Self help and spirituality are no longer for hippies, new-agers, woo-woo types and religious folks. Thanks to Yoga, the changing lifestyles of the modern world, personal growth activities are as normal as the dentist. Having been in the biz for some thirty years I am happy to see that it’s not considered weird to do yoga, go to acupuncture, meditate and lately, the work I do, Effiji Breathwork. To see personal growth become so normal, especially during a pandemic, makes me happy. Our society now has many options for personal growth and people are taking advantage of them. My own dream of breathwork entering the mainstream seems possible now, much more than when I started in Toronto in 1993. I would like to see it become as common as yoga. And while there is still a way to go before breathwork hits the zeitgeist at least now when I meet someone and they ask what I do, they have heard of breathwork, done it, are interested or know someone who has.
Why do you need a spiritual practice?
When it comes to personal development you are learning about and working on the unseen world of your mind, emotions and energy. You will have to make a lot of effort, put in the time, get a teacher and practice. The difference between personal development work and outer things like tennis or playing an instrument is that spiritual things deal in a non-linear reality; a reality that you can’t see but is driving every aspect of the shape of your life. With your inner life, the effect of your mistakes and blind spots are more far-reaching than, say, your tennis game. Inner clarity leads to successful health, relationships, money; simply put, a purpose-driven life filled with meaning. A bad tennis game is a bad tennis game. A bad inner life leads to a bad life. Basically, you need a spiritual practice so you don't have a bad life.
For the seeker of the best breathwork practice (or any spiritual practice), the challenge is in figuring out what all the different techniques, lineages, teachers and methods are. To do a search for breathwork on Facebook or Instagram is to become inundated with ads from people espousing ways they can make your life better and more peaceful. Finding the high quality stuff is harder because when anything hits the mainstream there is more information available, but the best quality tends to become hidden behind all the hype. We keep forgetting that the best marketers of a product doesn’t guarantee the best product.
Don't get trapped by others selling so-called spiritual practice
Most of what is being said and sold currently in the body/mind world is just the re-branding of ideology from the hippie era when the east came over to the west igniting the New-Age era where transcending was the thing. The panacea being marketed has two components; avoiding pain through techniques (life hacks) and joining communities that provide belonging for shared belief systems (religion). Both the life-hack and religious community models have their value but the true purpose of personal development is not just to gain security and feel better but to grow, which must involve taking responsibility for the shape of your life. No one sells you personal growth by telling you how much work you’re going to have to do to improve your life in a lasting way.
People practicing Effiji Breathwork have also fallen prey to the intoxication of transcending pain because the first breathwork experience can feel very ecstatic and enlightening, even though it’s only the beginning of the path. (I lay this out clearly if you want to read about it in Chapter 5 of my recent book A Liberated Life.)
For some, the intoxication of transcending pain can become the goal instead of using it to become a more authentic human being. Several years ago when many of the breathers were transcenders, my partner Sarah said we have to stop selling the result and start selling the challenge. She said we should talk about Effiji as the CrossFit of spiritual practices.
It makes it a process.
Spiritual practice takes real effort
Working on yourself is no different than anything you want to improve, whether it's sports, music, math, home repair or running a business. You are going to have to work hard, there will be many challenges that you didn’t expect and it will take a lot longer to succeed at your goals than you first anticipated.
Imagine you want exercise to be healthy and take up a sport, let’s say tennis. Maybe the initial reason is for better physical health but once you start to play you start to learn about how your brain works. You start to study the mechanics and train your body to do the correct movements. It becomes a holistic activity. You realize that you are improving your physical health but you can also affect your mental and emotional health. You will no doubt feel better just by engaging.
At first you learned to play tennis all on your own, teaching yourself from youtube videos. You take your very basic tennis racquet and go over to the neighborhood school and hit the ball against the wall. At some point you go down to the court in your hood and play others. You find out you aren’t that good so you hire your first teacher. You will get some lessons to improve your game. Your teacher is right in front of you watching you play and giving you feedback. He or she points out something you don’t see, like the slight turn of the wrist when you swing. If you get the “bug” with tennis and start really getting into it it will turn into a lifestyle. You might buy a really good racquet and start to compete in tournaments. Now you travel on the weekends and you have to prepare for your matches. You watch games, you go to games, you study your opponents, you make new friends who are all tennis buffs like you. It starts to become your life. Finally you start to get to a higher level. People give you compliments because they've noticed you changed. You will know that there is no magic. You earned everything you know. You put in the time, money, and energy to develop your tennis game. All of this effort is the same effort needed to improve your life. All of this effort is the same effort needed to improve your life.
Pick something! Pick anything!
BEGINNING A SELF-HELP ACTIVITY
You have decided to take action and start to sort out something about your life. Pick something. In a way it doesn’t matter what it is. Initially whatever activity you take will at the very least give you hope because you chose to do something about your state. You can learn about breathwork, meditation or yoga by watching YouTube videos and googling articles about it. (We’ve got LOTS more articles for you to read. :)) At some point you will see some slight improvements but recognize you can’t get any further on your own. When you feel the ceiling and you will either want to rise above it or you will quit. If you keep going you will need a teacher to demystify the process and help you raise the ceiling. The teacher will inspire you because of who they are, what they say and how they act. Starting with a teacher will motivate you and give you hope.
The Trouble is the Transformation
YOU'RE BOUND TO RUN INTO PROBLEMS
Every step, while important, is not like the moment when you start having problems with the teacher, practice, community and yourself. This is where most people quit. The problem could be a struggle to manage your time or all of your other priorities like work, family, or children. Perhaps the cost feels like too much pressure. You will have interactions with your teacher which will disturb you in some way. The interactions will make you question the whole enterprise.
You will question the teachers ability and understanding of you. You may start to question the environment it all takes place in, including the community where the activity is taking place. And finally you will have to deal with self doubt. You might think that you will never change. Perhaps you aren’t able to concentrate and you don’t have the stamina to practice consistently. In that moment the issue is trust. Can you trust the teacher, yourself or the process itself? The potential disappointment from false expectations, the amount of work involved and many other factors related to your past will make it hard to know what is really going on.
In that moment you know this: You are not special. Everyone goes through this. It’s part of the path. Pressure from your life is asking you what you want to commit to. False expectations are asking you to look at how the problem was set up by you and see where you do it in your life. Your teacher is (probably) playing out your failed relationship with your parents. Did you set up your teacher to be perfect? Every problem has YOU built into the lining and seams!
There are enough methods, teachers and communities to keep you busy for ten lifetimes but if you don’t see what your opportunity is when you’re ready to quit you aren’t going to make the life changing strides that most people don’t get to. Do you quit when you can’t get a better swing in your tennis game even after the teacher shows you how to do it? When you find out your teacher is getting divorced or didn’t make it pro, because he wasn’t good enough, do you lose faith in him or her or the process?
At the center of any practice is you. While in the beginning choosing the right activity may be important, regardless of its quality or longevity in your life you are dealing with yourself and your desire to change and grow and it won’t be easy because your internal setup was meant to produce this moment of disappointment and fear. The purpose of a practice and a teacher is to develop a way of living that keeps you centered, grounded, clear and therefore making good choices in your life. Regardless of the practice, you have to practice in order for it to work.
Avoid these 3 major mistakes while on the path of spiritual practice
You are at the Center of
everything you choose
Practices, teachers and communities can only serve you if you practice and take responsibility for your growth. Without it the problems will appear to be with everything but you.
Quitting before the seed has sprouted
Stopping before you have fully investigated the subject and given it time to take root in you and sprout something reinforces a feeling of being a failure. It is also the ego that believes that it knows the timing of your development.
Spiritual things are not magic
Believing that energy, mind, emotion and spirit is a sort of faith based activity with no science to it is false. Because you can’t measure any of the elements out in the world with your five senses does not mean it doesn’t exist. The state of your energy exists, is represented and reflected by your physical reality. Inner work is not mysterious. It’s just a different set of mechanics that anyone can learn that involves a different set of awareness skills than your five senses.
FOLLOW Your Heart
How wonderful that you are attracted to becoming a better person and get drawn to a practice like breathwork, meditation, or movement practices like Taiji and Yoga. There are so many methods, teachers, lineages, schools, academy's, all with a core mission and idea about how to make your life better. Whatever gets you started is your heart’s desire to be better. And that can only be a good thing.