I started attending Carolyn’s breathwork and kundalini classes a few years ago and always feel a powerful shift afterwards. In this conversation, we delve into the power of the breath, why it can elevate and make you feel ‘high’ and a few simple techniques to feel this energetic calm everyday. We started our conversation by speaking about our shared love of India and Carolyn’s fascinating journey (from becoming sober to filming in Porbandar, photographing nomads in Gujarat, manufacturing in Jaipur…) and then onto the breath.
Carolyn Cowan has lived an extraordinary life. Child model for Vogue, original 70s punk on King’s Road, body painter for music legends such as Freddie Mercury and Elton John – the list goes on and on. After two decades of drink, drugs and gambling, it was David Bowie who took Carolyn to her first NA meeting at the age of 31. She’s been clean and sober ever since – 29 years.
Today, Carolyn Cowan is one of London’s foremost Kundalini yoga teachers and a well-respected psycho-sexual and relationship therapist. Her charisma, humour and intimate understanding of life’s tough topics creates a friendly and authentic atmosphere that attracts a wonderfully diverse mix of students.
To listen to the full conversation, click here
How did breathwork come into your life?
I had been on a journey in Gujarat for four months photographing people, and whilst travelling to a new location to take some more pictures, I met another white couple – something so rare! The woman turned out to be a kundalini yoga teacher, and for the four hours’ journey, we chatted continuously. In 1993, I started my own kundalini yoga class – that’s when it all started. At the time I was a runner and really struggled to sit still in yoga, but breathwork really helped me.
What does the breath mean to you?
For me, breath is the best way into the present. I’m not interested in feeling amazing all of the time; I am interested in have no pain of the past and fear of the future right now in the present. The breath allows you to create this amazing space and the big question is – do you deserve the amazing space?’
How do you use your physiology to change your psychology?
The mind becomes contracted to fear and anxiety, but in the body it reports as a physical contraction, so everything in the body becomes short and tight. The vagus nerve is from your forehead to your pelvic floor, this speaks to your fascia which is underneath your skin – even if just siting here you lift up your chest and lift one arm you feel all the body opening up. You are releasing a contraction. All the systems interweave and together can create a sense of contraction – but we think of jealousy, inadequacy, sadness, abandoned, lonely, offended – the moment we do all this, we are in the pain of the past or the fear of the future. We are not present. You use the breath to go into the system and say – No actually I’m all-right. Do you deserve to be okay?
How can the breath elevate you?
You have to be shown how to take over your system in your body and you need to be aware of how that works. We are living in a world of contraction, where the brain is contracted to stress, anxiety, loneliness and depression and this appears physically in the body. You can use the breath to go into the system to stop and release this contraction.
How does breathwork impact and work on the hormones?
When you’re stressed your looping – when you stretch you can allow that to reverse itself.
You can really change the hormonal flow in body. We can play with serotonin, endorphins all the way from DMT to DHEA and have really extraordinary experiences – the outer realms of consciousness. I call these bliss states of presence.
Should you do breathwork on an empty stomach?
Yes, preferably don’t eat for an hour beforehand. It is a very spiritual practice – pranayama is one of the eight limbs of yoga. It is an exquisite relation with the divine.