Episode #102: The Experience of Breath, with Neha Saxena

We talk a lot about experiences here. But “experience” transcends digital engagement. There are life experiences too, which is why we’re kicking off a regular Monday feature, just for you. Starting today, and for the foreseeable future, Neha Saxena, aka the Breath Yogi, will talk about the importance of breathing, and lead us through a quick breathing exercise that will prepare you for the week ahead. It’s your chance to slow down for a few minutes, and literally catch your breath.

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PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Grad
Welcome to CXM Experience. It’s our Monday show and today we have Neha, the breath yogi. All right. Do you like our new intro music may Neha? What do you think?

Neha Saxena
I love it. You’ve got the whole vibe going.

Grad
Very mellow.

Neha Saxena
Good choice.

Grad
All right. Let’s get into this discussion. What I wanted to do today, is this is a whole brand new segment. We had an amazing segment with you last week where you gave us your background and your story. And I gotta tell you, I got some amazing reactions from people. And I want to thank you for being so transparent and open and sharing so much. It means a lot to people because it makes it very easy for others to identify with you when they know your journey. And we always tend to not understand other people’s journeys that much. It’s very easy to forget that we’re all on difficult journeys. And so that was an amazing experience for me, and for many of the people listening to the CXM Experience.

And you know, experience is not just about buying stuff online. Experience is about the whole panoply of all the different things that you do in life, and all the different ways you do it. And I want to talk a little bit today about the experience of breathing, of being present, and of mindfulness. These are all things that have become very popular topics in the corporate world and in the personal world, particularly in the last decade, and especially in the last few years. And I’d say very critically in last year.

I want to tell you my own story for a sec, if you don’t mind, just kind of how I got into it. And then and then and then I want to I know you’ve got some very strong points of view on breathing, and just Can we just breathe properly. And then we’ll get into a little bit about how to start thinking about that. And we’re going to do some exercises together, and then we’re going to go from there.

I have been off and on meditating for probably 20 to 23 years. And I started in the late 90s in a period of my life that was extremely chaotic. I had two very small children. My wife at the time was very busy with some stuff in her career. I was running a startup. It was lots of terrifying moments, as there are always in any startup. And there was just a lot going on. And it felt like stack overflow. The cup was full, and liquid kept pouring into it. I saw a bunch of my friends, because there were a group of us all of similar vintage, all going through pretty similar things. I wasn’t suffering from anything unusual. And a lot of them were turning to antidepressants. Paxil was a really big one at the time. I don’t even know if that’s a thing anymore. I guess Xanax was starting to come on the scene, and a bunch of other of these things. And all these friends of mine were essentially drugging themselves all the time. And I really didn’t want to go down that path. A couple of my friends became raging alcoholics, which is not a particularly good way to go either. I’m not judging, I’m just saying that wasn’t for me.

And I was like, there’s got to be a better way. And that’s where I started getting into meditation. And I was okay at it for a while. And I did find that breathing helped me a lot in moments of stress. And the thing that was maybe most powerful for me was understanding the physical reality of panic attacks. Essentially, the way it was taught to me is that you sense danger, and we’re trained obviously to sense danger from a primitive stage. So, a large animal is chasing you is the brains limbic response, right? But we sense danger, business danger, or presenting danger, or whatever. And then we start to breathe more because we’re trying to get more oxygen in our system because we’re getting ready to run or fight. Probably run. Some are fighters. But most people are runners.

And that’s where you get that tingling feeling in your extremities because blood is being pulled into the major organs and you start to accelerate your breathing. And what essentially happens is you start to hyperventilate, and then you create an over oxygenation in your blood, and once your blood is over oxygenated it releases adrenaline. And adrenaline last 20 minutes. And once that adrenaline release happens, there’s nothing you can do. You’ve just got to ride that pony all the way into town, and you’ve got to get through it.

But once you understand all these functions, and what’s going on, it became a litle easier to go, Okay, that’s the adrenaline going, and I’m just going to have to deal with that. And I was doing a lot of speaking and a lot of presentations. And occasionally, I would get up there and be like, Damn, this is going to be a really awkward and uncomfortable presentation. But I’ll get through it. Because I learned that if you can control your breathing, and stop hyperventilating, you create a more balanced oxygenation, and your pH balances. And then you won’t have a second adrenaline release, and you don’t cascade.

So, that’s my technical look at it. It didn’t get really good for me. I worked at it and worked at it and worked at it for years. And I’d say I got to a point where I was always able to manage any issue, but it would always work. And then I learned to dive. My youngest daughter is a marine biologist, and she wanted to learn to dive pretty young. She got her PADI card when she was 12. And I went through classes with her, and then learned to dive and got my PADI card not too long after she did. And when I was being taught to dive, one of the worst things that can happen to you diving is having a panic attack under the water. Yeah, for obvious reasons.

There’s lots of stuff going on when you’re under the water. There’s the element of claustrophobia, because you’re literally under the water. You look up and you sometimes can see the ocean top, but 30-50 feet is pretty down there. Number two, there are dangers underwater. You’re being surprised by things that can be hazardous. And then number three, you’re breathing very unusually, because you’re breathing with a tank. And then you’re breathing out through a regulator with those bubbles.

If there’s one thing that you do well in diving, you’ve got to breathe properly. You literally can die, you can kill yourself if you’re not breathing properly. And so the technique of breathing is you breathe in three. Breathe in. And then you breathe out five. If you breathe in three, and you breathe out five, you can never hyperventilate, because you’re always expelling more, theoretically, expelling more than you’re bringing in. Obviously, that isn’t quite true. But that’s the way you mentally frame it.

So, whenever I meditate, whenever you see me meditating with you, what I’m doing is I’m actually doing three and five, and I’m imagining myself underwater. Which I would also say that diving is the most meditative thing I’ve ever done. And once I started diving and being able to be at the bottom of the ocean, that suddenly created for me a place of peace and rest in a happy place I can always go back to. And so I can switch that on in 10 seconds. And go there really quick. That was a huge breakthrough for me. So, when I started working with you, I noticed you were doing the same idea, which is breathe in less than you breathe out. And I know you’re working on the same thing, but I wanted to share that with you. You can react or not react to it. You can tell me that’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. If you really hate it, I’ll edit it out.

Neha Saxena
First of all, I love the ocean. I feel like some of my most lucid and deep moments have also been on the ocean I just love it. And somehow I always find myself… Greece is one of my favorite destinations. Something about the ocean is so energizing, deeply energizing, and it’s just calming. And if you’re underwater, the noise fizzles away. And so I relate to that. When you go find your meditative space underwater, I hear you. That’s true for me too. Above and inside water.

But, a few things. We talked about my journey, right? And it pertains to that, because all of that that I went through forced me to find a logical explanation and not really a “woowoo,” so to speak. I’ve almost had to have a scientific approach to all of the things that I’ve finally come to say, Okay, this is working. Forget about spirituality, forget about religion, forget about meditation, because I don’t think people really understand what meditation is. One day I will meet the maker of Headspace — and I’m so glad that he did what he did. A lot of credit goes to them for apps like Headspace and Calm, that have made meditations and mindfulness mainstream. But you don’t know what you don’t know. Right?

A lot of folks are doing mindfulness and they think that they’re doing meditation. And mindfulness, by the very definition of mindfulness, is you have to put out effort. I meet people on a daily basis, they’ll come and be like, okay, I tried the app. And the moment I close my eyes, my mind is getting bombarded with a million thoughts. And I can’t do it. It’s so hard. Grad, I’ve been on trainings. This is a person who is committed to teaching people who can’t keep their eyes closed for one minute because they’re thinking they’re doing meditation, but what they’re really doing is mindfulness. I love it that everybody wants to meditate. But maybe the details have got lost. So I was like, Okay, this is too confusing. It’s hard to explain to everyone. Then let’s just do the basics. And the thing that is keeping us alive… what’s the difference between a dead person and a person who’s alive? The person who’s alive is breathing. It can’t be more simple than that.

Grad
Because the dead people are voting. I’m just kidding. I’m just kidding. That’s from our QAnon episode. But I get that. That’s that makes sense. Yeah.

Neha Saxena
The voting is a separate conversation. They could vote probably, but they’re definitely not breathing. Right?

Grad
Just because you’re not breathing doesn’t mean you can’t vote. Get out there everybody.

Neha Saxena
Okay, I don’t know if I would lead with that. But the point is, if you are alive, you’re breathing. That’s how fundamental breathing is to our life.

Grad
That’s a good point. You’re right. When you stop breathing is essentially when life stops. That’s that moment.

Neha Saxena
Exactly. And I’m fascinated. The person who won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 2017, they discovered biorhythms. In 2017, the Nobel Prize for medicine went to somebody who discovered different biorhythms. And the science of yoga and Ayurveda has been professing the use of biorhythms since 6000 years ago.

Grad
My parents in the 70s, had this plastic device that was a biorhythm machine. I can’t remember what they were doing with it, but every day they would check their biorhythm. It was like a mid-70s kind of thing. That’s, that’s interesting. I did not I did not know that about the Nobel Prize. That is very cool.

Neha Saxena
Yeah, the point that I’m trying to make is, as I was trying to figure out why am I’m on this planet. My life is not normal from any angle. But what’s the purpose of me being on this planet? And I realized that it’s to bring the ancient knowledge forth in a way that’s accessible to people. That’s accessible to every human being, irrespective of their background, their culture, their race, their beliefs. And that’s how I landed on the breath. Because if you’re a human you rely on your breathing. If you look deeply into it, what’s the first thing a baby does when they’re born? Even before they cry they breathe in.

Grad
interesting.

Neha Saxena
And the last thing you’re going to do as you leave this planet is you’re going to breathe out. So this whole phenomena we call life is between the first breath and the last breath out.

Grad
Wow, that’s deep. Maybe a bit much for a Monday morning, but okay.

Neha Saxena
You can edit it, okay?

Grad
No, no, I’m not taking that out. That’s awesome. We don’t edit this show. You’re right. Even just the concept of your last breath is a well understood concept. Taking your last breath, all that kind of stuff. Yeah. Great point. Yeah.

Neha Saxena
So my point is, just keep it simple. Let’s make it simple. Let’s not make it any complicated. If you can breathe…  as you were talking about the science of it. Actually, when you breathe deeply, you stimulate your weakest nerve. The vagus nerve simulates your parasympathetic nervous system, which then kicks in with the rest and digest response. And the opposite of which is what you were talking about the flight and fight. But actually what is happening in the fight and flight is the blood is not going to the major organs, it’s being taken away from the major organs and into your extremities.

Grad
Interesting.

Neha Saxena
The first thing that happens when you’re under fight and flight is your immune system gets suppressed. Your sex hormone production gets suppressed. Your blood is pulled from… everybody just gets the minimum supply, and most of it goes towards the extremities because you need all the energy you can to run away. That is why stress is the underlying cause of chronic diseases today, we all know that right? Immune system dysfunction is a major cause of a lot of the diseases because a lot of people are stressed. And when you’re under stress, your immune function gets suppressed.

If you can breathe better, you can stimulate your vagus nerve and, over time, strengthen that response. And then you can calm down with the rest and digest. And then the blood gets circulated better. And you can improve your immunity and all of that. So, even physiologically, even for folks are not interested in the deep philosophy aspect of it, if you’re alive, you’re breathing. We like complicated things. And we want to know the most complex thing. But if we can just get the basics right, we’ll be far… I wish there was a class in every college in every school that taught people the importance of breathing.

Grad
That’s interesting. People are starting to advocate for financial training, like how to balance your checkbook and stuff like that. But you’re saying breathing is just so fundamental. Because I guess your basic point is people aren’t generally breathing properly.

Neha Saxena
No. On an average a human being is barely using 30% of their lung capacity. And 60% of our energy requirement is met. How do the cells give you energy? On a cellular level, oxygen is required for cellular respiration. 70%, almost 60% to 70% of our body’s toxins are excreted through the breath. If you want to lose weight, if you want to lose 10 kgs a weight, about 8 to 8.5 kgs, you have to breathe it out. Because fat gets metabolized into carbon dioxide. And you have to Breathe it out. And now can you imagine… and I’m not trying to judge anyone. But the different methods of… there’s the allopathic system, western medicine. And then there’s the Eastern medicine. And the western medicine is great. My father’s a doctor, my brother’s a surgeon, my mother was a doctor. We have a hospital. It’s really good for acute… you’ve got a carcinoma, you’ve gotta get it operated on. Right? You’re having a headache, here’s a medicine. But it doesn’t go into the root cause of why did that imbalance even happen in the first place? It’s only now that we’re talking about mental health and emotional health. Whereas the other approaches have always looked at human beings as a combination of physical, mental and emotional health. Because our emotions determine the whole endocrine balance in our body, which determine how the physiology is going to behave.

Grad
That’s great. I’m just going to throw this idea out there, you can take this for free. I don’t even want royalties or anything. Okay, just saying, “breathe your way to weight loss” would be killer title. Honestly, if you could get people to start breathing as a way of being able to get their weight under control, I think that would fly off the shelves. And I can get you on Dr. Oz. I know him pretty well and he’d love that. This is great Dr. Oz material as well.

Neha Saxena
Okay, so there are a few things okay? You do have to exercise because if you…

Grad
Darn, you’re ruining it now.

Neha Saxena
Because if you over breathe, then you can get dizzy. You don’t want to do that to yourself. Right?

Grad
Okay, all good things can be overdone. I get that one.

Neha Saxena
When you’re exercising, then the muscles are producing more carbon dioxide. And that’s what leads to more weight loss. But you have to understand that there’s a very deep emotional component to weight loss as well. That’s why a lot of people have a tendency to gain weight when they’re going through hard things in life. There is a huge connection between the state of your mind, your eating. I’m one of those people. I gain weight when I’m going through a rough phase. I think if you can breathe better, absolutely, it’s going to help you mentally, emotionally, physically. And even if you’re not spiritual, even if you’re not religious, you’re a human being, you’re alive. If you can just breathe better, you can energize every single cell.

I think fundamentally, we have to understand that every organ in our body is just trying to keep us alive. The body is working 24/7 to give us an optimal experience. Even when people develop disease states, even things like cancer, they’re like, okay, you’re not freaking breathing well. There’s some chemical imbalance here. So these cells are not needed anymore. They’re just taking up energy. So on a very fundamental level, the body is trying to preserve itself, and work for us in the most efficient way we can. And if we can just breathe better, the blood becomes less viscous, the heart has to work less, you will feel more energized, you feel lighter.

I think that’s where there’s a slight difference, because this is a question that I’ve been pondering about. We’ll just take one example like Michael Phelps, right? I think he has the biggest lung capacity that can be humanly possible, right. And kudos to him for being the champion for Talkspace, the therapy app. He’s been so open about it,

Grad
Very brave, very brave.

Neha Saxena
Very brave, and it’s something that a lot of athletes struggle with. And I was like, Okay, if it was just about lung capacity, and there’s no one breathing more deeply than him. He’s got a big lung capacity. Absolutely. So what’s going on the mental faces? Because if deep breathing is stimulating a parasympathetic nervous system, then he should be feeling better. And that’s where I felt like the ancient, the yogic science, they figure it’s about the rhythm in the breath. It’s about those biorhythms. And it’s about getting your mind in sync with the right rhythm.

Grad
That is very cool. And what I’m going to do today, is let’s take about five minutes. This, by the way, this background is fantastic. And in next week’s Monday show, we’ll have the same thing, maybe get into some of the biorhythms stuff. That’s super interesting to me. But what I’d like to be able to do is, what’s a good old-fashioned meat and potatoes basic breathing exercise? When you’re starting someone, you meet someone, you can tell that they’re a little bit maybe not breathing properly, etc. What’s the way you get them to start breathing properly? How do you coach them up?

Neha Saxena
There two things. The first is I would love for them to do a quick test. Okay, what’s happening? When they’re breathing in, is the stomach expanding or is it contracting? So we want to make sure that they’re breathing correctly. When you’re breathing correctly basically, the air is coming into your lungs, the diaphragm is getting pushed down, which pushes the stomach out. Every time you’re breathing in… why don’t we do it? Why don’t we just do it.

Grad
Okay. Not everybody’s comfortable with that stomach out thing, by the way. It throws a lot of people. They don’t like that very much.

Neha Saxena
It doesn’t have to be so dramatic. Okay. Okay, that’s interesting.

Grad
I’ve run into this before. We were doing something in one of one of our corporate retreats and a lot of people didn’t want to like do that. They’re doing everything they could to hold their stomach in. Which may be one of the reasons why people aren’t breathing properly because they’re trying to hold themselves together all the time.

Neha Saxena
I mean, I don’t make them push their stomachs out. This is just a test. We want to see what’s going on with you. And then we’ll do something very basic. One is called diaphragmatic breathing and the other thing is called 16 second breaths. The 16 second breath is my favorite. It’s 16 seconds and it’s going to get you off to a good start.

Grad
Okay, let’s go. Okay.

Neha Saxena
So let’s place the right arm on the stomach and left arm on the chest, and sit easily and comfortably. And now bring your attention to your breath. Notice what’s happening. Become aware of your breath. What’s happening as you’re breathing in, notice is your stomach expanding?

Grad
It’s chest for me right now.

Neha Saxena
Okay, and now please your palms on the sides of your ribs, on the sides of the lower ribs, the last pair of ribs. And now just breathe. And notice if you’re registering any movement.

Grad
Interesting. I’m not moving those enough.

Neha Saxena
Yeah.

Grad
I’m doing a shallow, thin breath in the middle. I’m not really…

Neha Saxena
You’re breathing very shallow, right? And relax. We want to quickly gauge where we are so that we can then monitor our progress. And I’ll give you a little secret. The key to breathing better is if you can exhale well. If you’re exhaling properly, now there’s a vacuum in your lungs, the inhalation will automatically happen.

Grad
Okay. Yeah, good tip. Okay.

Neha Saxena
The key to breathing well, is exhaling well. And you want to exhale for a little longer than we’re inhaling. And we’ll talk a little bit more about all of that. I don’t want to go into too much of that detail. But for this time, exhale for a little longer than you’re inhaling.

Grad
Okay, this is the 16 second breath, we’re going to do here?

Neha Saxena
Yeah. We’re going to do the 16-second breath. And place your palms open to the ceiling. And relax the body. And now on my count through the nose, breathe in 2, 3, 4 until your collarbones lift up. Hold the breath in 2, 3, 4. Breathe out, just pull your navel in, make your waist tiny, breathe out for a little longer. Hold. Breathe in, 2, 3, 4. Hold 2, 3, 4. Breathe out, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Hold the breath out. Breathe in 2, 3, 4. Hold 2, 3, 4. Breathe out 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Hold the breath out. Breathe in, let the air fill your belly. Breathe into the chest hole, 2, 3, 4. Breathe out. Pull the navel in towards the spine. Breathe out for a little longer. Hold. Last four rounds. Breathe in 2, 3, 4. Hold 2, 3, 4. Breathe out 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Hold. Breathe in, let the air fill your belly. Breathe into the chest. Hold 2, 3, 4. Breathe out. Pull the navel in. Breathe out for a little longer to ease the air out. Hold. Last two, breathe in 2, 3, 4. Hold, 2, 3, 4. Breathe out 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Hold. Last one. Breathe in the air. Fill your belly breathe into the chest till your collarbones lift up. Hold for the same amount of time. And as you breathe out, pull the navel in, breathe out for a little longer. Hold the breath out. And relax. Just keep your eyes closed for a microsecond. And now become aware of the state of your mind and the rhythm in your breath. Then you can slowly open the eyes when you’re ready.

Grad
So awesome. You’re so great. It’s my favorite thing. And maybe people don’t know this, but every Tuesday, Neha actually does this exercise, a little bit longer, some other things you do as well, with our executive leadership team at Sprinklr. And I think it’s one of the reasons why we’ve been able to have such productive meetings over the last couple years. Since you started, it’s been amazing. So that was fantastic.

For next week, we’re going to do this again. And then we’ll start digging in a little bit deeper on this breathing stuff. You know, everyone started thinking about breathing as being a way of making your life better and making your physical life better. And Neha, thank you so much for being with us today. I’m really looking forward to having you as our regular Monday kickoff guests. It’s going to be awesome.

Neha Saxena
Thank you Grad. I really appreciate you providing this platform. I hope we can reach more people, and everybody can breathe better.

Grad
Yeah, sounds like we can solve a lot of world problems.

Neha Saxena
We can just get people to breathe better. Thank you.

Grad
I’ll see you next week. For the CXM Experience. This is Grad Conn, CXO, chief experience officer at Sprinklr, and Neha, the breath Yogi, and we’ll see you… next time.