Here is the full transcript of global teacher and author Max Strom’s TEDx Talk Presentation: Breathe to Heal at TEDxCapeMay Conference. For more details about the speaker, read the full bio here.
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Max Strom – Global teacher and author
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. And 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. And 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 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?
And 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. And 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 these fantastic kitchens, and we just use the microwave. 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?
I mean, 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. And 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.
Now 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. And the facilitator, Emma Seppälä, who is 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.
Now, 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. And so 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?
So 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 we have — 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,” 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.