We know that when we deliberately, in a stressful, upsetting moment, take the proverbial deep breath, we create a somewhat better next moment. A deep inhalation brings fullness; a deep exhalation brings relief and we can feel a palpable change in our energy. If we stick with conscious deep breathing for a while, those moments get incrementally better and better, and often lead us to completely transitioning to a calmer and more clear-headed state. The way we then feel, think and behave in response to what caused our stress all changes for the better.
Conscious breathing is so simple and always available, you would think we would use this highly effective, free therapy a lot more to combat the chronic stresses of modern life. This is the point of view from Dr Ela Manga, a medical doctor, author of Breathe – Strategising Energy in the Age of Burnout and a speaker at the upcoming 2019 Festival of Learning.
Dr Ela is a Johannesburg-based integrative medicine practitioner who includes energy management and breathwork as tools for healing. “We are living in times of deep uncertainty and despair,” says Dr Ela, “This is reflected in the intensifying crisis in mental health; rising suicide rates and the prevalence of burnout, depression, anxiety and chronic disease. South Africa is a country that is so deeply traumatised and is attempting to heal. Each one of us has the responsibility to ourselves and each other to participate in the process of healing and growth. We need access to tools that are simple, immediately effective, empowering and accessible to everybody. Breath belongs to us all.”
Dr Ela explains that breathwork is the conscious application of breath awareness and breathing techniques to support self-awareness, self-regulation, healing and personal transformation. It can be used to improve health, optimise sports performance, heal past trauma, boost productivity and confidence, and access an inner sense of peace and calm. Its power lies in its simplicity, immediate accessibility and effectiveness in any situation, scientific validity and the fact that it can be easily taught and learnt.
While we breathe to feed our body with oxygen; it’s a function linked to our emotional and mental states. Dr Ela says: “The function of breathing is unique in that it is automatic through its regulation by the autonomic nervous system but is also in our conscious control. We develop suboptimal breathing habits in response to emotional suppression, societal conditioning and modern lifestyles. These breathing patterns then form part of neural pathways that inform our thinking patterns, choices and habits. When used in specific ways, breathing allows us to release and resolve emotions, belief systems, stresses and memories which are often inaccessible through the more conventional talking therapies. Breathing is the bridge between our conscious and subconscious experiences. Conscious breathing is one of the safest and most direct ways to explore our bodies, minds, emotions and spirituality, allowing access to our natural state of energy and inner peace.”
The beauty of breathwork is that once you have learnt the techniques, you don’t need a special time, place or circumstance to put them into practice. Breathwork provides simple, effective and accessible ‘recovery loops’, which you can use throughout your day to break the cycle of adrenalised energy. Dr Ela teaches a variety of breathing techniques that can be specifically applied to everyday situations faced in business for example, a difficult confrontation, meetings, presentations, and mid-afternoon energy slumps. In this way, breathwork is used as a practical energy management tool that supports physical, mental and emotional energy, and prevents burnout.
While health and wellness have become dominant themes in modern life, and we are more empowered with access to healthy living information than previous generations, rates of both physical and mental illnesses are rising. Dr Ela says: “Superficial attempts and quick fix coping strategies are not sustainable as they merely keep us functioning at a base level. To shift our habitual patterns of behaviour, we need to begin by recognising these patterns as they arise. Only then can we start applying the methodologies and tools for healing. Our greatest health challenge in the coming years is to find ways to create a sustainable change of thinking, feeling and behaviour rooted in conscious awareness, community and connection to ourselves, each other, and nature. Named as the next frontier of wellness, medical doctors are now beginning to prescribe specific breathing techniques as the first line treatment for depression, anxiety, insomnia and burnout.”
The 2019 Festival of Learning hosted by SACAP:
Cape Town, 23-24 May
Venue: SACAP Campus, Claremont
Times: 23 May from 17h30 to 20h30 and 24 May from 09h00 to 17h00
Human Library: 24 May from 11h00 to 15h00
Johannesburg, 30-31 May
Venue: SACAP Campus, Rosebank
Times: 30 May from 17h30 to 20h30 and 31 May from 09h00 to 17h00
Human Library: 30 May from 11h00 to 15h00
Tickets are available through Webtickets. Tickets are R250 for the full-day programme, and R200 for the short-talk evening programme. There is a special offer for students and alumni at R80 per ticket. For more information visit the website here.