Breath becomes you: The Kripalu Center’s Jon Orsini says inhaling is where it all begins.

By Mitch Rustad

Attention stressed out fellow mountaineers! If you’re feeling anxious, panicked or just agitated by something, don’t try to fix it (that’s not a mistake or typo, keep reading). To ultimately feel better, just learn to breathe into whatever it is you’re feeling, recommends Jon Orsini, a guided breathwork and meditation expert.

“The approach isn’t to make yourself calm—it’s to compassionately sit with whatever is there and ask, ‘What’s this trying to tell me?’” says Orsini, who does one-on-one and Zoom sessions as well as in-person workshops at the largest mindful wellness retreat in North America, the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, MA. 

“That’s a core component of my message,” he says. “When people are so focused on being a certain way, or so focused on trying to be happy, then we create a friction that didn’t exist. If you sit down to meditate to try to force an emotion, or force being calm, the more difficult it becomes.”

Orsini’s quick to acknowledge the seeming paradox of this message: “Mindfulness isn’t about getting somewhere; it’s about allowing yourself to arrive exactly where you are—that’s the irony. Once you allow yourself to arrive exactly where you are, that’s when shifts and healing happen,” says Orsini, whose personal breathwork practice began nearly two decades ago when he experienced panic attacks in college.

“Breathwork is specifically what helped me stop having panic attacks,” says Orsini, who’s also an award-winning Broadway and film actor as well as audiobook narrator. “When I learned about the physiology of breathing, it became a habit and my body naturally breathed more calmly.”

Though his sessions and workshops delve far deeper into the experience, Orsini says he can narrow down his practice into three words. Nose. Belly. Slow. “The simplest point to remember is to breathe slowly through your nose, with a slow exhale. A simple pattern is to inhale for four seconds and exhale for six seconds.”

And what’s Orsini’s personal definition of happiness? “The biggest component of happiness that’s ever been proven is community,” he says. “Healing happens in the presence of an empathetic witness. We’re in an epidemic of loneliness. It’s not realistic that everything in your life will always be perfect, but if we know we’re not alone, that’s everything.”

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