Breathing Our Way Forward

by Nikki Mark

Breath Work

People Magazine just published an article about my story, and I’ve received so many emails from people who need help healing… from grief, depression, anxiety… or all of the above!

So instead of the article I originally had planned, I am now going to share something with you that offers physical, spiritual, and emotional healing benefits… and it’s easy and free.

Let’s pause for a minute and take a deep breath. (Really, do it. Close your eyes and fill your lungs to capacity, and then slowly let the air out.)

Now, give yourself the gift of the next few minutes to really breathe in something that could improve your life, and maybe even help you change it.

Ready? Okay.

“Breathwork” is hands down the most powerful healing modality in my practice. It costs nothing, can be done anytime and anywhere, and doesn’t violate any belief system, political affiliation, or religion.

I accidentally stumbled upon breathwork about a month after Tommy passed away.

I had stabbing pains in my back. My breathing was labored. And I was developing asthma. I knew that if I didn’t figure out a way to move my emotions through and out of my body, I would develop ailments no doctor in the world could begin to accurately diagnose.

So first, I turned to gentle yoga. Then a few weeks later, I walked into a breathwork class by mistake (but stayed because I didn’t know what else to do).

And then, you know what happened?

Like a baby just starting out in life, I learned to BREATHE.  

As silly as forcing myself to breathe deeply and consciously felt, I was desperate for help, and my heart’s desire to heal was far greater than my mind’s opinion. So, I took more classes. Like, three or four a week. The more I took, the more my physical ailments began to disappear and my connection to myself and something greater began to deepen—but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what.


On the first anniversary of Tommy’s passing, when my husband and I took a trek through the Andes Mountains, thinking it might help us get through this difficult period.

And it did. But what I didn’t expect was the pivotal role that breathwork would play in it.

As soon as my hiking boots hit the Peruvian soil, I started jamming through the country’s ancient hills as if I were possessed! I found myself at the front of the pack wishing we could go faster, hoping the trail would get steeper, and wondering why I hadn’t even broken a sweat.   

“What’s gotten into you?” my husband asked.

I had no idea.

I was incredibly weak, indescribably thin, and hadn’t done cardio in a year. Still, while most of the members in our trek group huffed and puffed, and took multiple rest stops behind me, I was nipping at the heels of our guide and nudging him to pick up the pace. It didn’t make any sense.

With each subsequent step on the trail that day, I thought harder about my husband’s question and heard a simple answer drop in: 


I stopped short, waited for my husband to catch up to me (ha!), and said:

“Breathwork is what’s gotten into me.”

“What?” he asked, not really following.

I explained to him that as part of my efforts to move through grief, I had been taking multiple breathwork classes a week throughout the prior year.

Although my husband wasn’t usually very interested in the countless alternative healing modalities I was trying on for size, he now wanted to know more. So, I filled him in:

“During each breathwork class, I breathe for about 30 minutes straight—first into my belly, then up through my chest, and finally out my mouth. I repeat this cycle over and over while music plays and an instructor gives inspirational prompts. Some classes offer different breathing techniques, and each one opens my heart and moves the grief that often clogs my head and tightens my chest. At the end of every breathwork session, I feel lighter and more connected to myself and Tommy’s Spirit. Sometimes, I even get visions in the middle of class that are like vivid dreams I thought were only possible to experience in the middle of the night. It’s fascinating!”

(I was so excited he was finally curious about my “woo-woo” stuff that I might have gone too far with that last bit of information! 🤔)

But it wasn’t until I trekked through Peru that I learned of the physical benefits of breathwork. The practice had strengthened my lungs, improved my stamina, and elevated my overall athletic performance to a degree neither of us could believe.

In that moment, on that trail, when my husband couldn’t deny these results, he said, “I’d like to try breathwork.” 

So, I took the opportunity to go one step further and present some of the science behind it.

James Nestor says in his book Breath that breathwork not only improves our mental health, but also helps “distinguish good athletes from great ones.” 

According to Nestor’s research, which draws on thousands of years of medical texts and modern cutting-edge studies in psychology, biochemistry, human physiology, and pulmonology:

The breath impacts specific neurons at the base of our brain that adjust carbon dioxide levels in our bodies. When we breathe correctly, these neurons become more “flexible” and learn to withstand extreme changes without triggering a state of panic.

It seemed my neurons had become so well trained—so flexible—and so adaptable from breathwork that neither the extreme altitude nor the steep hills of Peru phased me. In fact, my neurons had become so used to adjusting to different rhythms of airflow that I had unknowingly learned to calm myself with my own breath.

I remember thinking as our trip came to an end that every child should learn how to breathe in school, and that every athlete should be exercising their lungs in this way instead of training harder or taking performance-enhancing drugs.

By the time we returned to the States, I knew I had changed. My heart ached just a little bit less. And I could finally feel the ground beneath my feet.

Now, six years later, breathwork is still my favorite kind of active meditation, in addition to taking long walks. I recommend it to everyone, no matter what physical, emotional, or mental ailments they may face.

Many people brush it off, but in fact, Nestor recommends that before diagnosing ourselves with mental illness associated with issues like anxiety, panic attacks, and depression, it would be a lot less expensive and far more prudent if we first learned how to breathe.

If you’re curious and feel you might be interested in learning more about breathwork, I’d like to invite you to check out a live discussion I recently had with one of my favorite instructors on the subject. 

The practice is free. You can do it anywhere. And with each inhale and exhale you take, you can rest assured, knowing that you are growing stronger—emotionally, spiritually, and physically… inside and out.

P.S. Mother’s Day is just around the bend, and I’d be honored if you gifted my memoir about love, loss, and transformation to your favorite mom… maybe that’s YOU!

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Dear Nikki

My Superhealer

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