Healing circles rely on moments of quiet and deep attentiveness. The tranquility created through them has a meditative quality that enables and invites attention to be given to the breath, sensations in the body, and to bring up deep emotions.

As a yoga teacher, it’s hard for me not to compare the process we go through in a healing circle to what we call pranayama in yoga. Pranayama seems to be a technique for deepening the breath, but it’s actually a shortcut to sharpening our familiarity with different states of consciousness. It’s a sort of gentle game of using breath to reach wonderful expanses of deep quiet in a relatively short amount of time. Lengthening exhalation, the ability to hold the body in a state of not breathing (Kumbhaka) and other techniques affect the nervous system and slow us down. As a result, there are fewer thoughts and more quiet. This creates an intimacy between us and ourselves, exposing us to layers inside us that we had never before stopped to examine.

The word prana means life force. Our breathing reflects the extent of the vitality, joy, fear, and excitement that is in us.

When we get to know our prana, we come into contact with the places that are the most painful for us, both the physical and emotional scars. The breath is scared to enter sensitive areas, they are blocked. We place our hand on ourselves to feel our breath. A hand placed on a chest that’s been operated on will often not feel anything. There is no expansion, no sense of an inner space for breathing. We are afraid to touch painful places, on the physical level and on the emotional level. Sometimes, this is the first time that we have ever placed our hand on our scars. Often times, we had no idea that we were so closed.

The nervous system affects our breath in times of distress and can also create calm and a sense of security and serenity during difficult times. When we’re scared or frightened, our breathing immediately changes. When we learn how to work with our breathing, we have the opportunity to influence situations of anxiety and difficulty and to calm ourselves down.

When a healing circle begins with paying attention to breath and touch, the conversation opens and is deep. There are no empty words, words touch on something. The speaking is precise. When we learn to listen to ourselves, we also learn to listen to others.