Tuning In with Helios + Solene: Breath Work // An Interview with Natalie Shukur for Free People

Photos by Ash Lynn

Photos by Ash Lynn

The simple act of reconnection to the self through awareness of breath allows you to reclaim a power of oneness and intimacy with spirit…

This is the second post in a series by Natalie Shukur.

It took attending only one breath work session with Emily Mikaelah to know I had just experienced something transformative — stirring breath, clearing blockages and negative patterns, paving the way for what best serves our truest selves. Grounded by a beautiful sense of ceremony, I left both aware and appreciative of both my newfound inner wisdom and the effect of breath on body, mind and spirit. Without further ado, Emily is here to share more with you about this empowering practice.

How did you first discover breath work?

It was the middle of a transformative summer and I had just quit my job in the fashion industry to prepare for the birth of Helios + Solene. I had been practicing reiki, crystal healing and sound healing, but felt the call to dive deeper into my spiritual practice. I felt something was coming just around the corner but didn’t know what it was at the time. Then one day I was waiting in line for the bathroom after a meditation class and I looked over and there was this tattered, water-stained book on a shelf that was sticking out amongst dozens of others. I picked it up and flipped to a random page, read it, and I knew I had to take it home. I think I finished that book in two days! I felt such a deep connection to the words, the work, even the energy behind it felt familiar. I decided to research the author [David Elliot] and see if he was still around and teaching. That same day he posted on his website an upcoming visit at my local studio in Brooklyn. It was all so aligned. The rest is history. When I met him I knew he was going to be a major teacher for me in this lifetime. I’ve studied and mentored with him ever since.

Why do you think people often neglect their breath, and why is connecting to it so powerful?

The way you breathe is the way you live. I don’t think people necessarily neglect their breath, as much as lose sight of the awareness of it and how it can truly transform you physically, emotionally and mentally. The process of breathing is so natural that it’s easy to shove in a corner and forget about. Especially in a fast-paced world with instant gratification all around us, it tends to take a backseat to our daily routine. The simple act of reconnection to the self through awareness of the breath allows you to reclaim that power of oneness and intimacy with spirit. Then all of a sudden you have this moment of time in your day that’s only yours. It’s a gift that money can’t buy and no one can hand to you but yourself. In that moment of reconnection there is true love — self love, universal love, selfless love for all beings. What a blessing!

What’s the simplest, entry-level way to introduce breath work into our lives?

I always encourage my students to play music that makes them feel powerful or inspired and start dancing. Movement gets the chi in our body swirling and helps to stir up any stagnant energy that may have been sitting in the energetic body for a while. We’ve had some serious fun in some of my classes, dancing to our inner goddesses and letting our freak flags fly. I remember one class I had everyone start dancing like their spirit animal and I looked around and there were seven cats in the room [laughs]. After movement I have everyone lay down and connect with the breath in a way that feels comfortable for them. I like to lead students through slow extended inhales through the nose and into long vocal exhales through the mouth. We release so much through sound: moaning, screaming, laughing, crying — they’re all the most primal things a human can do and I allow my students the space to do it, free of judgment or disapproval, in a space that’s supportive and sacred to their development and healing. Once everyone has formed the connection to their breath and grounded into their body we begin a ceremony.

What immediate benefits can people feel from practicing breath work?

The reason I work with the breath so deeply is because it helps to bring clarity and healing to our physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological self. You can go into a session and feel tingles and vibrations through your body, whirling in your stomach while crying for your inner child, working through ancestral trauma, and laughing at the lessons learned once the foggy veil is lifted. There is no limit as to how deep you can go, or where you can take it. As long as your intentions are pure and the timing is aligned, spirit will guide and support your journey lovingly and unconditionally. Immediate results vary per person but overall I will say that all clients feel a deeper connection to their truth. There is a sigh of relief that comes with finding and working through the root of our energetic blockages.

Are there many kinds of breathing techniques?

Yes, so, so many. Each practitioner also brings his/her own expression to the work. I work with the method taught to me by my teacher but I compliment it with my teachings from the medicine women in my family that were passed down to me. We all add the seasoning of our own spiritual experience. We all bring our energy and spirit posse into the room with us. This is the magic of the individual journey! When I perform a ceremony, no session is ever the same because the energy shifts based on how you and I, and your guides and mine interact. They lead us down the path to your best medicine, and it’s our responsibility to just get out of the way and hold space for ourselves and for the work to unfold.

What’s the difference in doing breath work at home or in a yoga class and working with a practitioner/healer?

I would say that, if you are new to working with the breath, there is value in finding a space that is energetically cleansed and purified for this type of work. Spiritual hygiene of an environment is critical to doing good work. You don’t want to open the floodgates to residual energy lingering in an unkempt environment. Additionally, it is natural for the human mind and the ego to try to take control of the situation when we are doing the work ourselves. They try to distract us and take us away from the work because it’s not easy. It’s much more comfortable to go binge-watch that Netflix series, but we have to do the work. Plus, who doesn’t want someone lovingly supporting them on their journey and holding them when things get heavy? We all need that from time to time. That said, I do believe that we are all our own masters, we are all our own healers, so if you have the discipline for a strong personal practice, go for it!

You facilitate a particular type of breath work…

The type of breath that was passed down to me derives from pranayama. It is an active three-step breath that is deeply rooted in love. All of my teachings are rooted in love. It is not a traditional yogic breath that is soft and subtle; in fact, the breath to me has the energy of [the goddess] Gaia, which can be loving and nurturing but also quite fierce when she needs to be. A lot of people compare the breath to holotropic or shamanic breath work, and although there are many similarities, each method is slightly different. In the ceremonies I lead, I combine sound, sacred herbs, essential oils, and spoken mantras with the breath. I also do some live drumming and work with plant spirit essences. I tap into the energy of the room and I lead the student on the journey that their guides are opening up for them. Then I get out of the way, let spirit do the work and I support the journey by staying conscious of all in the room. I relay any messages I receive from their guides and usually they resonate with the blockage or energy the student or client is working through in that moment. The breath allows spirit to move through us, breaking through any energetic blockages that are holding us back from living our highest truth and potential. These blockages can be old–they can be ancestral and karmic wounds. They can be the source of fear, anxiety, trauma, self-inhibition or the inability to protect yourself from outside energy. It is powerful work and I feel blessed and grateful to spread its light.

Our session with you was physically and emotional challenging. Is this a typical response?

The breath can seem challenging especially if it’s new. It can even seem intimidating to some, but that’s when we go back to the root of love. Knowing that this method of healing was brought into your life at a divine time, knowing that there are no coincidences. And hey, no one said working through the old stuff you’ve been carrying around all these years will be easy, right? There’s a reason we shove it way down there. But the liberation of release is priceless, and quite honestly, crucial to our spiritual development. Things come up because they need to come up, their time is past due and they need to be released so we can move on. So release those emotions! Don’t hold back! You are loved and provided for and supported unconditionally by the universe.

Photos by Ash Lynn

Photos by Ash Lynn

Emily Mikaelah