing can help “promote mental calming and has “a direct and dramatic influence on higher-order brain function.”
Juls had us start with breath exercises and then encouraged us to release any sounds we felt compelled to let out, whether it was a sigh, a chant, a giggle, or a scream. From there she then guided us into the movement portion that started with walking around the space to crawling – even dancing. It initially felt awkward but I was shocked at how natural and cathartic the experience started to feel over time.
“For me personally, [breathwork] brings clarity, stillness, peace, and focus,” says Juls. “Breath brings ease. I’ve observed it help get to the roots of the questions that are in search of an answer, reduce anxiety, lift depression, bring overwhelm[ing circumstances] into balance and help you tune in to YOU. Breathwork helps us to remember the core of who we are, the sacred power that we carry as sovereign beings. It helps us peel off the layers and release stories we are carrying that have become heavy.”