Breathwork and Meditation. The same, but different.
Breathwork and Meditation. The same, but different.
Breathwork and Meditation stand together as two practices that require no money, equipment or uniform to practice. How brilliant and convenient that everything you need to practice is already present in your life-your breath and your attention. Breathwork is you being active, while passively watching what arises, while meditation is passively doing nothing while actively trying not to identify or attach to what arises. They are two sides of the same coin with the same goal; freedom from suffering.
Meditation in its essence is the process of sitting and watching your breath, body and mind. Its purpose is to show you thoughts and sensations coming and going. By not becoming intoxicated and merging with thinking and feeling, these internal experiences will run their course and your internal life will flow more naturally, you will calm down and gain inner peace.
Breathwork in its essence utilizes our ability to consciously breathe in specific ways. Rather than watching the breath happen on its own, you are the doer. Consider you have an inhale and exhale, nose and mouth breathing and left and right nostrils. You have six different ways you can emphasize or focus the breath. Then when you include that you can hold the breath and vary the length of time you do any one aspect. All the combinations cover every breathwork practice you can think of.
Each style and variation has a different goal. Perhaps you need inspiration, balance, strength or concentration, there is a practice for you somewhere. Effiji Breathwork, which is my brand, is the breathwork I will be referring to in this blog. It is a mouth breathing technique that is used to release old patterns, programs and trauma so that you can live fully as your real self.
In my book, A Liberated Life, I refer to four levels of existence; a physical level, a structural or mental level, an energetic level and a spiritual level. The spiritual level is where we came from and will return to. When we work on ourselves we are training our body, mind and energy, however the spiritual level of us is tied to the perfection of the universe. Our job is to allow it to infuse and direct our daily life. When we take on a spiritual practice we are practicing releasing the lower levels and allowing spirit to be the master.
To do the breathing is breathwork.
To watch your breathing is meditation
Breathwork is you being active, while passively watching what arises. Meditation is passively doing nothing while actively trying not to identify or attach to what arises. They are two sides of the same coin with the same goal; freedom from suffering.
I feel it’s much easier to start with breathwork because while meditation is literally doing nothing, for many that is impossible to do, let alone find calming. If you live strongly in the mind or have lived a very goal orientated western lifestyle, being still is not an easy way to begin. It’s like stopping a car going 90 miles an hour.
Many people have told me over the years they can’t meditate. I believe what happens is that someone reads about meditation and then sits down expecting to find calm when in fact, like a car, you have to gear down. As well, it is false to assume that you are going to gain benefit while you're in the practice. That isn’t what a spiritual practice is for. It’s to train you to be calmer in your life.
Breathwork,though, is a bridge to sitting and being still. Breathwork, as we do it at Effiji, is active and rigorous. With Effiji Breathwork one breathes rapidly through the mouth, emphasizing the inhale, for an hour without stopping.
The power of the inhale will start penetrating through the protective layer of the mind and take you deeper to the part of you that is beyond the mind. It is a different kind of intensity than ‘doing nothing’, but similar because you are dealing with the part of you that will encounter your hidden internal life. By getting to focus on doing something (breathing) it allows you to learn to witness yourself without attachment. And when it’s over you will feel calm and still and you can meditate much more easily. I consider Effiji Breathwork a preparation for meditation.
Meditation and breathwork are yin and yang, passive and active, watching and doing. They are different speeds yet the same practice: to witness and allow what arises like weather going over the plains. You are not the weather, you are the plains.
The yin and yang of meditation and breathwork can similarly be found in other practices. For example, Restorative yoga is slow and passive while Ashtanga and Vinyassa flow are fast and active. You can also find this in the martial arts with Qigong and Taiji. Chinese Gongfu martial arts system which includes Taiji, Xingyi, Bagua and other forms is active with a lot of movements whose purpose is to address the external world. Qigong is slow like meditation.
With Qigong there are less movements and more attention on breath and energy. Qigong, similar to meditation, strips out the active part focusing on better health and self awareness. Both Qigong and Taiji will improve your health and self awareness because the principles inside both are the same. Like breathwork and meditation they are two sides of a practice whose goal is intended to lead to self awareness.
Breathwork and Meditation are Mundane
Spiritual practices aren’t magical. They are mundane. Like anything in life you want to learn, you need guidance and you have to practice. Practicing something everyday should be as normal as having your first cup of coffee. The practice though important is only equal to your willingness to commit to doing it everyday. I tell students who want a spiritual practice to pick something they are willing to do a lot of because it will be a companion that like a partner you are going to spend the rest of your life with.
Since breathwork and meditation require nothing but the commitment of time it is easy to create space for it however I understand how difficult it is for us Westerners to value the idea of doing nothing as a way to a better life.
Breathing and witnessing are the most boring, mundane things you can think of, yet, if you engage with your inner world everyday you will be shocked at how the mundane can become extraordinary. After a while you can see that the most interesting parts of life aren’t out there at all, they are inside you. These spiritual practices in essence are inert; it’s the practitioner’s active participation that brings life to the work. When you take up a practice all it does is reflect your state back to you. And, if you see it as magical you will get bored and quit, so when deciding what practice to take on whether it’s breathwork, meditation, Taiji, Qigong, Restorative yoga or Vinyassa flow think to yourself “which boring mundane practice can I commit to doing everyday?”.
Committing attention to your inner life is learning how to live naturally. Think about it, when you want something in life it begins with your desire with thoughts and actions following it. Inside first, outside second. For most of us we are conditioned early in life to pay attention to and please family, and not to begin with our desire or our inner world. We are trained early to look out not in. Becoming an adult is looking within to learn about yourself as you really are separate from your family and cultural conditioning.
The context of breathwork and meditation matters
Breathwork, Taiji and Ashtanga yoga are active, so if you want to sweat and feel like “something’s happening” then do an active practice. If you are attracted to the simplicity and quiet of watching then sit and meditate, do restorative Yoga, Qigong or meditation. Mostly importantly find a teacher who is knowledgeable on your subject and inspires you to practice correctly and get the most out of it.
Breathwork and meditation are the same thing at two speeds
Breathwork and meditation are the same thing at two speeds. If you are a busy person always using your mind Effiji Breathwork is a good place to engage your mind with the goal of getting beyond the mental realm. From there you can be still and meditate.