Unlocking the Healing Power of the Breath: Heal Trauma, Overcome Anxiety, and Uncover Your True Self Using Breathwork with Samantha Skelly

Our breath is one of our most powerful tools for healing, awareness, and even life expectancy. 

We take about 25,000 breaths per day yet many of us have no idea the power our breath can hold when we focus on it and allow it to help us feel and heal trauma, anxiety, illness, and more.

Today I’m sitting down with breathwork facilitator and CEO of Pause Breathwork, Samantha Skelly to share with us the incredible healing power of something we all have free access to; our breath.

Years ago Samantha Skelly found herself at a very dark and painful place in her life, she was struggling with depression, chronic anxiety, an eating disorder, and completely out of touch with her body. She sought out a world-renowned healer in Bali (yes, the exact one in Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert) and he told her that her “brain was broken” and she needed to meditate. 

When she arrived late to the meditation class, all that was left was a breathwork class.

She found herself laying among 30 other people feeling and healing things she didn’t even know were needing to be healed, and felt at home in her body for the first time ever.

She left that class a completely different person; herself, and knew the world needed to know about and experience breathwork like she did.

Samantha has since founded Pause Breathwork, the world’s leading breathwork facilitator and is on a mission to reduce human suffering by increasing human consciousness through the power of breathwork.

If you struggle with mental health, a physical health problem, or even just have a hard time meditating, I cannot encourage you enough to give this episode a listen. (It might just be one of my favorite episodes we’ve ever done!)

You can listen, or you can keep reading for the full transcript! 

In this episode, Samantha shares:

And more!! She even walks us through a breathwork exercise (that was so incredibly powerful) at the end of the episode, so make sure to listen all the way through!

Samantha’s story before discovering breathwork: struggling with an eating disorder, body hate, exercise addiction, and depression

From the time she was a little girl, Samantha Skelly remembers hating her body. She remembers being incredibly young and being in the bathtub, looking down at her legs and body and hating it (we know how common this is and actually have an episode all about body image and self love that you can listen to here or read about here). 

She grew up in front of cameras and on stage in Hollywood and was even a stunt double, this made her body image struggles even worse.

Later on around the age of 18, that deep rooted hate for herself and her body manifested into disordered eating, exercise addiction, depression, and what she calls “diet depression” where she was on over 50 diets in less than 4 years. 

“I knew better, but I couldn’t change it,” she explained.

She logically knew better, she grew up listening to Tony Robbins and was well aware of the power her thoughts had on her life, however she still couldn’t make a change. She was stuck and felt trapped. 

She also knew, however, that she wanted help and wanted to heal.

How the book Eat, Pray, Love influenced Samantha’s journey to healing and discovering breathwork

At the time (this was about 10 years ago now) Samantha happened to be reading the well known and loved book Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. And if you’ve read the book or watched the movie you know that Liz travels to Bali and sees an energy healer. 

Well, as Samatha read the book she decided she too was going to do the same thing, and she did. Sam purchased a one way ticket to Bali and visited the exact energy healer than Liz did. 

(Are you freaking out like I was?! Sam’s story sounds like a book or movie just like Liz’, doesn’t it?!)

The healer said to her, “You think too much! Your brain is broken! You have to meditate!” She was disappointed because she truthfully hated meditation! 

She shared in her interview that she has ADHD (which was undiagnosed at the time) and so her brain was super busy and she didn’t know how to manage her thoughts well enough to meditate. 

But she was hopeful and afterall, this was Elizabeth Gilbert’s healer – so she was willing to give meditation another try. 

Sam planned to attend this meditation class that was to take place right there in Bali but she was late and the next class on the list when she got there was breathwork. 

She thought what maybe you’re thinking when you read “breathwork.” She thought, “what the heck is this? Aren’t I breathing already?” 

But she was there and so she agreed to give it a try.

Sam’s first breathwork class experience and how it changed her life and the world forever

Sam shares that she walked into the breathwork class already pretty skeptical to find about 30 people laying down on the floor on blankets and pillows and there was a guy dressed all in white. 

“He looked like Jesus and I thought, what is happening right now?!” the man asked her “Are you ready to go on the ride of your life?” and Sam thought how sketchy this whole thing looked but she couldn’t back out now so she laid right down with the other people who were there for the class. 

The man said to her, “You are going to feel things in your body that you’ve never felt before, you’ll experience the highest states of joy and bliss and you’ll also probably experience sadness and other hard emotions.”

This was at a time in Sam’s life that she either felt numbness or extreme anxiety so she was still skeptical if what the man was telling her would actually be true for her. 

But it was.

During this class Sam felt self-love for the first time in her life, her mind was quiet for the first time in years, it was a beautiful and healing experience for her and she went on to use breathwork to heal her eating disorder. 

She started her first company, Hungry for Happiness, where she helped hundreds of others heal from eating disorders. 

Still however she had a fire within her that knew breathwork needed to be more well known and mainstream. She knew the power of breathwork could help so many and that it needed to be in the light and so four years ago she founded her second company, Pause Breathwork. 

It has since become the largest breathwork facilitator in the world!

Unlocking the Healing Power of the Breath: Heal Trauma, Overcome Anxiety, and Uncover Your True Self Using Breathwork with Samantha Skelly
Unlocking the Healing Power of the Breath: Heal Trauma, Overcome Anxiety, and Uncover Your True Self Using Breathwork with Samantha Skelly

What breathwork is and how it’s different from simply breathing

A question that I wondered as soon as I heard about breathwork and I’m sure one you’re maybe wondering too is the difference between breathwork and simply breathing like we are right now. 

Well, when we’re just breathing it’s completely subconscious. We don’t have to think about it, there is no intentionality or consciousness to it. 

Breathwork is the opposite!

Breathwork is the conscious action to bring air in and out of your body. Your full awareness and intentions are behind the breath in breathwork.

The difference between breathwork and meditation 

Now maybe you’re wondering, is breathwork the same thing as meditation? Sam says yes and no, let me explain!

When we hear or read the word meditation we think of sitting in a lotus position with our eyes closed and absolute silence, right? But there are actually all kinds of activities that fall under the large umbrella of meditation!

  • Yoga
  • A walk, hike or run in nature
  • Breathwork

So yes, breathwork falls under the large umbrella of meditation but it is different from the meditation we think of when we hear “meditation.”

Sam swears by this: “If you’ve ever said you can’t do meditation, breathwork is for you.”

And that’s because breathwork is an activity, you’re breathing and there is an active element to it that gives you something to do and in turn focus on. There is a doingness that gets us to the beingness vs. a stillness to get us to the beingness (which is meditation). 

For this reason, people with busy minds, people with ADHD or ADD like Samantha, people who have a hard time relaxing or being still with themselves breathwork is such an incredibly powerful tool. 

Most people also have a hard time feeling their emotions and being in their bodies. So oftentimes sitting and trying to simply be and feel can be hard for a lot of people. 

Breathwork gives you an action that really helps you reach the feelings and in turn, heal them.

The science behind breathwork: what is does and how it does it

When we breathe, we’re creating respiratory alkalosis which makes our blood more alkaline which shifts our perspective and allows us to see things from a completely different place. 

Our body also releases adrenaline when we do breathwork and when we have adrenaline without the chaos that often accompanies it we’re able to be incredibly clear and open.

This is why breathwork is commonly used with professional athletes and performers because we’re allowing our bodies to get into a completely different state that is more optimal for performance. 

Allowing breathwork to help access and trust your intuition

Have you ever had some kind of concern or bad feeling but really wrestled with whether or not it was a fear or your actual intuition or a sign that something was wrong? 

It happens to me all the time. I’ll think of something and feel worried and have no idea if I’m just afraid of it happening or if it’s my intuition trying to get my attention. 

Well, Sam shared that breathwork really allows us and teaches us to get to know, listen to, and trust our intuition.

There is a map that Samantha loves to teach from that she calls the three pillars of connection

At any point in time there are three things that are speaking to us:

  • Our mind
  • Our emotions
  • Our intuition

The goal is always to get to the intuition, right? We’re constantly told from the time that we’re young to listen to our intuition, tap into our intuition, trust our intuition. 

But getting to the intuition is difficult for a lot of us because of how loud our mind and emotions are.

Breathwork allows us to unhook the mind from reality. The breath releases the fixation we have with our minds (which is usually thoughts and fixations on either the past or future) which shifts and opens up our emotions and allows us to drop into our intuition.

Samantha calls this “the pause pocket” at her brand, Pause because you drop right into that pocket. From that pocket that you drop into during breathwork we’re able to:

  • Hear our intuition and feel our true nature
  • Have more discernment
  • Be incredible intuitive
  • Have a clear open mind and state of being

Because of all of that, there is so much good and healing work that can happen from that place.

When a feeling is fear, it will feel very chaotic and all over the place and anxious. There will often be emotion with it and just very noisy.

When it’s intuition it’s confident “knowing”. And the more we practice breathwork and are able to drop into that “pause pocket” Sam referenced, the more we’re able to decipher and know our true intuition and inner wisdom. 

The more we practice breathwork, the more those feelings will no longer be a question and will instead just be a knowing. We will know how powerful we are, we will find confidence, healing, and so much more and that is because the body is informing the decision not the mind. 

As soon as we get embodied and get into that place, so much opens up for us.

The fascinating truth about the the mind-body connection

I’m sure you’ve heard about the mind-body connection before. Whether you know a lot about it or maybe you’ve just heard it referenced. 

There is a phenomenal book called The Body Keeps Score about this and we even had a past podcast episode with a holistic psychiatrist on root causes of anxiety and she shared a lot about the mind body connection (check out that episode HERE).

Every thought that we think in our minds generates a feeling in our body, right? Our body truly does not know the difference between what our thoughts tell us and what is actually happening. 

That is how manifestation works because our thoughts create our reality! With this, we need to be intentional and aware of what we think about and the actions we take and participate in because all of that has a direct impact on the body.

Deciding what you’re going to give your attention to, what you’re going to focus on is huge.

Mindset work is just skimming the service, we have to actually DO the work

“We have to get embodied if we want sustainable transformation.” Samantha encouraged listeners. A lot of people start out their healing or discovering their highest self journey at the mindset level. They do cognitive therapy, affirmations, NLP, reading personal development books, all mindset work. Which is great! 

However, “when you have a body full of trauma and a mind full of affirmations, the body is going to win every time.” 

So, while mindset work is very important, it’s also important to meet and heal the parts of us that we’ve been at war with, the parts of us that need healing to really create transformation and true healing.

When we bring breathwork into the picture, it’s somatic work. Soma means body so body based work. When we can get into the body and heal and shift things at a cellular level, that’s when we can really do some amazing transformation.

How emotions and traumatic experiences get trapped within the physical body

When we’re in our formative years, anywhere from as young as still in the womb to 7 years old, and we encounter traumatic events (which doesn’t have to be trauma on a scale you might be imagining. Trauma is simply defined as “a deeply distressing experience” which means lots of things can fall into trauma. Every single human experiences trauma just not all the extreme trauma you may think of when you hear the word). 

When trauma happens in those formative years, it creates a little frozen-in-time piece in the body. Those pieces (aka trauma) that we ALL have builds up in the body. We also learn in those formative years to create protectors from those traumas and those are different for everyone but for example if a baby is being left alone to cry their protector might be, “I’m going to be aggressive to get my needs met, I’m going to shut down to get my needs met, I’m going to people please to get my needs met” etc. 

We all learn and create protectors in those formative years for protection.

The problem is, when we grow up and we have all these build up traumas in the body and all these learned responses or protectors we then wonder why we feel the way we feel, why we can’t connect with our intuition or our body. 

This happens to all of us to some degree or another, we can’t avoid it. 

We can however do the work to recognize those protectors we’ve created and uncover (feel) those frozen-in-time pieces of trauma. How? There are a lot of ways but Samantha’s favorite way is of course, breathwork!

Allowing breathwork to free the trauma stuck in our bodies

Are you ready for a little pop quiz?

  1. What connects the mind and the body?
  2. What is the only thing that allows the two to be effortlessly integrated with each other?

If you answered the breath for both questions, you’re right!

Breathwork helps free the trauma stuck in our bodies by allowing us to access the trauma. 

The breath is able to surpass those protectors we build up that I talked about above and by surpassing them we’re able to really see and FEEL the trauma. 

Now something Samantha said that I really loved was, “those traumas don’t need to be figured out through the mind they just need to be felt. Our trauma just needs to be felt. We feel it so that we can heal it!”

Now something I wondered was about the emotional responses that probably come up for a lot of people when they’re doing breathwork because of its ability to allow us to feel and heal. 

Samantha encouraged us that the emotional responses are common but that they aren’t something we should fear. 

“Let the body do the work. That is one of the greatest gifts we could give ourselves is just fully allowing the body to do the work.” 

Remember that on the other side of feeling it is healing and freedom.

The impact breathwork has on our physical health and life expectancy

I asked Samantha to share with us a few ways that breathwork impacts and supports physical health. 

The first thing she shared was how interconnected emotionality and physicality are extremely interconnected (holistic psychiatrist, Dr. Ellen Vora shared about this in depth in her episode, that you can check out HERE). 

“So much of disease is because we’re jacked up emotionally” Samantha exclaims, which as you know from reading above is that stored trauma in the body making itself known. 

So the first way that breathwork really supports our physical health is because when we feel and heal those emotional wounds, we often also solve a lot of physical health ailments because those ailments were the body reacting to the trauma stored within it and not getting healing or attention.

The next way would be that when we are practicing breathwork we are doubling our lung capacity which of course strengthens our lungs. 

James Nestor; the author of the book, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, writes about a two decade long research study of 5,200 people that showed that “the greatest indicator of life span wasn’t genetics, diet, or the amount of daily exercise as many had suspected. It was lung capacity.” 

When we strengthen our lungs and increase our lung capacity through breathwork we are also:

  • Strengthening immunity
  • Improving blood flow and circulation
  • Decreasing inflammation

Breathwork also allows us to intentionally put ourselves in a sympathetic nervous system state and then go into the parasympathetic nervous system state. Most people in this day and age have a very hard time getting into a parasympathetic nervous system state which we need to be able to do. Samantha explains it like this:

“The problem with most people is we’re just riding our fight or flight sympathetic nervous system without it ever shutting off which is why most people have this low level of chronic anxiety which is extremely unhealthy to constantly be in that place. When we can use the breath to push ourselves into a sympathetic nervous system state so that it can stabilize back into the  parasympathetic nervous system that is wildly healthy and wildly healing.” 

How to get started with breathwork and how to implement it into our daily lives

The goal of the Whimsy + Wellness podcast is to make the world a happier and healthier place and so I never want our interviews and content to be just something someone reads or listens to but doesn’t implement. 

Because of this, it was really important for me to ask Sam how we can realistically implement breathwork into our daily lives. 

Her response was so encouraging:

“I’m a big believer in experience based transformation meaning when and if we have an experience that truly changes us at the core, we will want to do more of it. And that is exactly what breathwork does. So while I need accountability and discipline to do my financial budgeting, I need zero accountability to do breathwork because the ROI on it is so great.”

So friend, try it just once! Give it an open minded, open hearted try. It is so powerful and impactful that you’ll want to implement it into your daily life.

Breathwork is also something that you see and feel the results from instantly. 

There are plenty of things that we know we should be doing and we know make us healthier and happier in the long run but it’s hard to see a difference as soon as you do it. With breathwork, the results are truly instant which for me encourages me to continue doing it and prioritizing it because there is a cost to how I feel when I don’t do it.

Samantha has recently made HOW you implement it into your daily life super easy! Her Pause Breathwork App! 

Pause’s mission is to unite all of humanity by helping people breathe, feel, and heal. They’re passionate about people all over the world having access to breathwork at all times which is and why they created their new app!

You can get a 14 day free trial of Sam’s breathwork app HERE

The pause breathwork app has sessions for every skill level, time availability (you get to choose anywhere between 3 minutes and 45 minutes), and desired outcome! I.e. open up your heart, clear your mind, discover your intuition, tap into gratitude, release anger, and so much more.

A guided breathwork exercise!

During the episode, Samantha walked us through a minute long guided breathwork exercise. It was my first time ever doing breathwork in this way and I can’t even explain how good it felt. When I opened up my eyes after the minute was up I felt as though I just woke up from a full 8 hours of rest. If you’re interested in trying it out, jump to minute 45:20 in the interview below.

Rapid fire closing questions

At the end of each episode I ask all our guests the same set of rapid fire questions. 

Here are Samantha’s responses:

  1. What would you say is just one way your topic of breathwork can make the world a happier and healthier place?

“It reconnects us back into our truth, back into who we are and that is what makes the world a happier place; when we are all connected to who we are.” 

  1. What is something you do for yourself each day for the simple fact that it makes you happy?

“Go in my cold plunge! It looks like a hot tub but cut in half and instead of hot water, it’s at 40 degrees and I hop in for about 5 minutes every single day, I freeze my tits off, and it makes me feel amazing.”

(PS. Check out episode 2 of The Goop Lab on Netflix for an incredible episode on cold plunge and breathwork from the “IceMan” Wim Hof! If you found this blog interesting you’ll love it.)

  1. What late night snack makes you happiest?

“I should be sponsored by this company because I talk about them all the time but it’s called Honey Mamas. It’s the BEST chocolate EVER. They have all of these beautiful flavors like my favorite, lavender and rose, they have amazing flavors but it’s super healthy and organic. It’s just amazing and my favorite thing.”

  1. Where can listeners find you and stay connected with you?

Follow along on Instagram @samanthaskelly

Listen along to Sam’s podcast: The Sam Skelly Show

Get the breathwork app

Become a trained breathwork facilitator

Episode Resources:

14 day free trial of Sam’s breathwork app

Become a trained breathwork facilitator

James Nestor’s book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art

Bryon Katie’s book – Loving What Is

Sound Meditation for Manifestation from Wayne Dyer

Want to pair some Whimsy with your breathwork practice? Here’s what we recommend:

Eeek yes, we have a sticker pack!!! Aren’t they the absolute cutest?! Grab a pack (or two!) and keep all for yourself, hand out to friends, or leave places for encouragement to strangers! Either way, they’re going to result in happiness – guaranteed! Plus each sticker pack purchase helps us continue to make the Whimsy + Wellness podcast – so thank you!

This crystals for calming set comes with 5 crystals hand chosen specifically for, you guessed it; calming!! Pair these with breathwork if you’re wanting to do some inner healing!

Allow this clear quartz cluster to help you better connect with your intuition! It’s the perfect size to hold in your hand as your do your breathwork exercises!

We’ve carefully matched gemstones and essential oils to help you unblock your chakras and experience greater energy flow in all parts of your life with this  breathtaking chakra set. Pair them with breathwork!

Let’s stay in touch! Make sure you’re subscribed to our show and follow Whimsy + Wellness and Whimsy + Wellness Podcast over on Instagram!

Thank you so much for reading this post from the Whimsy & Wellness Podcast brought to you by Whimsy & Wellness and hosted by Meg Ryan! If you enjoyed it and learned something please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and subscribe so you never miss an episode. Your single review makes a bigger impact than you know, so thank you!

I'm Haylee!

Haylee is the CEO of Whimsy + Wellness and the brains behind the business. She has her hand in every area of the company…from product creation to supply chain solution to online marketing. When she’s not looking at spreadsheets she’s mom to Mason, Posey, and Golden. Her kids inspire her to run a company that values community over competition and people before profit.

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