Slow, intentioned, mindful; breathwork has no need for mats or equipment. Ashley Neese describes the practice as an underlying tool to reduce stress, anxiety, improves one’s mood and check back in with yourself. With a wealth of experience, warmth and knowledge Neese’s understated practice is frequented by world renowned figures and companies like Goop, Elle and Vogue.
In conversation with the expert we explore how we disconnect and how the most fundamental practice of breathwork can pave the the way towards returning to ourselves.
Breathwork is an invitation.
TBE: What drew you to breathwork?
Ashley Neese: I draw from a lot of different traditions, my training and foundation was in classical hatha yoga, from there I moved into mindfulness. Which involved setting breath around the pause of meditations, which really naturally translated into meditation work. From there I moved into somatic healing and neuroscience so now my work is a blend of all these aspects.
For me, working with the breath it’s always an underlying piece of getting people back into their bodies in a really accessible and effective way. It’s an invitation to connect and we need to allow ourselves to follow it as we’re often led to unexpected places. It might take us to a feeling state, a memory or an imprint from our childhood.
Breathwork is grounding, it’s accessible, and for me I am inspired by creating practices that people could do that were really attainable. There’s no need for a mat or yoga outfit, it’s contemporary, it fits around your lifestyle.
TBE: You talk about breathwork and opening up parts of our memories and imprints. Why do you think our bodies hold onto our emotional and mental patterns?
A: We’re hardwired for memory. When we were struggling for basic needs, like food, shelter, we became hardwired to be able to take care of ourselves and store memories of how to survive. But I notice now that our physiology hasn’t caught up with what’s happening in the world. It’s almost like we can’t catch up with ourselves. The world is moving faster than our brains and our bodies, and we aren’t able to adapt, which is why we feel so stressed and overwhelmed often.
If we think the amount of information we are now exposed to on a daily basis is more than what someone could have been exposed to in their entire life. Evolutionary speaking that isn’t a long time to have so dramatically changed such a huge part of our environment. So that alone is pretty mind blowing and can explain why we have such a level of disconnection from our own bodies.
The deeper I go in my own practices and work the more love and appreciation I have for myself, for my body and how hard it works all the time.
TBE: How do you feel your relationship with your body has changed?
A: Over the years it’s honestly been a continual practice of returning back to myself and the deeper I go in my own practices and work the more love and appreciation I have for myself, for my body and how hard it works all the time. When I think our brains are constantly going, our heart is continuously pumping blood, it’s not even something that we need to think of, I can’t not be grateful.
For so long I just did whatever I wanted to my body and I didn’t respect it or care about it. It hasn’t been an easy journey because I had to move through alot of emotional stuff to get to a place where I could feel the way I do now. But it’s been an amazing journey and I just feel at home. I think for so long I was always looking to feel at home outside of myself. I used to think it’s in this relationship, this trip, this meal, but really, our identity is just here.
Now, becoming a parent and going through the process of being pregnant I’m seeing it in this whole different way. I’ve got this tiny human inside of my belly, who has a heartbeat, who has a brain, who’s kicking and hitting, who’s moving around and growing. To me it’s just so profound, I have so much respect and reverence for being alive.
The breath is the entry point, it’s a way in. It’s not the only tool, but it’s a foundational tool.
TBE: How to we start to reduce this pressure and stress we place on our bodies?
The body holds so much, and it’s important not to look at dismantling the entire stack at once. For me it’s a holistic process of drawing on one thread, everything else starts to reorganise itself.
TBE: It’s also tied up with ego, this impulse is to achieve, to go out there and be productive. Do you feel that our ego is competing with our body’s natural rhythms?
The mind is often wanting to override the body, and then the body is left without care. In this culture we’re prized for how hard we work. The harder you work, the faster you go, the harder you push yourself, the better you are. We’re always striving for more, but when we are just making withdraws from our body and we’re not putting anything in the bank then eventually we start to have symptoms, we hit a wall.
I’m starting to see a shift, where people actually want to have more time for themselves and a different quality of life. And the breath is the entry point, it’s a way in. It’s not the only tool, but it’s a foundational tool and that’s why I like to use it so much because most people are at that foundational level looking for a way in.
Consistency is key.
TBE: How do you advise breaking past the idea that we always need to be busy and achieving?
A: There is huge guilt of not doing enough, the way I like to describe it is that it’s part of our cultural imprint, that’s not actually who we are. Those heavy layers need to be peeled back and ultimately it just takes practice.
I love the word practice when it comes to breathwork, instead of calling it exercise. ‘Exercise’ has this connotation that we’re heading for a goal, that we’re going to push hard and work hard. For me I prefer practice because it’s about building in a habit and routine, even the Dali Lama says ‘consistency is key’.
TBE: What do you think is the first step that someone can take?
A: One of the first steps I suggest is spending a few minutes in the morning just quietly in silence. Typically I suggest doing a breathing pattern but it can be as simple as inhale exhale, just mindful breath where you are paying attention to what you are doing. It’s the mindset of starting everyday with a little bit of self care because that’s what we are always trying to do, to reset back to ourselves. Everyday is an opportunity to start over, to check in and to reset.
Ashley Neese is a world renowned breathwork specialist and author. She has studied with some of the world’s leading masters in yoga, meditation, medical intuition and somatic therapy. She has a private practice in Los Angeles and the Bay Area.
Ashley’s first breathwork book with Ten Speed Press is slated to publish in Spring of 2019.
Ashley will be leading a breathwork practice for beginners on our IGTV, stay tuned to watch.