The OTW Anger Series | A Much Needed Deep Breath with Ashley Neese
How does someone become a breath work practitioner? How did you find your way into this work?
I started yoga when I moved to San Francisco in 2003, when I was in grad school. I had never practiced pranayama or breath work yoga or anything like that before. I found a yoga class down the street from my house. My mom did yoga in the 70s, so I was like, ‘I’m gonna check this thing out’. I’m from the south, and yoga in Atlanta wasn’t really a thing. I mean it is now. But there was no such thing at the time. I walked into my first yoga class, and that was 13 years ago. Yikes. That’s crazy to say out loud. I just fell in love with it. One of the elements I loved the most was the breathing practices I learned there. I found they were extremely effective in calming down my mind. My journey started there. Over the years, I’ve studied with a lot of different teachers, both breath work and meditation, to find the practices that really work for me and the ones that I really like teaching.
What was the moment when you discovered this as your path, when you realized that you could make a career out of this abstract thing that you were vibing on? Is this something a lot of people do or is it a rather niche market?
There are lots of different schools of breath work, just like there’s lots of different schools of yoga and meditation. I have a background in art, and when I found yoga I was getting my masters in art. For me I’ve always been a creative person. I’ve always just created what I wanted my life to look like, created my own jobs, created my own work. I worked as an artist for many years, and it was performative-based work and socially engaged work. From there, I began focusing on health and wellness and nutrition. I kept just narrowing down the path to what was most interesting to me in each moment, and right now it’s breath and energy modalities that surround that.
What are some practical every day breath work practices that people should be integrating into their daily lives?
One of my favorite practices is just an extended exhalation. So essentially you’re breathing in and out through your nose, while making sure that your exhale is 2-3 counts longer than your inhale. And this immediately grounds your nervous system. Most of us need a lot of grounding, especially living in busy cities. That’s number one. Get grounded, get focused. Once your nervous system starts to ground, your brain starts to quiet. There’s a huge connection between the breath and the brain. People are always trying to change how they think, and if you change your breath you change your thought pattern. And that’s how it all starts.
Do you work one-on-one, or more in group settings?
I do both. I see roughly between 8-10 clients private per week. I also work with couples. It’s breath work based and intuitive coaching, dialoguing and partner activities. Just depending on what they need. And I do group classes on top of that.
Since so much is stored in the breath, are you witness to a lot of releasing and moving through of massive stored traumas?
Absolutely. When I’m holding private classes and in group settings. A lot of times clients come to me because they’ve already tried a lot of things, and I’m like the last house on the block. They’ve already done cognitive therapy, and yes, there’s a place for that. It’s important to be able to say, ‘I’m experiencing this’. But what happens is there’s no energy component, there’s no somatic connection. And we know, because science has proven it over and over again, that everything is stored in our body, in our energy body. And one way to move that out is through breath. And that’s a great way to do it. So people can come see me a couple of times, and they have their tools. It’s not like therapy, where I sit with a person year after year and talk about things. With breath work it’s like ‘let’s just move it out’. None of us have to stay stuck in a loop. You can reprogram yourself. It’s re-patterning your mind and body.
What are some other health things that breath work benefits?
There are so many health benefits. It’s good for anyone who has had any sort of trauma. Any emotional holding. It’s also good if you just feel stuck. People come to me when they’re at a crossroads, and their bodies are tight and they don’t know how to move forward. Sometimes, if we can move that energy out things will open up. And it’s not that you necessarily have an answer while you’re doing the practice, but the answers come after. Once you can clear that energy or thought pattern, people are just more open. It’s great on a baseline for insomnia, anxiety and depression. I work with a lot of people with PTSD, I work with a lot of vets and cops. High-level executives. I do a lot of corporate for, which I really love. It’s a totally different world of really high-level people who are just on this totally different trip, who are totally stressed out. It’s fun to get them to a calm reset. This cop just reached out to me from my site. He was researching empathy, and there I was.
That’s a great word to have associated with your practice!
He was like ‘I feel like I’m taking on everyone’s energy’. And that’s a lot of the work that I do: helping people get clear on what their energetic boundaries are. One of the biggest gifts for me, and one of the reasons I really love my work – especially coming from a background as an artist and a creative person – is this is such a great way to access your creativity. As a creative, we go through things – we might have pain, joy, heartbreak – and we need a path to express that. I just find that breath work is a wonderful path to get to that expression.