This is an honest and vulnerable conversation with tons of tactical takeaways on the basics of breathwork and how to adopt simple practices using breathwork to fundamentally change your life.
How to Breathe for Body Love with Ashley Neese
We’re talking breathwork 101 with renowned author and teacher Ashley Neese. Ashley provides a fresh take on this topic and some simple and effective breathwork strategies that you can start using today.
Today we are diving deep into breathwork with renowned author and teacher, Ashley Neese.
Ashley has studied with some of the world’s leading masters in yoga, meditation, medical intuition, and somatic therapy.
She draws from a deep well of resources to guide people back into their bodies where they learn how to cultivate resilience, develop relational intelligence, and trust the wisdom held within.
Her passion lies in the belief that our deepest and most profound healing occurs when we listen to the unique language of our bodies.
Today we’re talking breathwork 101: simple and effective breathwork strategies that you can start using today, and how to use breathwork to fundamentally change the relationship with your body.
This is Ashley’s second time on the podcast.
In our first conversation, she shares her story, how she came to breathwork, and really some of the fundamentals about breathwork.
In this interview, we’re talking everything from breathwork 101 to adopting simple breathwork practices that will fundamentally change your life and using your relationship with your body.
Ashley provides a fresh take on this topic, and I think you’ll love the honesty, vulnerability, and the tactical takeaways from this episode.
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On Ashley’s new book:
Ashley found breathwork in her own life and started to work with other people before coming to a place where she needed to share it more broadly, in her new book.
So many of her clients were asking for take-home practices, so she found herself taking notes during her sessions and sending them home with practices in PDF form.
They were always asking her for practical tools, and as things grew with Ashley’s blog and Instagram, she just kept getting so many requests for practices from people who couldn’t necessarily come in for a session or attend a workshop.
It became clear that people were wanting practices and wanting tools.
She has been a writer her whole life and it was just the perfect time to set out and write her book.
She spent quite a long time on the proposal and on finding an agent and going through that process.
The ultimate goal was to have a set of really practical and accessible tools to help people use the breath to get back into their bodies and have a set of tools that they can use in a myriad of everyday situations.
And Ashley absolutely did that; she was able to combine her storytelling and her eye for beautiful design and practicality in her jam-packed book that allows you to pick it up and just start now.
Breathwork 101: what it is and why it matters.
“Breathwork is really 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”.
But it seems like there are some misconceptions for people about what it means to “be in your body” or “get into your body”.
In fact, both Robyn and Ashley have worked with people who talk about wanting to get out of their body, whether that’s through watching TV or exercising.
What Ashley means when she says “breathwork is an invitation to get inside of your body” is going inward, looking internally instead of externally, really slowing down (a slow pace is actually key here) to reflect on what’s going on internally.
She usually starts just by having people put their feet on the floor, feeling the earth beneath their feet, feeling the floor, making some contact, and then starting to explore what’s there.
These days, Ashely sees a lot of people who don’t want to be inside of their bodies for different reasons, and if your impulse is to not be in your body she urges you to explore why that is.
Why don’t you want to be in your body? Is it because you have tension? Is it because there’s grief? Is it because it doesn’t feel safe to you?
But if you don’t know, the best way to explore that might be to start a breathwork practice.
It’s a great place to start, and you don’t always know and that’s okay.
Ahsley’s 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”.
As you inhale and exhale, see if you notice one sensation in your body.
Can you feel one thing in your body as you’re inhaling and exhaling? What is that?
From there you can start to build, maybe the next time you can notice two different sensations in your.
Before you know it, you’ll really feel things in a different way.
As our bodies are constantly changing and we go through transitions, trauma, grief, aging, and changes in our relationships, that immediate, tactal, reciprocal loop where we’re constantly checking is a magical thing.
Ashley has a whole section in her book around trauma in the body and the thing is, our bodies cannot tell the difference between physical and emotional danger.
If something is happening to us physically or emotionally, our bodies register it the same.
The reason for that is the fight or flight response to stimuli, whether that’s emotional or physical.
And the very primal part of the brain, the amygdala, which is involved here, always thinks that we’re in physical danger, which is why we have the physical symptoms.
The amazing thing about the breath, is that we have the power, no matter what the situation, to change what’s happening in our brain by changing the rate of respiration, by slowing down the breath.
A lot of times you’ll hear in wellness, let’s talk about affirmations and if you say “I am calm and peaceful”, you will be calm and peaceful.
But that’s never been the case for Ashley.
If her anxiety is through the roof, her chest is contracted, and her mind is in that fight or flight space, an affirmation is not going to help her get out of that.
What is going to help her get out of that is to slow down her breathing.
The nice thing about this is that it’s really accessible and it has absolutely nothing to do with the content of what you’re experiencing, all it has to do with is you taking a longer exhale.
“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”.
Even though you might still be in an argument, you’re safe, you have agency, and in that moment you can make a different choice.
But when we’re stuck in that fight or flight response, we have very limited access to choice, we’re just on autopilot.
If through the work being done through the Feel Good Effect and Real Food Whole Life, the one message Robyn would want to share with women is that “you can take back that agency of your own body regardless of what’s happened to it, you have the power to slow things down and to take those pauses and to let your body experience rest and digest because we cannot live in that state of fight or flight forever, things break”.
It’s initially a mindset shift that by taking this pause and slowing things down, it’s not only self-care it’s rewiring the brain and physiology.
When we’re struggling with trauma, when we’re struggling with healing from our trauma, it’s really important that we remind ourselves that our bodies are doing exactly what they’re supposed to do.
Ashley will often hear from clients, “I’m so frustrated with my body right now, I’m trying to get through this thing and it’s just tensing up” or “my fight or flight is on, it just keeps turning on, what’s wrong with my body?”
But that’s what your body is supposed to do, it’s supposed to protect you.
What your body needs in that moment is just a little space, a little pause, so that you can start to recalibrate your internal alarm system.
And that’s why breathwork is so great, it helps you recalibrate and then you’re creating a new neural pathway.
Overtime you have the experience of being in an argument and remembering you have this tool to pause and take five breaths; that pathway will get created through practice and it will become more automatic.
Coming at negative inner-dialogue through Ashley’s work:
Robyn relates to and frequently hears from people that, “my body has failed me” in some way.
For her, that internal conversation has been around fertility, miscarriages, endometriosis, and autoimmune disease.
At a certain point in your life as you age, everybody has a list of things that your body does that you would choose it not to do, perhaps.
There are so many ways that we have this complicated relationship.
To work with that, Ashley always has people start with the breath because the breath is the foundation and an invitation to go inside and start to explore.
“We have this cultural layer that tells us our bodies are our projects, our bodies need work”.
One of the things Ashley works on a lot in her practice is this mindset shift, which starts with the breath.
It’s not an affirmation, that doesn’t really work when we’re angry at our bodies, there’s a need for deeper work around that.
Start with the breath, and use it to explore the places in the body where that tension is being held, where you’re feeling contracted, pain, or grief.
Those are all parts of the body that need to be explored with the breath and in that process, a mindset shift will start to come online.
“My body does need care and support. It’s not a project that needs work”.
There’s this other issue for women, who are taught from a young age to constantly monitor themselves through their bodies, everything down to the clothes they wear to the food they eat and even just being told to smile.
For Ashley, most of the anger around her body are around her boundaries.
Because she’s had such a lack of boundary around her body, she’s ended up with adrenal fatigue among other disorders that come from a lack of being able to say “no” and protect her energy and physical body.
Note: there are multiple ways to heal, especially around serious trauma.
But with Robyn’s experience around breathwork, with Ashley’s work especially, she’s found that allowing that relationship to repair, allowing space, allowing pause, and actively calming her system and allowing that conversation to take place and to ask that question, “Is my body really failing me? Is this really the relationship I want to have with the body that I live in?”.
And she admits that she’s still working on some of that, she’d never say it’s over and things change over time, but it’s been a very healing practice for her in terms of that conversation and feeling safe in her own body.
It’s hard to feel safe if you’re mad at your body and feel like it’s failing you.
The biggest thing Ashley is working through right now is treating her body as her home, treating her body as a form of deep, sacred space.
If we can’t feel at home and safe in our own skin, it’s really hard to navigate the world, not only for yourself but in order to take care of the things and people that you care about.
Ashley is finding with motherhood, all the exploration, health and development, and the real sleep deprivation that leaves her questioning if she’s cut out for this.
Having an infant is a whole new level of really showing up and doing another deep layer of work to really inhabit her body because it is her job now to regulate his nervous system.
We’re willing to do things for our children that often we aren’t willing to do for ourselves first, and in Robyn’s case, it is very much her own emotional regulation and her own relationship with her body which is directly affecting her daughter not only through what she teaches her but through their physical relationship.
It’s something she is constantly working on herself so she can help her daughter learn that as well.
Ashley, too, experienced this through her pregnancy and now with a month old son, but he’s teaching her everyday to take that long exhale and pause.
She notes that she’s doing him a much bigger service when she’s at that edge feeling tired and frustrated, to just take that pause.
He’s not verbal yet, but it’s something she’s teaching his system that “this person is pausing, they are taking care of themselves, they are self-regulating”.
The power of the exhale:
The parasympathetic nervous system is our rest and digest mode, it’s the system that we tap into when we’re really doing deep restoration when we’re sleeping, when we’re digesting food.
It’s also giving us more of a global perspective, the ability to pull back and really see what’s happening.
And the exhale is associated with the parasympathetic nervous system.
So just by bringing a gentle awareness to the exhale, you’re already starting to communicate with that system that things are okay.
“We don’t have to have it all figured out right now”.
A really simple way to work with exhale is to start to practice extending it: maybe you inhale for two counts and then exhale for three or four.
You can keep it so, so simple, which Ashley suggests especially in the beginning and if creating a breathing practice is new.
Most of her clients actually have more trouble with the exhale than the inhale.
The inhale is what’s associated with the sympathetic nervous system, the fight or flight, super active, and most people she sees have that down and the exhale is where they tend to struggle the most, which is also the case for Ashley.
And it’s an undershared message.
Robyn has noticed in fitness classes with any type of breathwork at the end, several people get up and leave.
To her, the message is “I don’t value this. I value the burn, I value the push, but I don’t value this other part”.
There’s such an emphasis on calorie burn, getting our metabolism up, getting your heart rate up, which all can be important parts of wellness, but we haven’t acknowledged how much this other part counts.
Trying to reframe the conversation around what counts is important.
One of the markers of health and vitality in our bodies is how much oxygen we have in our bloodstream.
In that way, breathwork is a really good way to increase our lung capacity, which will in turn increase the amount of oxygen in our bloodstream, which will lead to greater health and vitality.
Our lungs mature by the time we hit 23-25, and by the time we hit 35 our lung function declines, and at 50 it declines again and continues.
We cannot change the physical size of our lungs, but decreasing capacity with aging is something to pay attention to.
And one way we can increase our lung capacity is through breathing.
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 how-to: it’s super practical talking about how to incorporate a breathwork practice, what that means, and how to set yourself up for success.
And the last part is categorical: everything is listed by category, from anger to forgiveness to energy to boundaries.
And then the way each practice is organized is a brief introduction to the specific practice, the actual practice, and then notes.
It’s light reading and gets right into the actual practices.
There is an audio version of her book as well.
And if you’re not sure where to start, Ashley suggests to always start with grounding, which is a great way to start slowing down and open up.
Forgiveness for body love:
This practice is really good to do on days when you feel like you made more mistakes than you would have preferred.
This is a nourishing practice all about being really gentle with yourself.
Forgiving ourselves is a huge part of self-care and body-love.
Going through life constantly bullying yourself doesn’t work and it’s exhausting.
Self-forgiveness is what gentle is the new perfect is all about.
On what’s coming up for Ashley:
Ashley has some digital classes coming up in May, which have been in the works for almost two years.
This will be a great way to access these tools and practice with a community.
There will be new practices, new insights, and it’ll be a way to take this work to another level.
On what it really means to be healthy:
“Being able to take a pause when you need it, and to ask for help”.
Ashley Neese is a renowned breathwork teacher and author. She has studied with some of the world’s leading masters in yoga, meditation, medical intuition and somatic therapy.
Ashley draws from .this deep well of resources to guide people back into their bodies where they learn beyond the cognitive mind how to cultivate resilience, develop relational intelligence and trust the wisdom held within. Her passion lies in the belief that our deepest and most profound healing occurs when we learn to listen to the unique language of our bodies. She is in private practice in California.