As spoken to Emma Lodge | July 2017
What if just 3 minutes of breathing properly could immediately transform your body and state of mind? What if we all started practicing a daily ritual of 3 minute deep breathing, could we alleviate much of the stress and anxiety in society today? What if just 3 minutes of daily deep breathing could foster a calmer, more connected community? What if we could teach deep breathing to our children and youth and have that embedded into all Australian primary and secondary schools for just 3 minutes each day?
Well that’s the mission of this young Sunshine Coast couple, Kat & Bodhi who are bringing one simple breathing technique into schools across Australia.
An idea sparked from high school wounds, Bodhi realised how simple breath work had transformed his life, as well as so many others through his Art of Breath training workshops. “Discovering my own lungs, my own breath and getting to sleep at night feeling at peace, I knew I just had to get this into schools”.
Bodhi met his perfect match Kat, who holds a Bachelor of Science (Health Promotion), as well as a qualified yoga teacher. Kat has extensive experience working with youth in character building and career advising.
It was then whilst Bodhi was taking part in a 10 day vipassana (solitary meditation) and Kat was hiking in the Himalayas that a grand vision was placed on their heart.
Together Breathe Project was ignited.
And this is their mission..
Emma: Tell me about Breathe Project. How and when did you get started?
Kat: Breathe Project is an independent health promotion initiative. We launched in December 2015 with a 10 week Crowd Funding campaign that raised enough funds to get us into schools for the first two terms. We had parents and teachers registering, and ended with 50 schools signing before we even got started! That was our realisation that people actually wanted this, and that’s what got us off the ground. We’ve now worked with over 100 schools.
Emma: When did you recognise there was a need for a program like this in Australian schools?
Bodhi: Looking back at my high school wounds and my experience of school, I really wish something like this was available to me. When I started practicing yoga and discovered the importance of simply breathing well, I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t being taught in schools alongside the standard curriculum. When I started teaching breathing workshops to adults I would always say this at the very end of every class “one day I’m going to bring this into schools” as I knew that’s where it needed to be.
Kat: I had a background in health science and majored in health promotion and I always knew that I wanted to work with the next generation, with a focus on holistic health. Health is so intertwined with all these different elements like mental, social, emotional, spiritual and physical, so I knew one day I would create my own health promotion in a really aligned way.
Emma: So what impact does just 3 minutes deep breathing have on the body?
Kat: Scientifically it switches us immediately out of that “fight or flight” response back into the parasympathetic nervous system or “rest and digest” which is ideally the space we should be functioning from. This allows us to focus effectively on our work, it helps with decision making and how we respond and react to situations, it also allows us to get a good night’s sleep, rest well and communicate clearly. That’s the state we need to be in for so many of our daily tasks, but what we lack is getting there.
“Many people are stuck in that fight or flight response and don’t know how to get out of it. Teachers and parents are the primary role models for kids, and yet when you look around so many are time poor and in a state of stress”
Emma: As a parent myself I know I’m guilty of that. So do you offer support for teachers and parents as well?
Bodhi: Yes Breathe Project is not just for the kids, this is a whole school approach including teacher training. So when we go into schools it’s compulsory for us to work with every single teacher in that school. We don’t work with the kids unless we get to work with the teachers on their own, so they have a level of understanding that will support the daily practice. We want to ensure long term change in the school system. We’ve also created Breathe ABC Pocketbooks ideal for families to engage in together. We believe everybody can benefit from learning to breathe correctly.
Emma: So each term you travel a different leg of Australia and currently you’re on the Rescue Mission?
Kat: Yes this one was named because we had phone call after phone call in early 2016 from schools in crisis due to youth suicide, so that kicked us into gear to get to those schools and help young people feel more at ease within themselves.
Emma: I actually started researching into youth suicide and was quite shocked to find that according to Headspace ‘youth suicide has reached a ten year high with approximately eight children and young people suiciding every week in Australia’.
Bodhi: Yes it’s quite shocking and something we didn’t even realise was going on to that extent.
Kat: It wasn’t until we kept getting phonecalls from schools saying “you’ve got to come and work with our kids, there’s been 11 suicides just this year”, that’s when we realised there was a big problem.
Emma: What age?
Kat: Well teenage, this is high school and so…
Bodhi: That was big news to us.
Kat: So term three we got on the road and ended up meeting a year 12 student who had eleven of her best friends all in her circle suicide last year. We met her mum who was totally freaking out, essentially concerned that her daughter would be next.
Bodhi: What we didn’t realise was that the teens were making pacts – if you do I will, sort of thing. It’s pretty crazy; we’re in the health and wellness industry and didn’t know what’s actually going on beneath the surface and to that extent.
Emma: I also read there seems to be a lack of coping skills in young people, so I can see where the importance of your program fits in.
Kat: Our entire workshop is about empowering people.
“It’s about learning real life coping skills, because we wish we learned something like this at school”
So it’s about learning how to control the mind, how to deal with stress, anxiety and everyday challenges, and learning how to calm ourselves down, and to realise there is a choice. We have a choice whether to let those people who agitate us get to us; we have a choice whether our mind runs around like crazy all day every day.
Bodhi: But it’s also about breaking old patterns and bringing something in that’s not only going to help their breathing and being, but a space to tune into and check in where they’re at.
Kat: In schools right now so much of the curriculum is jammed into kids heads ready for exams, but they’re missing the life skills needed to assist such as getting the information out of their head and onto paper, managing the anxiety and pressure.
Emma: There seems to be a lot of pressure and high expectations now placed on kids, and so many activities to keep up with. There’s school, homework, exams, extracurricular activities, plus social time, 24/7 social media, and technology – there’s no space left to just be.
Bodhi: To be able to process and digest what’s exactly going on.
Emma: Yes, and there‘s a quote on your website that sums it up: “We are all over educated on how to achieve and under educated on how to relax and be” I think that’s so true!
Kat: And I think the breathing technique itself is not where the power lies, it’s having the time to pause and find that moment of space every day.
Image: Breathe Project
Emma: Do you think diet could also have something to do with mental health, as we’re now recognising the importance of gut health and the gut-brain connection?
Kat: I think they’re all contributing factors. However when I first started studying nutrition, I believed that food was everything. I thought we had to educate everyone on how to eat healthy. Then I realised as health and science came into play, that it’s not just about nutrition, you can’t just focus on one single element of health, it doesn’t work like that. All elements of health are intertwined.
Bodhi: Yeah you can eat all the superfoods in the world but if you’re living in a state of stress how healthy are you? Really? If you’re stressed you’re not absorbing the nutrients anyway. Especially if you’re scoffing it down on the run in 30 seconds, doesn’t matter if it’s a green smoothie you’re still charging and on the go.
Kat: Or you could be meditating everyday and doing yoga on the mat five days a week, but living a stressed and crazy life the rest of the time. So how healthy are you?
Bodhi: We’ve also found that breathing deep allows you to connect to how you feel. You actually connect to who you truly are in that present moment and how you’re feeling in your body.
Kat: You’ll also find the people who eat junk food do so because they’re disconnected to who they are and what they truly feel. They don’t realise that what they’re eating doesn’t feel good.
“When we take that moment to connect with ourselves we become in tune with our body. You just can’t eat that shit anymore because you feel the consequences of it immediately”
Bodhi: So it’s not so much about the science, its more about what we’re feeling and being in tune with our body.
Emma: Yes I see how that concept can be applied not just to food but our choices in life. I’m so much of a yes person when I really mean no and I get myself into all sorts of situations where I really don’t want to be there but endure it anyway! [Laughs] So just having that space to ask how does this make me feel?
Kat: I think we inspire that in people also. With putting yourself first you inspire others to do the same.
Emma: Yes giving that space to tune in. It’s like an internal compass and you’ve really got to feel into it.
Bodhi: And it can be challenging to navigate it and trust that’s your journey. A friend said to me “you never learn how to say yes until you know how to say no. When you know how to say no then you truly know how to say yes to the bigger better and greater things” So there needs to be space, otherwise if there’s no space how will you ever be able to say yes to the real gold?
Emma: So you’ve breathed at 100 schools now, what results and feedback are you getting?
Kat: Students who suffered panic attacks are thanking us as they’re no longer getting them. Classes are finally ready to engage; we recently visited a school that had a very challenging class, these kids wouldn’t come back after lunch and would instead be running around the playground with the student support team having to chase them around!
Bodhi: Crazy school [laughs]
Kat: And now those kids are going into the classroom and are engaged with their learning and asking is it breathing time now?
Emma: I was going to ask if it’s improved their level of learning and engagement?
Kat: Oh yes totally. 100%. Teachers are finally getting to sleep at night because they are using this in their own personal lives.
Bodhi: Teachers have even made promises never to start a class again without breathing because they know it optimises everything else they do!
Kat: We had a funny little message from a kid one day on Instagram saying “thanks for your workshop today, I finally had the courage to ask a girl out” it really makes a difference even to small things like that.
Bodhi: And the immediate results that happen also, from totally shut off and disengaged students to then opening and expressing themselves in front of 250 kids or teenagers about what’s going on at home.
Kat: So the class clown who may pipe up ‘what’s this bullshit, not doing none of that shit’ and then by the end of the workshop he’s up on the stage crying in front of sometimes 500 peers, in uncontrollable tears, couldn’t even tell a joke because it was way too real.
Bodhi: These are the results we’re seeing immediately. There’s a certain level of realness and vulnerability that comes in collectively. The kids become more understanding and accepting of each other, encouraging each other to be themselves and express themselves and share openly. When everyone connects to themselves, they also connect to each other, so this collective connection really helps shift consciousness.
Emma: That’s so powerful as a lot of people tend to suppress emotions, and that’s where health issues start to arise because of these suppressed emotions.
Bodhi: Yes 100%. A friend of mine said recently “there are two things – suppression and expression” and that’s so true.
“Suppression causes stress, tension and frustration in the body, whereas expression creates freedom, joy, passion and lightness all things”
Emma: Wow that feels great! So where do we start? How can schools get onboard?
Bodhi: Parents, teachers or any people connected with schools are welcome to register. We don’t approach any schools as we realise that the real power comes from passionate parents, teachers and the community to back this project. It empowers schools to ‘value’ their students and teachers well being by registering. Ideally the ultimate goal is to have kids registering their school. That’s our mission from the start and its slowly happening.
Kat: Also we often get parents saying “my kids need this” or “our school really needs this” or “I really need this breathing thing myself”, so we’ve also created starter packs available on our website to purchase, so everyone can tap into the simplicity of diaphragmatic breathing daily. Everyone can be a mindful life changer.
Emma: Fabulous and on that note I’m off to breathe, digest and process. Thanks guys!