Go where you feel most alive…
Most of us have experienced it in one form or another.
Surfers talk about being one with the waves, mountain climbers one with the mountain, for Buddhists it’s cosmic unity, it’s one with the universe.
What underpins these states is the portion of the brain that separates self from others is shut down so we can no longer distinguish between the two things.
And as a result we feel one with everything.
A balanced breathwork practice allows a unique window into creating these states, not by accident, but by design.
Flow speaks to a state of mind where you focus your complete attention on the task at hand.
When you’re in the zone or a flow state, you’ll perform to the best of your ability, as your mind, body and actions become one. In this state, there are very few distracting or limiting thoughts, and your attention appears to move simultaneously with time.
Flow pulls the future into the present. Focus comes naturally, your mind is effortlessly immersed in what is taking place here and now.
From Walter Bradford Cannon, who discovered the fight or flight response, to Abraham Maslow who described the peak experiences the self actualizers he studied experienced, to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who is known as the father of flow, to the modern researchers into the subject who believe flow sits at the heart of almost every athletic championship, underpins major scientific breakthroughs and accounts for significant progress in the arts, the data is clear.
Flow is the very thing that makes us come alive. It points the way, and we should go there.
Often. World leaders have sung the praises of flow. Fortune 500 companies have built corporate philosophies about the state. From a quality of life perspective, psychologists have found that people who have the most flow in their lives are among the happiest on earth.
“Don’t ask what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.” – Howard Truman
In his book, The rise of superman, Steven Kotler tells the riveting stories of extreme athletes and how, over the last few decades, they’ve consistently done the impossible by systematically unlocking and tapping into the power of flow. Perhaps more importantly, he explains how we can, and should, do the same.
This is our mystery, a rare and radical state of consciousness where the impossible becomes possible. This is the secret that action and adventure athletes have plumbed, the real reason ultimate performance has advanced nearly exponentially these past few decades.
The zone, quite literally, is the shortest path towards superhuman” – Steven Kotler, founder of Flowgenome.
Everyone is trying to alter their consciousness.
Whether you realise it or not, everyone is chasing the experience of ‘no-mind’. Binge-watching Netflix, three glasses of wine a night, masturbation, dating apps, headspace and attempts at biohacking away our anxiety in a desperate bid to keep up.
“Most of us are living in a highly distracted, over-stressed, ego-driven experience. No one built an off switch” Jamie Wheal, co-founder of Flow Genome.
Right under your nose
The Breathless breathing techniques have been designed to pull the neural triggers that can produce the same kind of enlightenment that lifelong meditators experience.
Want an out-of-body experience? Join a breakthrough breathwork event on Friday night instead of boozing up.
Want to be smarter and happier? You can learn to quiet your prefrontal cortex – that inner critic – and access more of your brain’s attention-focusing norepinephrine using a simple 15-minute recording with some epic music.
Anything that gets you out of ruts and routines, defrags your mental hard drive and resets your nervous system, pays big dividends over time.
So what happens during these experiences?
Straightforward answer: (No spiritual bypassing, we promise)
The sequence of events that happen during the flow state begins with the release of norepinephrine and dopamine.
These raise your heart rate, tighten the focus and improve pattern recognition.
Your brain waves move from beta towards alpha, giving you the ability to link ideas without internal obstructions and filters blocking your flow.
Reduced blood flow to cerebral areas temporarily reduces brain activity in the frontal lobes. giving you the sense of time distorting, effortlessness and of self-dissolving.
It’s a reductionist view of the mystical. And it will never fully do it justice. But, to stay grounded and go the distance, here is what we know:
The prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain that houses your higher cognitive functions, your sense of morality, your sense of will, your sense of self.
David Eagleman discovered that time is calculated all over the prefrontal cortex. When parts of it start to wink out we can no longer separate past from present from future and we’re plunged into what researchers call the deep now.
You are in a transient hypofrontality, where your inner critic has also shut up, opening you to your full potential.
Transient – Hypofrontality
Temporary – reduced cerebral activity
Transient hypofrontality means that for a while, under certain conditions, the focused thinking, decision making, and rational part of our brain gets a rest and fades into the background. This allows other parts and functions to become more dominant.
Experienced by long-distance runners, meditators, EDM fanatics & religious worshippers, altered states of consciousness all have one thing in common…
This phenomena means that for a while, the focused thinking, decision making, and rational part of our brain gets a rest and fades into the background.
Arne Dietrich in his TED Talk, Surfing the Stream of Consciousness: Tales from the Hallucination Zone describes this process as the peeling of an onion.
Explaining that in states of altered consciousness, a hierarchy of functioning within the brain is established.
“Consider it like peeling an onion. In altered states, a hierarchy of functioning within the brain is established, and the first layer to go is the prefrontal cortex” – Arne Dietrich TED Talk
One example is the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. It shuts down. This is the part of the brain that houses your inner critic, that nagging defeatist ‘always on’ voice in your head turns off in flow. And as a result, we feel a sense of liberation. We are finally getting out of our own way. We’re free of ourselves. Creativity goes up. Risk-taking goes up and we feel amazing.
Neuroimaging of a person hyperventilating for 30 seconds (Clausen T, Menzel M et al 2004)
Your brain then releases endorphins and anandamide, giving you the ability to dissolve away distress and pain.
Simultaneously, anandamide boosts your lateral thinking, allowing you to solve problems in an indirect and creative way.
As you flow deeper in, theta brain waves enhance relaxation and your intuition.
Concluding the experience you have oxytocin and serotonin giving you the “afterglow” feeling of trust, peace, sociability and well-being as you begin to digest the experience you have just experienced.
So how does it feel?
Three key components make up the experience of a non-ordinary state of consciousness
- Timelessness – An experience of the deep now
- Selflessness – Resulting in a quality of life both material and spiritual
- Effortlessness – Ease, grace, and a sense of alignment
Our students, guides and participants around the world report a sense of all three – and these have guided the way in our development, experience and integration of the breathless techniques.
But also peacefulness, floating and an experience of being in the here and now.
Even feelings such as unity with the self or nature become explicable considering the prefrontal cortex (human brain) provides the ability to segregate, differentiate & analyze our environment.
Surfers will talk about being one with the wave, mountain climbers one with the mountain, for Buddhists it’s cosmic unity, it’s one with the universe. What underpins these states is the portion of the brain that separates self from others is shut down so we can no longer distinguish between the two things. And as a result, we feel one with everything.
Achieving states of flow-through breathing practices could prove to be the key that unlocks superhuman performance, presence and fulfillment in our endeavours.
A growing pile of evidence shows that non-ordinary states of consciousness – a term defined by John Hopkins psychiatrist & leading Breathwork Instructor Stanislav Grof as dramatic shifts in perception, emotion and thought – are the real key to unlocking our creativity.
Consider four of today’s most familiar non-ordinary states: meditation, breathwork, active hot & cold exposure, psychedelics & extreme sports. – Now combine them and you end up with?
You guessed it. Breathless.
Similar boosts are showing up in the study of those “in the zone” moments of total absorption known as flow.
A recent University of Sydney experiment used transcranial magnetic stimulation to induce the state, then gave subjects the nine-dot problem, that classic test of creative puzzle-solving: Connect nine dots with four lines without lifting the pencil from the paper in 10 minutes. Normally, fewer than 5 percent pull it off. In their control group, no one did.
But 40 percent of the ‘flow group’ connected the dots in record time, or eight times better than the norm.
This is also why, when McKinsey did a 10-year study of companies, top executives – meaning those most frequently called upon to solve complex creative problems – reported being up to 500 percent more productive in flow.
Risk VS Reward
Yet, like any altered state inducing process, it must be approached with care and intention.
As we breathe and ‘peel away’ the rational, inner critic, feeling centers become more active, allowing for a release of stored emotions.
Related: How to map out your breathwork calendar
For most of us, the experience of meditation has been something like sitting on a cushion, trying not to think about thinking which usually doesn’t really end up bringing the effects it boasts. A few apps, timers, guided cues about clouds pass by and we’ve drawn the conclusion that meditation is just not really for us.
When provided with the rare and fleeting experiences of “no mind”, of richness and depth without the internal commentary, and the amazing afterglow it reflects off us in the moments after.
We cannot help but come back for more.
Breathwork provides this opportunity to go ‘straight to the source’.
The combination of optimal engagement with the task of conscious breathing, the visceral and often immediate effects and curated balance of neurochemistry create a unique opportunity to use our body to get out of our heads,
Rather than the classic approach of using our minds to talk ourselves into not talking to ourselves…
“20 years of zen in 20 minutes” “It took me 5 days of Vipassana to get to that point” “I’ve never experienced such stillness, such ease”
We hear comments like this on the back of every breathwork experience where the participants were guided with care and consideration into a place of inner calm.
Consider the gains: a 200 percent boost in creativity, a 490 percent boost in learning, a 500 percent boost in productivity. These are essential skills and those are big percentage gains.
If they were merely the result of a few studies done by a couple of labs, they would be easier to dismiss. But there are now seven decades of research, conducted by hundreds of scientists on thousands of participants, showing that changing the channel of consciousness could be the key to unlocking performance, creativity and fulfilment in our endeavours.
And for anyone interested in using Breathwork, but unsure where to begin, consider the protocols we developed at Breathless after years of research.
How Breathless can help you access more flow:
- Breathe well to sleep well. The quality of your day is determined by the quality of your sleep. And the same could be said for the quality of your flow. Get the basics right: Nose breathing at night (try mouth taping). Go dark, cold and quiet. If there are any signs of disordered breathing at night start by restoring the natural flow of breathing.
Related: The Iceberg Analogy
- Breathe upon waking: How we start our day has a massive impact on whether we stride or stumble through the rest of it — so take time to hydrate, move energy and create coherence. Five minutes can be enough.
Related: Coherence 101, 202 & 365
- Periodize recovery: Learning to create a balanced breathwork practice can significantly reduce stress and cortisol levels, improve quality of life and connection and create more access to flow. Learn more about how to schedule breathwork into your circadian rhythm in one of the Breathless courses.
Related: 7-day Supercharge
- Practice active recovery: Passive recovery is when we’re too fried to take the steps needed to rebound. Think Netflix vs. Move and Breathe. Instead, learn to shift states and recover quicker. Take a cold shower, jump in an ice-bath or take a sauna before bed.
Plan state shifting experiences and adventures: Book a weekly float tank session. Join a breathwork event for the communal experience. Gear for an epic expedition, go deep and get high with some epic people. Or try one of our guided breathwork experiences at home.