As an occasional mediator and fringe hippy, I’ve been aware of the concept of breathwork for some time now, but I’ve never actually given it a try. I like the practice of meditation, but I am, quite frankly, shit at it. I find it hard to quell the constant chatter in my always on mind. At best, I can achieve a zen-like state for 15 minutes before an intrusive to-do list pops back into my train of thought and I am up in my seat hammering out a furious email.
Breathwork is a term used to describe the practice of controlling your breathing pattern in a conscious and systematic way. While its roots lie in ancient practices such as yoga and meditation, its popularity has grown in recent years. Some studies suggest it can reduce stress, increase energy and even improve the immune system.
Perhaps it’s the nature of a British upbringing and our predilection for piss-taking, but I once listened to a few seconds of a breathwork track on a meditation app and instantly felt like I was in a 90s comedy sketch show. I’ve been put off ever since, until I saw a guided breathwork session on the Field Trip app designed specifically for people who have consumed cannabis. The 54 minute guided session is the work of Othership, a company providing breathwork sessions through their own dedicated mobile app.
The description for the Cannabreath session states that when combined with breathwork “cannabis can increase your oxygen intake, creating neural effects consistent with deep meditative practices.” So in the interests of journalism, I loaded my trusty PAX, put on my headphones and got horizontal on my bed before pressing play.
The session is guided by Harry Taylor and Amanda Laine, co-founders of Othership. As guides Harry and Amanda count you through breathing exercises over a backing track of rhythmic electronic music, which sounds unlike a well-produced but ultimately generic Ibiza Sunset album circa 2002. The music is the perfect match for the pace of the breathing and cleverly makes use of stereo effects in the headphones to add that extra level of trippiness. Although I start the session cynically imagining I’m a bit part in The Britas Empire, thanks to the focus on my breath, the guides and the music, and of course the weed, I soon find myself slipping into a comfortable meditative state.
Before long I am undoubtedly focused on my breathing and the instructions, leaving little brain space for anything else. Only occasionally does my mind wander, if only to remind me that I need to be present while mentally journaling my experience. I realise that it’s hard to be in the moment while being conscious that you need to remember, the juxtaposition amusing me as a sense of dissociation creeps over my body. While I’m aware of my physical presence, I’m no longer consciously aware of where I am, not unlike the comforting liminal space between wake and sleep.
At some point further on, the guide mentions that the session is halfway though, and I realise that I have no idea of how long twice of halfway is, or how long I have been doing little else except breathing in and out. This revelation comes during one prolonged period of holding my breathing while the lungs, and as Harry counts into another round, I notice I’m trying that bit harder with the effort in my breath. By now, I’m almost having fun.
At some point the guide mentions that the session is halfway though, and I realise that I have no idea of how long twice of halfway is, or how long I have been doing little else except breathing
For a while, I am lost in the exercise of breathing, only consciously aware of how quickly I fall into rhythm, intuitively keeping my timing when there is no guided count. I notice physical sensations, tingling in extremities like my lips and fingertips. At the end of what was possibly the third round, Harry asks a question at the start of a long hold. What does the medicine have to say to you? Questions like this can often make me cringe, but here, at this moment of undisturbed clarity, I experience a mini enlightenment. A positive affirmation emerges from my subconscious and fills me with positivity. Again, in the midst of a period where I am holding my breath with still, empty lungs, I am gently aware that I am immersed in an overwhelmingly pleasant and positive experience.
Fully committed, I float through the remainder of the session relaxed and present. By now, I’m totally lost in the music and the breathing. Simple, pleasant patterns dance across the backs of my eyelids in primary colours. The emergence of these visuals fills me with joy and as the final round ends, they slowly fade, leaving me feeling blissfully calm. The session ends with some gentle music and I can’t help but feel profoundly happy as I drift back into consciousness from my breathwork journey. Opening my eyes and recalling the room, I look out of the window from my bed and realise just how far I’ve been.