Learn how to master your breathing for health & wisdom from Tony Robbins’ Breathwork Coach!
Kylie: Hi, everybody! Welcome! This is Kylie Ryan, and I’m incredibly honored to be interviewing today the amazing breathwork teacher, Dan Brulé. We have just by fortuitous circumstances through a mutual friend, a dear friend of both of ours, been introduced. And Dan is coming out to Sydney to run some events at the end of this month, which is super exciting.
Welcome, Dan. It’s awesome to speak with you.
Dan: Thank you, Kylie! Wonderful! Wonderful to be here.
Kylie: Yes, so wonderful! For those of us who are new to your work and who – I mean, we all breathe, right? But those of us who are new to conscious breathing and breathing with a purpose, can you tell us a little bit about what breathwork is?
Dan: Yes, everyone does breathe, but we can also say that everyone can dance, everyone can cook. We can raise these things to the level of an art. And breathing is no different. It’s not an accident that the breathing is both completely automatic and also completely under our control. That’s not an accident of nature. That’s not a coincidence. That’s an opportunity. That’s an invitation to take part in our own nature, to take part in our own evolution.
Breathwork is a model for personal growth, spiritual awakening, and self-healing.
I had two wonderful teachers who came from two different directions early in my studies. One of them said, “Breathing is so important. It’s so important. Leave it alone, you’ll only mess it up.” And the other teacher said, “You know, breathing is so important. If you don’t work with it, if you don’t play with it, you’re crazy.” So I swing back and forth between those two pieces of advice, if you don’t work with it, if you don’t play with it, you’re crazy.” So I swing back and forth between those two pieces of advice. And for me that’s what breathwork is.
Breathwork has this yin-yang aspect where one part of breath work is simply becoming the waves of the breathing, becoming aware of how does the body breathe and how does a breath breathe us, and to step back and allow ourselves to breathe by the breath itself. And on the other side where we take over, conscious breathing, where you give the breathing a certain pattern. You breathe with a certain intention. You bring a certain quality to the breath to engage our creative and healing energies. That’s what breathwork is. It’s a model for personal growth, for spiritual awakening, and for self-healing.
Kylie: Amazing! It’s so incredible. In my work with NLP, I’ve said that as well to my students that it’s incredible that breathing is one of those amazing things that we can very consciously take control over. But it’s just like we will be breathe, we don’t have to do it, it’s going to be done for us. And there’s so many amazing opportunities when we take conscious awareness and be that bridge between the conscious and the unconscious and all of those things, so it’s just an absolute honor to speak with you.
Breathing is a way for us to access something really powerful about ourselves, something deep, something sacred, something divine.
Dan: Thank you. And you know, breathing is something sacred. The simplest things in life, the most basic things in life are always the most powerful. What we find is that the more conscious we become of the breathing, the more conscious we become, period. The more aware we are of our breath, the more aware we are of many other things – our thoughts, our feelings, our reactions, our emotions, our posture, our situation.
The breath is a perfect tool to develop mindfulness, more awareness. It’s a way for us to access something really powerful about ourselves, something deep, something sacred, something divine. And that for me, I always looked for what’s the highest possibility? What’s the maximum potential? And if we’re interested in that, the breath is such a perfect guide, such a perfect companion, and such a perfect thing to focus on in order to awaken some of these higher abilities.
Kylie: Absolutely. And so easy. You don’t need special degrees or any special equipment. It’s all within us.
Everything we need is within us.
Dan: Yes, as it should be. Everything we need is within us. And there are many things within us that we have yet to discover, yet to explore, yet to develop. And that’s why in the synopsis of the book Just Breathe, the idea is that the same high state abilities that once was reserved only for the great saints and the masters and the warriors and the yogis and the mystics, those same things and those same abilities, the average person can access them just through the breath. It’s pretty cool.
Kylie: It’s very cool. That’s very cool. And so when you’re talking about special abilities and things that maybe only the saints or practiced yogis have been able to accomplish, what are some of the specifics that you’re talking about? What are some of the things that an average everyday person living their regular life, what are some of the things that they could achieve or master through going down this journey of mindful breath?
Dan: Well, body-mind mastery, managing your emotional state, managing your psychological state, changing behaviors. Breathing is a behavior. And the magic is… well, we all know that every emotional state, every psychological state has a corresponding breathing pattern. The way I breathe when I’m calm and peaceful is very different than the way I breathe when I’m upset or angry or disturbed. And the magic is it works the other way. Every time my psychological or emotional state changes, my breathing pattern changes, and it’s visible.
By changing my breathing pattern, I can change my emotional state, I can change my psychological state, I can manage my chemistry.
And it works the other way. By changing my breathing pattern, I can change my emotional state, I can change my psychological state, I can manage my chemistry. We can control so-called involuntary processes that we used to think, “Well, then there’s nothing I can do.” But no, when you get a handle on the breath, you get a handle on your chemistry, your physiology. It’s a way to hack into our nervous system, a way to hack into our immune system. So that’s empowering. And there doesn’t seem to be any limit to just how far we can take it. The more intimate we become with the breath, the more we play with it, the more and more it keeps emerging.
Kylie: Amazing! It is. It’s just more and more emerging. Just to give a really specific example. I’ve been driving over here to my husband’s work to do this interview with you, and we were cutting quite fine on the time. And so, I was coming here and I’m driving and I’m breathing really shallow and I’m like, “Oh, I’ve got to get there in time for the interview and we’ve got to do this.” And then I went, “hang on a minute. Here’s an opportunity here for me to practice this.” And so, in the 10-minute drive driving over here, I very deliberately, consciously breathe really deeply and calmly with lots of long outbreaths. And even though I was driving here to get here on time, I was really mastering and very focused on my breathing while I was doing that. And it made a HUGE difference to the drive.
Dan: Hey, it’s something now that maybe SEALs, army rangers, special forces warriors, first responders – people who work in life and death situations, they’re trained to breathe. But the average person might have stumbled along on their own, and my feeling has always been the same advantage that the great athletes, an Olympic athlete, what do they do just before they dive or kick or throw? They focus, they center, they take a breath. Exactly.
If it works in the battlefield, it works in the boardroom, and it works in the home, and it works in the playing field. So the idea is to bring some of these breath mastery skills to everyone. Because if you have a belly button, breathing will probably help you.
Kylie: I love it!
Dan: It’s the only requirement. You have to have a belly button.
Kylie: I love it, I love it! That’s wonderful! You’ve been teaching this work for many years. Can you share a little bit about your story? How did you get to be here doing this?
When you love something, the universe keeps giving you opportunities to do it.
Dan: I always end up looking back and going, “Oh, look where I am, look what happened.” So many of the most beautiful, amazing things in my life, I just couldn’t plan, I didn’t plan. It’s a calling, it’s an obsession. I was raised in the Catholic Church, and even in the first grade and in kindergarten, listening to the priest talk about God forming the dust of the earth and forming the body of man and breathing into the nostrils of man, the breath of life, something’s so exciting about that. I couldn’t understand why everyone wasn’t excited. It’s like, “Wow, God is breathing into us? Whoa! Whoa!”
As life would have it, growing up as a child, I kept getting the wind knocked out of me. I had some drowning experiences in the military. In the military, I was a deep sea diver, I was mixing gases, I was practicing breath holding, doing underwater rescue. I resuscitated people. Actually, the first time was 19 years old and I learned CPR, and maybe two weeks after I was certified, I had an opportunity to revive somebody. It was a miracle to come upon somebody who was clinically dead, not breathing, no pulse, dilated pupils. And to blow into them and they blink and wake up, I said, “Oh my God! Who’s next?”
And as it turns out, when you love something, the universe keeps giving you opportunities to do it. So I’d be at the beach, someone would drown. I’d be in a restaurant, someone would choke on food. I’m on an airplane, someone has a heart attack. And so I started to think, maybe I’m bad luck. “Stay away from me!” But it was just a passion and somehow I kept bumping into lessons around the breath.
In the military, I was doing it formally, and from then I just travelled to India, China, looking for people who said they knew something about breathing, or teachers. And I was breathing down their neck or kissing their feet until I got from them what I could, and I went to the next. And then one day people started coming to me. Now you just start to respond to invitations. It’s been 40 years and 55 countries, and I don’t know what else to do.
Kylie: What a wonderful story! You’ve helped and trained Tony Robbins which is of great interest to our NLP community and people that are into personal development. He’s one of the biggest figures in our field. So what’s that like working with Tony and teaching him how to breathe? He’s a big man. There’s a lot of breath in him.
Dan: It’s so funny when I’m standing on the side with him. I kind of think like Tony’s, “Oh, this is my little toy friend, Dan.” You know?
Kylie: Like that old movie Twins.
Dan: He is a genuine student of life. He definitely is. I had a session with his son, and then Jaerik I guess called his dad, and Tony called me up and he said “Hey, I heard you’ve been studying breathing for 40 years. Anybody who’s been doing something that long and is that obsessed and passionate about it, I need to know you.”
We hit it off from the beginning. He was able to his blood pressure by 15 points within a week. He’s been practicing breathing. He monitors it in people if they’re holding their breath and holding back emotions. So he’s very conscious of his breathing. Like many people, you have certain practice, you have certain experience with breathing, and along comes this guy who’s got 120 different angles into breathing and studied with everybody and every style. And so, it’s pretty much impossible that I can’t point something out or develop something in your breathing that you have unexplored. He’s excited about that. Whenever he can expand his abilities, he shows up 100 percent.
When you make a difference in the life of somebody who’s making a difference in so many other lives, I don’t know how to say no to that kind of invitation.
And he’s making such a difference in the world. How can we not support someone like that, you know? I have no real choice about it. When you make a difference in the life of somebody who’s making a difference in so many other lives, I don’t know how to say no to that kind of invitation.
Kylie: Yeah, absolutely. That’s a big invitation because the ripple effect is just so profound.
Dan: Yeah. It’s fun working with him because he gets stuff really quickly, and as soon as he gets it, he’s compelled to share it. He turns around and he teaches it to his wife Sage or he brings in one of his assistants and he says “Okay, sit down. I want you to try this.” He’s like he really needs to pass on anything that he benefits from. He’s such a generous, generous spirit. It’s an honor, it’s a blessing to really work with him and call him my friend and my teacher and my student. It’s just a massive opportunity.
Kylie: It is a massive opportunity. At the start, you mentioned this relationship between yin and yang, and that’s something that I’ve been really interested in lately and I just see it everywhere at the moment. The interest for me, the idea of the sympathetic and the parasympathetic system and how we can regulate that through the breath, and then how that relates to this kind of urgency and anxiety and stress that’s happening, particularly in the Western world but spreading across as well. Just this idea of like, so much yang: “Let’s go, go, go. Let’s do, do, do. Let’s create.”
I’m wondering because I see it a lot in my clients. These women that are really strong in their masculine, really achieving, and really getting out there and doing things. Also in my male clients as well. One of my male students has said to me, “I have some problems with just kind of sitting,” And we talked about the difference between being and doing. So I’m curious about some insights that you could share. I know we’ve only got a short period of time, but what are some insights that you could share around this? Maybe with a little tip or something for these people that are really in that “go, go, go” like, “I can’t stop, I can’t slow down.” What would you advice?
Dan: Well, a couple of things. One is the latest research. I put the word out, so everyone knows that I’m a fanatic about breathing. And if you read anything about a study, a technique, if I don’t already know about it –
Kylie: You want to know about it.
Dan: A report recently is from the University of Virginia Medical Center. And it was an accidental discovery about breathing. They were doing a cognitive testing on a group of epileptic patients who were going to have surgery. I guess they go in and there’s a certain surgery, they cut something in the brain, and it reduces the intensity or frequency of seizures. I guess they were testing their cognitive abilities before the surgery, and then they were going to test them afterwards.
One of the tests they were doing was facial recognition. They show them a face on the screen, and you say, “Is it mad, sad, glad, happy, angry?” or whatever. What they arbitrarily discovered was that if the person happened to be breathing in through their nose, when that image flashed on the screen, their recognition was much quicker and their recall was much greater. And when they were breathing in through their mouth or if they happened to be exhaling in that moment that the face appeared on the screen, those benefits disappeared.
Dan: When you are taking a look at the sunset, breathe it in. If someone is speaking to you, don’t just listen to them. Take in a breath as you’re listening, and it seems as if we get extra information. And maybe it bypasses the mind, it goes right through the heart, goes right through the subconscious, and then that information, we can access it.
The yogis have been saying this for a long time but it’s wonderful when science comes up and says, “Whoa, look at this!” That’s important in any situation. If you really want to take in and then experience, literally breathe in, and you hold it.
And the other is this research around the vagus nerve, which was 20 years maybe, but relatively speaking that’s very recent. The vagus nerve is the biggest nerve in the body. The word vagus is based on the same root of vagabond, meaning it wanders everywhere. Medical scientists up until just recently always thought that this is how the brain controlled everything in the body. What they thought was that 80 percent of the signals is coming from the body to the brain, and that when we breathe, we activate that vagus nerve. And so we can actually choose the information that we send to the brain. Then the brain has no choice but to manufacture certain chemicals, awaken certain emotions. And so by controlling your breathing, you literally can control what states the brain creates. Really, really cool.
Kylie: That’s amazing! It’s so wonderful to hear you saying that, because it’s a big part of what we teach as NLP is. And in personal development, this idea that your physiology can change your state and the movies that you make in your mind, that’s all interrelated. Especially in NLP, there’s not that much focus on what kinds of physiologies aside from a bit of anchoring or moving around that type of thing, changing your physiology or posture, but there’s not that much focus on changing the breath. And so, this level of inner precision around changing your breathing to change your state, to change the way that you’re thinking and the types of experiences that you have is so wonderful. It’s just so wonderful.
Dan: Yes, it’s a great tool. It’s like an intervention. You can interrupt patterns. You can exert energy. And you know what? It’s also all about training. The concepts get you nowhere, training gets you everywhere. And so my passion is to train certain breathing responses into the system so they become automatic. So that when you’re under stress, you have a very different response than the programming or conditioning of your body. Pass traumas and so on and fears, instead of those things arising in moments, something different can happen. We practice and practice until certain breathing responses become automatic responses of our system. And that’s when the magic really occurs.
Because we’re given moments in life, and when you miss the moment, you miss the moment. But it helps. If I start to get upset or I start to get tired or depressed or hyper, it works wonders to get a handle on my breath and move myself in a state. But when it starts to happen by itself so that if my tension level rises and maybe I’m not even conscious of it yet but my breath is, and it responds and immediately takes me back in the right direction. Or if my breath gets dented, then I don’t even have to lift myself up, the breath just comes in and it’s…
I call it the canary in the coal mine. The breath will respond to things before we’re conscious of it. And if we can make an adjustment in our breathing early into the development of an illness, the movement towards a certain unresourceful state, and if I’m breathing because of our intimate relationship to the breath, we’re alerted to that. And we have a way to quickly shift before we’re having to deal with something really big. So you change something on the energy level, and you end up preventing a lot of stuff.
Kylie: Yes, a stitch in time saves nine kind of thing. Wonderful! How wonderful! Goodness, I can talk to you all day about this. But if people are really interested and they love this and they want to learn more and they’re really keen to learn how they can master their breath, how can they come and find you? You’re in Australia. What are you doing in Australia? Tell us about that?
Dan: Well, breathmastery.com is my main site. Here in Australia, we have our friends Shane and Angelina with Breathe Me, and they are planning a whole host of things from the first of October or the end of September through to about the 19th of October. I’ll be there 4 or 3 weeks. All along the Gold Coast, we’re doing things in several places. Connecting through them for the details of the program, that would make the most sense.
Kylie: Yes. So breatheme.com?
Dan: Yes. I think they actually have a couple of really cool landing pages set up and one of them, I think the main one, probably a good one to go to would be this breatheme.com, Dan Brulé Australia. I can just send you the link if you like to. But if you go to breatheme.com and search for Dan Brulé in there, they’re featuring the events.
Kylie: Wonderful! I’ve just thought of one more question. When you’re talking breathwork, there’s someone else in the kind of public sphere around breathing lately, how is your work different than the Wim Hof Method?
Dan: Yeah, Wim Hof. As we say in America, he’s kicking ass and taking names. I love the guy, I’ve known him for a long time. I think his method is beautiful. I mean, in a way, you’d think I was hyperventilation and breath all day. He doesn’t like to use the word hyperventilation, but I’d say that’s what it is. And that’s very powerful and very useful. Because when you hyperventilate, you bring up a whole package of feelings and sensations and emotions. And if you can tolerate them, you can relax into them. If you can open to them, you grow. And on the other side, if you hold your breath, you bring up a whole completely different package of feelings and sensations and reactions. And if you can relax and tolerate them, you cannot help but grow. It is a bit “rawrrr” the way my approach is… I approach in that wild way but I also come at it from a very gentle, like a flower opening. You can’t tear a flower open. You can give it sun, you can give it rain, you can give it good soil, and you can just –
Kylie: Allow it to emerge.
Dan: Just a very gentle, beautiful opening. So there are different ways to get into the beneficence, and I like to balance… relaxation is really, really important for me. I think if we could relax enough, we would turn into light.
Kylie: We would turn into light if we could relax enough.
Spirit is very subtle and is very gentle and it waits for an invitation. It never forces itself into us.
Dan: The spaces between our cells open up and the energy of life can get into all the cracks and crevices. Spirit is very subtle and is very gentle and it waits for an invitation. It never forces itself into us. And so it’s waiting for us to open it and soften. We can use the breath to open and soften ourselves. And something beautiful can take our breaths.
Kylie: Amazing. I really wanted to make that point of difference, because it’s so clear that while you’re both doing breathwork, it’s a very different type of breathwork. So people who might have come across other forms that this work that you do, just like you said, is very gentle and about relaxation and emerging these amazing possibilities and allowing the spirit in. It just sounds so divine. Wonderful! Thank you so much!
Dan: Thank you!
Kylie: Thank you so much for your time! Was there something else you had to share?
Dan: I’ve never been to Australia and this my first trip. I love it when I go for the first time. I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve got invitations over the years and it’s always been something else. It’s a long swim from New York, and so I’m really looking forward to being there.
Kylie: Wonderful! I’m so excited. I’m going to grab your book and get along to one of these events, so I can come and learn in person. But it’s just an absolute honor to be able to interview you and share this work with all the people out there who might be interested to come along and learn from you and really learn how to breathe it in, breathe in that life.
Dan: Thank you so much!
Kylie: Thank you so much, Dan! I really appreciate it.
Dan: Good luck to you and lots of love.
Kylie: Lots of love. Thank you!