Over the past few months I have had the pleasure of studying tantric philosophy with Jesse Stewart & Laura Storey's Spiritual Boot Camp; a five month course that invites oneself to integrate & enhance aspects of our human nature – through breath, discipline of the will, and self awareness.
It's crazy to think that until now I had no idea what Tantra really meant...
After scratching the surface of this ancient practice, I can say that it is one that resonates with my values – as it is so centred around personal development, longevity, and consciousness transformation.
As we know, life can unfold in hilariously synergistic ways. Around the same time that I started this course, I found myself auditioning and getting a position to play in Rob Laird's Mind Body Big Band.
Having gone to Music School with Rob back in 2012/13, it was incredible to see the transformation that had taken place in his life over the years...
Rob went from being a soldier in the Royal Marines, suffering from PTSD, chronic pain and spinal misalignment – to someone who healed his body and mind, through breath awareness.
He was able to overcome physical and mental trauma with the influence of his wife, Julie (who has a background in energy & Kinesiology), as well as acquire metaphysical knowledge about the science of the energetic universe, through an unexpected kundalini awakening.
You can listen to Rob's story in his presentation at Humber College in this video. (I recommend listening to it in bite sized portions of it throughout your day, since there is a lot there!)
His story and the breath technique he now teaches has been an incredible invaluable resource for my own healing journey/body awareness.
In my experience playing in big bands, I find that with that many amazing humans all playing together with an intent to create beauty, the potency and power of the collaborative collective consciousness can be accessed.
<<<This video provides further exploration of "the collective consciousness" that is accessible through music. It also celebrates my experience recording a studio album with The Socialist Night School – another epic big band that I am involved in.
As I mention in my article The Universe is Made Up of Two Main Ingredients, it can be hilarious and awesome how coincidentally aligned our relationships and lifestyle activities can be. It seems that when we bring awareness to the synergistic flow and improbability of these interweaving events, they continually seem to surface.
It is additionally interesting that Chelsea McBride's big band is called, "The Socialist Night School," as the Tantra course I am taking encourages the practice of "extended learning" through your dreams – a type of subconscious mastery through your own "Night School" dream life. (I love that!)
Having played trombone for the past 15 years or so, I knew that breathing had a huge part in shaping my sound, and is also the key ingredient in making any sound come out of the ol' chunk of brass. Breath was something that I learned to navigate, regulate and manipulate through the necessity and nature of playing a brass instrument.
Though having obtained a Bachelor of Music and the knowledge of how to essentially make a living out of breath control (with brass), it hasn't been something that I have explored in a deeper, more spiritually based way.
It has only been recently that I have really started to explore the powerful possibilities of what the breath is capable of, and how it can be used as a healing tool for spinal & energetic alignment, longevity and balance in the physiological structures of the body.
In one of the texts I am studying, "Jewel in The Lotus," authors Sunyata Saraswati & Bodhi Avinasha outline some very interesting points that seem to connect some of the dots in developing a more meaningful relationship to music, mindfulness and the body. As you can imagine, musicians are subject to chronic injury through repetitive motion; setting up the awareness of healthy structural practice was a missing link in my experience going to school for music.
I am excited to share some of the things I am learning with you!
According to Saraswait and Avinasha, most people breathe using only the middle lobe of the lungs, using less than 1/7th their lung capacity. For such a necessary fundamental function in staying alive, it is quite surprising that we don't put more of an emphasize (in this society) on maximizing the benefits of breathing with intent.
When we invite enthusiasm and awareness in breathing, everything that we do becomes full of vibrancy, Oxygen, and life.
"It has been said if you would stay aware of every breath for one whole day, you would become enlightened." – (graffiti on a wall)
Watching newborn babies can be very mesmerizing – almost like watching a fire place. Just like the fire, babies know exactly how to inspire, as they breathe fully, intuitive masters of their bodies in releasing, stretching and restoring.
As we grow older, we are influenced by our environments and social relationships; slowly and unconsciously un-training ourselves to breathe effectively.
Let's face it, the western world as we've designed it does not encourage our inherent natural responses of breath and movement to be paramount in our days.
In Chapter 2 of Jewel of the Lotus, one of the parts that stuck out to me was how some of our very first experiences being born into this world can be traumatic – like the doctor cutting the umbilical cord immediately, before the baby has had a chance to drain fluids from their lungs.
It's interesting to think of the implications and habitual trends that may form from each new shocking introduction to a world of "shallow breathing".
The book mentions "that being fully alive to half dead parents was unacceptable” – and in result we entrain our breath to match to those around us. If the majority of people around you are breathing a particular shallow depth and rate, as empathetic human beings (with the innate desire to fit in), we tend to match and merge into our surroundings.
Entrainment: Physics tells us that entrainment is that when two or more separate oscillating systems (which have independent frequencies) are out of phase, the two may adjust to fall into synchrony. Different vibrating organisms are able to synchronize by a powerful external rhythm.
Just as frequencies and tones oscillate to find harmonic balance, we too as vibratory electromagnetic beings do the same in our relationships and environments.
When else do we hold our breath?
Ever watched a scary movie and had that one shocking image or scene pop up on the screen, or screeching note played in the violins that suddenly jolted the breath out of you and made you feel like you now have minor whiplash? (Haha.)
We hold or dull our breathing to reduce sensitivity to pain and when scared, and hold our breath to numb our nerves. Could we be suppressing full attention in breath in order to hide from being fully alive and present in certain situations and life responsibilities? We may do this to avoid the consequences of what being fully present means and requires of us; it could require massive action and life change. This is scary...or is it exciting?
It is such an empowering blessing to know that we have the potential to shift emotional thresholds. Tantra suggests that if we can breathe through anxiety we can turn that energy into potential excitement.
With each and every heart beat, comes a new opportunity to change your emotional state and to change your life. you have an average of 100,800 heart beats per day.
Is it possible that if we can train ourselves to breathe consciously, might we be able to access and bring hidden areas of our psyche into awareness for transformation?
Tantra suggests that we have all of the answers within us, and as we open up to slowing down and exploring our life and breath with enthusiasm, we unlock cosmic enlightening.
I find it interesting (and hilarious) that we often think that we need all of these fancy tools, courses, products and programs to gain wisdom and beneficial life experience, however we all have the most powerful tool to work with – our breath.
“Enlightenment occurs at the physical level, not an abstract one.” - authors of Jewel in the lotus
Going back to how babies breathe...our food was once pumped through our bellies through our umbilical cords – that was literal our life force centre. One of the things that Rob Laird explains when teaching his breath technique to the band, is the importance of looking at babies breathe and how we can learn from them. Giving a soother may stop a baby from crying, as it seems that they intuitively love creating that sucking-vacuum with the breath.
Rob teaches how we can create that same vacuum space with our own bodies, through engaging the pelvic floor when taking a breath in. He also suggests to imagine "breathing through the ears" and sucking in, as if you have that soother. You can imagine (and feel) the breath spiral and travel up the spine, elongating and unlocking. Learn more about his breath technique in this video.
It is so important to get back to our child-like roots and reprogram the unconscious mind to learn to breathe again.
We can be sometimes ashamed and apologetic about deep breathing, yawning, sighing, and being fully alive.
We hide our yawns all the time as if it is a sign of weakness; when in actuality, there are unbelievable scientific and social healing benefits of yawning. My singing teacher, Fides Krucker is writing an entire book on it!
She runs her own boot-camp-of-the-voice-style group vocal classes, called "Slipper Camp." Applying her playful, sigh-ful, sob-ful, pleasurable, enthusiastic, almost orgasmic, pedagogical approach to my own singing... has been another major keystone over the past years in my journey of healing the body through breath and music. What a fun exploration it is to navigate the uniqueness of our own breath of voice.
May I be fully alive as I breathe through life, extracting the juice out of every moment.
May I be sexually and socially empowered to yawn, sigh, stretch, release and move my body in whichever way it guides me.
May I take responsibility for the breath, heart and energy that leads my life.