Breathe to Heal | Max Strom | TEDxCapeMay


Translator: Rhonda Jacobs
Reviewer: Denise RQ Speaking about breathing is
one of the most counterintuitive subjects you could possibly talk about because normally
people don’t think about it as we don’t think about
blinking our eyes, digesting our food. These are not things
we think you need to work on, they just occur
from the autonomic nervous system. But breathing is different because there are also ways
to breathe intentionally; certain patterns of breathing
that change how you feel internally. I wouldn’t travel the world
teaching breath-work if it were even just
simply to help people relax. The reason I travel
to teach people how to breathe is because we now live in a digitally-obsessed,
escape-based society as you know. We want to call it the new normal, and there seems to be
a big push to accept it; however, we are unhappy. If you look at studies
on the level of happiness now, especially the medications that we use, we are not a happy society. We should be ecstatic;
we have a rectangle in our pocket that has access
to all the world’s knowledge, that has any entertainment
you’d possibly want, so why aren’t we ecstatic? The World Health Organization
has stated that by 2020, worldwide, depression and anxiety
will be the number one disability; that’s only four and a half
years from now. In the United States,
25% of women are now taking antidepressant medication,
anti-anxiety medication, or both; men are close behind. The CDC has declared that sleep dysfunction
is now at an epidemic level. Again, this is not an American problem,
this is a global problem. From Beijing to Berlin to Tel Aviv
to Cape Town, it’s the same problem. So, there are things we can do about it, and one of the things is to create
a daily practice of breath-work which is free, once you learn it,
and has no side effects, unlike a lot of the medications
we see on television where you see people wearing white,
running down the beach with billowing white fabric
over their head, laughing, with the dogs chasing them,
always a Golden Labrador (Laughter) as somebody talks about side effects including bleeding from the eyes, coma,
permanent impotence, and things like that. This is a worldwide problem; we need to take action in our own life because yes, we need a sustainable world, I agree. But we also need a sustainable life; we need a sustainable home; and we need a sustainable body. When I deal with executives
– I talk to groups of executives, CEOs, marketing people, and even corporations;
the entire corporation – it’s quite fascinating because most of them say
they can’t sleep, they have panic attacks, they are chronically depressed,
they get flus and colds all the time; what can they do? When I privately meet with the CEOs,
they say the same thing; they don’t want to admit it
in front of their workers, but the CEOs complain
about exactly the same things. People feel alone more
than they’ve ever felt in their life. This is counterintuitive, because supposedly,
we’re all connected now, through the Internet,
through social media, we’re all connected. But are we? Or are we actually
less connected at a deep level? There are statistics now that we like having
these tremendous kitchens. Everybody wants the granite countertop, the island in the middle, the stainless steel refrigerator, but we actually dine with our friends, we host people, 50%, approximately,
less than ten years ago. So we have these fantastic kitchens,
and we just use the microwave. (Laughter) Intimacy is something
we need to develop again, and the only way you can do it
is to actually be in people’s presence, and this is one of the powers of TED talks where we actually get together
in person again. It’s different than online, isn’t it? Videos are great, you can learn
from them – I learn from them – but it’s not the same as looking into someone’s eyes
and hearing their voice. We determine
whether or not we can trust people by how they look at us, how they stand. If you’re going to hire a babysitter,
you want to meet the person, face to face. So, for those of you who are doing well,
I want to ask you a question: will you survive your success? This is a question
that is very far-reaching, because so many of us, if we were very honest
with ourselves, we’d realize, I wouldn’t teach my children
to live the way I am. I wouldn’t say, “Go
to the best school, get a great job; but live on sleep medication
and anti-anxiety drugs. That’s the path I want you
to take son,” or daughter. It isn’t. That’s not what we want to do; it’s not what we want
to teach our children, but through our actions,
that is what we’re teaching them. It’s quite incredible. There have been some studies
done recently on breathing. Stanford Research Institute
had a great one about two years ago where they took people
with post-traumatic stress syndrome, combat veterans, who’d
been to Afghanistan and Iraq, and taught them yoga and breathing. The facilitator, Emma Seppälä,
who’s a Stanford scholar, said it was mostly
the breathing that affected them. We had them do this program
for three months, and their symptoms, post-traumatic
stress syndrome symptoms were gone, and they didn’t return, even a year later. This was groundbreaking
because as you know, the sad fact in the United States
is we lose 20 veterans a day to suicide. So the way we have been treating them
through mainly medication and therapy hasn’t really been working. This is a big step. The Defense Department is now
advocating breath and yoga for veterans. The Defense Department – just take that in for a second – is advocating breathing
and yoga for veterans; the Defense Department. Navy SEALS use breath-work
to help them focus and calm before they go into battle. Navy SEALS are not New Age cuddly people. Navy SEALS only use
technologies that work, they will not use anything else. So, benefits of breathing
as you may have heard – and when I say breathing,
I don’t mean what we’re doing now, I mean intentional breath-work – are focus, calm, non-reactiveness, which we could all use. Do any of these things sound useful? When I meet with people,
in groups or individually, I try to help them
create a sustainable life, and one of the first things
I teach them is breath-work. In mindfulness programs across America – I think 25% of corporations
have mindfulness programs. They unfortunately
often teach meditation first. Meditation is a fantastic technology. I use it, I teach it; no question. But if you take someone
who’s stressed out of their mind and say, “Now sit down and close your eyes
and don’t think about anything,” (Laughter) it’s not going to happen. They will sit down, and close their eyes,
and think about their project. So meditation is not wrong to teach,
but I think it’s more advanced. If you teach people to breathe first,
this calms the nervous system, this triggers fight-or-flight
to switch off, and rest-and-digest to switch on; then, people can sit and meditate
without a problem. I’ve learned something fascinating
about human beings through teaching breathing, because I could talk to you now
about oxygen and CO2; I could talk to you about chi, or as they say in Japan, “kriya ki,” the
life force energy that moves through us and can be regulated through breath but there’s something
more interesting that I found. Teaching people how to breathe
led me to a discovery: there’s a tremendous relationship between breath – the lungs – and grief. I want to tell you a story. This happened last year. I gave a talk to about 50 CEOs about happiness, breath, anxiety, etc. After the talk, I left the building, went down to the sidewalk
to wait for a taxi. One of the CEOs followed me out,
and he said, “Look, I’m 58 years old, and I’ve started having panic attacks
for the first time in my life, and when you’re a CEO,
having panic attacks doesn’t work. You can’t sit in a board meeting
and suddenly feel your neck get stiff, and a splitting headache come on, and you want to run
screaming out of the room.” He says, “I can’t have this.
What should I do?” I said, “When did
these panic attacks start?” He said, “Six months ago.” So what was my next logical question? Exactly. “What happened six months ago?” He said, “My brother died.” “You were close,” I said. He said, “Yes, very.” “You’re a workaholic, aren’t you?” He smiled and said yes. “After the funeral, you went right back
to work, didn’t you?” He said yes. I said, “You don’t have an anxiety issue,
you don’t have a panic attack issue, you have a grief issue. You haven’t grieved
the death of your brother. When you suppress grief,
which you’ve learned to do,” and you and I have learned to do, “if you keep suppressing it, and you layer it, as new grief events
happen in your life, it comes out in another way,
it comes out as anxiety.” I said, “Your anxiety, your panic attacks
are because of your grief.” He said, “What should I do?” I said, “Come to my workshop
tomorrow downtown, I’ll show you some breathing exercises.” He said, “Breathing exercises!?” I said, “Just come.” So he did. He wrote me two months later,
and he said, “No panic attacks. They’ve stopped completely. But I have been feeling grief, and I realized you were right,
I did need to grieve my brother.” So by allowing himself to feel the grief,
which we’re terrified of, the anxiety was gone. I see this all the time. The people that have the most anxiety,
that learn breathing exercises, almost immediately start to weep. You can time it, it usually takes
three to five minutes; sometimes, 30 seconds. If we ask ourselves, “Why is this? Why do so many of us suppress grief?” It’s because we’re taught to. Mostly, in an unspoken way, we’re taught that expressing grief
is socially unacceptable. If you think about it, we’ll express anger
much more readily than grief. We’ll shout at the TV screen
if our team is losing, we’ll yell at another car
and not apologize to the passengers in our car. But if you start crying
when you’re talking to someone, you’ll wipe the tears away
quickly and say, “I’m sorry, I don’t know
where that came from. I’m sorry.” And especially men, we’re taught,
“Never let them see you cry. It’s a sign of weakness and failure.” So that’s what we’ve been taught. On top of that, no one ever taught us
what to do when our friends are grieving, so we avoid them. On top of going through the grief event, our friends scatter,
they don’t know what to do, they’ve never been taught. They think they’ll make us feel awkward, so they avoid us, and so now we’re isolated as well. I think that if we came together, we would build stronger
bridges of friendship, we would create more intimacy, and you don’t have to say anything
to someone who’s grieving. Don’t try to cheer them up. Just say, “It’s going to hurt
really bad for a while. I’m not going anywhere. I’m here. This year it’s your turn. Next year it might be my turn. We’ll all get through this together.” That’s one of the chief things I think
we need to do as a society, and second is learn breathing exercises because it makes a difference
right away, not someday. When I go into a corporation, believe me,
if it didn’t work, they’d say… I say, “We’re going to do breathing work. It’s going to make you
feel better within ten minutes. Ten minutes. So, I have about one minute left, I’d like to try to teach you
one very simple breathing exercise. Please sit up straight.
Take your back off the backrest. And if you can, put your hands
on your side ribs. Make sure they’re on your side ribs.
Not your hips. Ladies, think bra strap.
Men, bra strap. (Laughter) About that high.
Not the front, the sides. I know you’re packed in close together. When you inhale – inhale any way you like,
make your ribs go out to the sides. Fill your chest. (Inhales) So your ribs stretch out to the sides,
not out front, out to the sides. And then exhale, sit taller. (Exhales) Again. (Inhales) Sit taller. Exhale. (Exhales) Bigger. Inhale. Sit up
and make your ribs grow out to the sides. (Inhales) Hold your breath. Exhale. (Exhales) Good. You can relax your arms, but keep imagining
that your hands are there, and this is a very simple exercise,
it’s an old yoga exercise, and Dr. Andrew Weil
is promoting it quite heavily now. It’s fantastic, you can do it before you’re going
into a difficult situation or after. It’s called the 4-7-8 breath. You inhale for four,
you hold for seven, you exhale for eight. We’ll do one round now;
we’re going to go at this speed. So make sure you’re sitting up
off your backrest. You’re going to inhale into your ribs, but to prepare, quickly exhale. (Exhales) Now, through your nose,
inhale to the count of four: One, two, deeper, four, hold; one, two, three, four, five,
six, seven, exhale, eight; one, two, three, four,
five, six, seven, eight; inhale, four; one, two, three, four, more, hold; one, two, three, four,
five, six, seven, exhale; one, two, three, four,
five, six, seven, eight; inhale, four; one, two, three, four,
expand your ribs, hold; one, two, three, four, five,
six, seven, exhale, eight; one, two, three, four,
five, six, seven, eight, inhale, four; one, deeper, three, expand, hold; one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, exhale, eight; one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight; relax. Quick breath in (Inhales) and out. (Exhales) In (Inhales) and out. (Exhales) Relax. That’s one of many exercises you can do. Once you learn them,
you can do this at your desks. People take cigarette breaks,
you can take a breathing break. Some doors only open from the inside. Breath is a way of accessing that door. (Applause)

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