A book about breathing -- why do we need to read about something we literally will die unless we do? In today's stressful world, taking time to purposely breathe can be a life-saver. In How to Breathe, Ms. Neese draws upon her personal experiences and practices to describe how breathing can benefit the brain and mental health in a way that can be life changing.

I believe this book could provide a profound shift in your life. Neese's passion lies in the belief that our deepest and most profound healing occurs when we listen to the unique language of our bodies. Breathwork offers a direct resource to cultivate resilience, develop relational intelligence, and trust the wisdom held within. “Breathwork is a form of active meditation and ultimately it is an invitation to inhabit your body, it’s an invitation to pay attention, it’s an invitation to slow down, and it’s an invitation to explore what’s inside your body. What you store in your body emotionally, what’s happening for you physically, and for some people what their bigger purpose is spiritually”.

This internal review, by getting very slow (this is key!) and reflective can be difficult for those of us who have a laundry list of reasons why being in our body feels dangerous. Neese would say that if your impulse is to not be in your body, to explore why that is. Is it because you have tension? Is it because there’s grief? Is it because it doesn’t feel safe to you? The practice is ALWAYS about being gentle, being tender, really giving yourself a lot of space to explore that unknown. "It’s okay to start with not knowing and just to start with a simple inhale and a simple exhale”.

The book has three parts:

  • The first part is kind of the nuts and bolts: talking about what breathwork is,  the nervous system, and about emotions and the breath.
  • The second part of the book is a super-practical how-to about incorporating a breathwork practice, what that means, and how to set yourself up for success.
  • The last part is everything, listed by category, from anger to forgiveness to energy to boundaries.

Each practice is organized with a brief introduction to the specific practice, the actual practice, and then notes.

Neese offers a whole section around trauma in the body; our bodies cannot tell the difference between physical and emotional danger. “By slowing that process down, even just by a little bit… that can really start to change what’s happening in the brain and start to kick on the parasympathetic nervous system, which will then tell the body that everything is safe."

To give you a sense of her practices, here is a real life scenario: waking up and feeling rushed to get to the office and try to get out from the huge amount of work waiting you. Neese would say that the quickest way to change your state is to change the way you are breathing. When the body is tense and stressed the breathing pattern correlates to shallow and rapid inhales often with very short exhales. The remedy to find your center is to slow down your breathing and take longer inhales and exhales. In the beginning it might be challenging to lengthen your inhales and exhales, especially if the body is tense. She would suggest starting with a few shoulder rolls to help relieve tension in the body, which allows more space for the breath to flow freely. Breathe slowly for 1 to 2 minutes and notice the shift. (She calls this "Unwind Breath" and does not recommend doing it while driving!)

~review by Lisa Mc Sherry

Author: Ashley Neese
10 Speed Press, 2019
pp. 144, $16