I’ve recently rediscovered the work of Fred Rogers — Mister Rogers to those of us in the States who grew up with him — and the work of his foundation as well. One of the core values of The Fred Rogers Center is ‘The Deep and Simple.’ To quote their brochure:
“Whether you are a child or an adult, substance and authenticity still have a place in this world. We develop meaningful programs that emphasize the importance of connecting with children and families.”
The Deep and Simple is such a helpful articulation of what I’ve been trying to do for a long time now: not to give you easy-to-follow-but-ultimately-unsatisfying advice, but to help you access your own Deep and Simple bits with me.
I’m gonna talk all about the ways breathwork, my regular Deep and Simple practice, has continued to shape my life, and how it can help to shape yours, too.
Listen in to the podcast below, or keep reading for the shorter, transcript-ish version.
But first! Let’s talk about your default Emotional Operating System.
We humans get a default Emotional Operating System installed long before we ever go to school or even learn to speak. As infants and toddlers, we pick up on the unexpressed emotions around us and within us. We learn to cower at loud noises, or we learn to make loud noises as a means of self expression. Bear once said something like, “I can just picture you banging pots and pans as a kid” and I was like, “YUP, that was my favorite game!” He grew up in a household in which noise was swiftly punished, and can’t imagine being able to haul out every single pan in grandma’s kitchen to bang away with a wooden spoon for hours on end.
We figure out what makes adults respond to us kindly and not-so-kindly. We learn that it’s okay to feel our feelings, or it’s most definitely not okay to feel our feelings.
I learned that adults liked me better when I was silent before I went to Kindergarten, so I did my best to be as silent and studious as possible throughout my school years. They never said, “Please be silent Kristen, we prefer you that way,” but I was emotionally intelligent enough to notice that I got compliments for sitting quietly, for paying attention quietly, for reading quietly, and for holding my big questions inside because they made adults uncomfortable.
I also internalized the message that feelings were bad, and therefore when I had feelings *I* was bad. As an Enneagram 4, I have so many feelings, which means I spent a lot of time labeling myself as ‘bad’ for the first few decades of my life: if feelings are bad, I must be the WORST HUMAN ON EARTH.
Most of our Emotional Operating System goes online before our memory kicks in, so often we can’t access its nuances via means like talk therapy. It’s both pre-verbal and subconscious.
Further, ancestral trauma can set us up with deeply held, nearly uncontrollable reactions to various stimuli. In studies of generational trauma in rats, two generations of animals cower at the sight of the tools used to torture their grandparents, even though the tools have never been used against them. Terrifying, right? No matter our family of origin, we have painful and subconscious reactions to certain stimuli locked into our DNA. The female inheritance on both sides of my family tree is enduring an absolutely joyless existence in a loveless marriage, but I should shut up about it because there are more miserable people than me somewhere else.
Soooo….how do we come into the present reality? How do we undo the damage caused by the emotional wiring locked into our DNA?
When we find a Deep and Simple spiritual practice that resonates with us, we can begin to access and update our Emotional Operating System.
I’ll use breathwork as an example because that’s what I’ve used to do the work of rewiring my patterns over the years.
If you’ve found meditation or yoga or knitting or chanting to be the way you do your Deep and Simple work, FANTASTIC. And keep going!
Breathwork is ideal for those of us who have a history of abandoning our bodies in times of stress or difficulty (see: the long journey to the body), who need a tool that’s still doable on days with low energy (see: running a business with depression), and who prefer to do our biggest work privately (see: Introverts at Work).
At the beginning of a breathwork practice, we’re making pretty big shifts with each session. We’re taking on pretty massive updates each time we do the work. It’s incredibly intense because, in Emotional Operating System terms, we’re moving from Windows 95 to Windows 10. That’s a twenty year leap in technology, minus any helpful programming notes or instruction manuals.
As we see progress, we’ll naturally have clunky bits and awkward phases. Some settings disappear or get rearranged as we continue to do breathwork regularly. We all have our Windows Vista phase, when it feels like everyone has turned on us and nothing is quite right.
Slowly, though, we get to the latest operating system. We have updates that go from build 10.1 to build 10.17; in geek terms, those are relatively small changes that aren’t nearly as complicated or major as they were at the beginning. With time we get to the fine tuning details phase, not the Throwing Out Societal Systems One By One phase.
Over time, breathwork becomes less about producing big breakthroughs and more about maintaining our day-to-day emotional wellbeing.
Now I’m gonna explain this in personal terms, ’cause that clinical ‘Emotional Operating System’ term sounds really nice and lovely and easy, doesn’t it?
We all know that updating our hard drives or computers or phones is ALWAYS going to be ‘really easy’ and only take 3 minutes…right up until we’ve been on the phone with tech support for hours, we’ve lost our license key for that really expensive software and have to buy it again (Curse you, Photoshop programs I’ve repurchased over the past decade!!!!), and we have to do a bunch of work all over again because it mysteriously vanished from existence.
It’s a real pain in the ass, and we all know it, but also we get new features and new possibilities and apps that make our lives easier when we bother to update everything.
Breathwork is like that. It isn’t easy, but it is WORTH IT.
A bigger example: a few years ago, when I discovered breathwork, I was certain I’d be depressed forever. It seemed to be a strange-but-integral part of my identity. (I wrote about it over and over, sharing the tidbits I’d learned as time went on.) My mom has been depressed all her life, as has my father. It streams down both sides of my family tree, and there didn’t seem to be any escaping it.
For a long time, I had trouble imagining a day in which I would have enough energy to shower, brush my teeth, and leave the house. I was completely seduced by despair, and I couldn’t imagine being free of depression. It runs in my family and it’s taken over many years of my life, so I’m stuck with it, right?
Breathwork helped to create space within myself to do the work necessary for getting free of depression.
It helped me find a little more energy each day. A little less fear of delving deep into my emotions. A little more freedom to explore possibilities. A little more insight into my own life, including my future. A little more room to observe and have kindness toward that sad, miserable version of Kristen who had given up on life.
And now. Little by little. Years into practicing, with the rest of my life to keep practicing…
I wake up feeling like my default is neutrality — if not joy — on any given day. If you’re used to waking up and proceeding to calculate precisely how many hours you have to function before returning to bed, as I did for many years, this is nothing short of a miracle.
After 18 years of taking a pill each morning, I’m tapering off of depression meds with the help of amazing medical professionals. (Of course I can’t promise that breathwork will be the cure for whatever is happening within you. But I can share my story, as I’ve been doing for the past decade, and trust that it will help those it’s meant to help.)
Further! I used to be triggered by specific phrases those close to me said, or slamming doors, or being unable to resolve conflict within 3.4 minutes of its start. Now, I can often hold off the emotional avalanche and articulate precisely why that avalanche threatened to start. (Not all the time, but often.)
Over the years, and because of breathwork, I’ve grown kinder and softer than ever before. I’m able to hold bigger and bigger amounts of space for people to see what they see, know what they know, and feel what they’re feeling. I have less vested interest in specific outcomes.
I freak out less about dumb shit that doesn’t matter, mostly because I’m too busy working on important things that do matter.
Finally, I’ve got some serious freedom as an empath. (If you’re a person who feels what other people are feeling, often against your own will, please check out kristenkalp.com/empath for more insights — and the Empath Beginner Kit is free when you join my email list!)
Where before I would cry because someone in the room was crying, I’m now able to hold my energy and emotions in such a way that you are free to cry, and I am free to cry OR NOT. For the first 35 years of my life as an empath, that ‘OR NOT’ wasn’t even an option.
You’re sad? I’m sad.
You’re mad? I’m mad.
Breathwork has helped me to regulate my emotional volatility — enneagram 4 here, emotions are what I *do* — in such a way that I feel out of control or like I’m ‘too much’ far less than I did in the past. Emotions provide useful information, and I’m free to engage with them, but they don’t run the entirety of the show.
This hasn’t been pretty progress.
I’ve gone into my breathwork practice with dread, despair, fear, and rage on many occasions. I’ve wailed and screamed and kicked and wept and cried so hard I did that gulping-for-air-fish-out-of-water move more times than I’d like to recall.
I’ve shouted out my too muchness and not enoughness. I’ve fought for my right to be on the planet, both literally and metaphorically. I’ve used breathwork to tame asshole brain, to go to the heart of suicidal ideations and dispel them, and to uninstall bullshit rules society has handed me over the years.
It’s been intense and awful and painful and beautiful and transcendent and weird and spunky and courageous and fearful and messy and gorgeous and WORTH IT. Every damn time.
You begin to trust breathwork to do the work you need, even if you can’t articulate what you need when your session begins. Trust means the practice stirs up less resistance over time.
And! Asshole brain has calmed the fuck down. It pipes up less now, and when it does it’s more and more obvious. When I hear, ‘You’re a no good sack of shit and everyone hates you’ internally, I wave hello to asshole brain. Good try, but that was really obvious.
My breathwork practice has beaten back asshole brain thoughts by 70% on the regular, and by about 90% on the best days. (I started writing this in November, before the move to Portland, so from a few months in the future I’ll say that breathwork has helped me to regulate asshole brain significantly. These amazing, I-beat-asshole-brain stats dip significantly when I’m sick and can’t breathe and can’t work and can’t remember my new zip code when quizzed about it on order forms. Given a few milligrams of the right allergy meds, the ability to breathe reliably, some time to learn my zip code, and the ability to work again, the stats are back to the reported levels.)
Breathwork has helped me get freer than ever, is what I’m saying. And it can help you do the same.
I can’t promise that it will be easy to start or to continue a breathwork practice. I can’t say that you’ll immediately experience magical shifts or emotional movements. I can say that every single person I know who has stuck with this practice has grown bigger, more magical, more joyful, and more self aware over time.
In a world that values dollars and prestige and awards over nearly anything else, internal progress might not mean much — but to me, growth, magic, enjoyment, and self-knowledge are the name of the game.
If you’re curious, I’d be happy to show you how to take up a breathwork practice — slowly, slowly — through The Softness Sessions.
In The Softness Sessions, I’ll walk you through an incredibly-challenging-yet-universal life lesson I’ve faced, then sit with you as you breathe. I’ll introduce the breathing pattern each time, and we’ll breathe together for increasing periods of time over six weeks. (Also I spent *months* encapsulating each lesson into a single, highly repeatable and helpful nugget of wisdom. Deep and Simple x6 sessions!)
The Softness Sessions are Breathwork 101 and would be awesome for you…
If you know you’re running a broken Emotional Operating System.
If you’d love to loosen your ties to asshole brain.
If you’re ready to create healthy new emotional patterns.
If you’re tired of letting your ‘too much’ness or ‘not enough’ness stop you.
If you’re curious about breathwork but don’t want to dive in the deep end to start.
The Softness Sessions are for you.
This is the most powerful and direct program I’ve ever made, and it’s $88. You can pay in 3 monthly payments of $29.69, so you’ve got one less excuse to skip this one.
I should absolutely charge more — and if I was a passive-income-obsessed douchelord trying to get you into a funnel and then upsell you to a $$$$$$$ program full of systems and hacks, I would — but *I want to make it as easy as possible to say yes to doing this work.*
Breathwork isn’t sexy and often isn’t fun, but it IS beneficial in the deepest, truest ways possible.
Also, my telling you all these things has no doubt freaked you right the fuck out.
I’m telling you breathwork will help you feel things, and you don’t WANT to feel things.
Most people are afraid of feeling what they’re feeling.
Maybe you live in a constant state of fear that your feelings, when felt, will cause the destruction of everything on earth and possibly take out a few neighboring planets. Imagine all-out Kali-goddess-like no-holds-barred decimation, then take it one step further, and that’s what you picture happening if you feel your rage/upset/disappointment/fear for even a few moments.
So you push the feels down. And down and down and down, growing more fearful of them all the time because they grow in intensity as you add to the not-felt pile. Life is like trying to hold a feelings-laden beach ball under water at all times, and the minute you stop actively wrestling it the ball pops up again. (Generally this popping up happens at incredibly convenient times, like when you’re grocery shopping or when a kind stranger makes eye contact.)
Or maybe you’ve learned to numb your feelings with the speed and dexterity of an Olympic athlete. You use food or alcohol or screens or [insert habit here, I won’t judge] to avoid feeling much of anything.
YUP I’ve done that, too. Numbing can mean that you’re eating a whole pie in one sitting, but it can also happen with the flip of an emotional switch. I literally said to myself, “I’m never going to feel this way again,” and shut down my heart to such an extent that I married the absolute wrong person and stayed in a relationship with him for a decade. As always, there’s no judgement for the dumb shit you’re doing right now, ’cause I’ve usually done that dumb shit myself. (Remember how my parents’ families are full of joyless, loveless marriages? I repeated that pattern, 100%. And then I chose something different. You can, too.)
Whether locked or numbed, your feelings are inaccessible to you. You’re running a clunky Emotional Operating System. <–Please note that YOU are not clunky or broken or whatever you say about yourself — it’s only a function of crappy foundational programming.
Every feeling you’ve stuffed isn’t going to magically disappear without your conscious effort, just like that old computer from 2007 hasn’t magically updated its hard drives or processors while sitting in the closet over there. <– THIS IS THE MOST FRUSTRATING THING ON EARTH BUT ALSO TRUE. Unfelt feelings and the lessons they have to teach us don’t disappear.
Breathwork can help you begin to process those unfelt bits in a safe way. Only that which you’re capable of handling will show up in any given session. You won’t have to dive into that big traumatic event in your life on Day One.
You can wade into the waters s l o w l y.
This is a process, and as you learn to trust the process — and me — more will be revealed and released.
The other option is to keep shoving and numbing forever, growing more unfeeling and fearful as the decades roll on. As Brene Brown says, “The body keeps the score, and the body always wins.”
You can access and begin to change your Emotional Operating System.
The Softness Sessions make the beginnings of that effort as gentle, enjoyable, and sacred as possible.
I’d be honored to help.
Join us now.
Details!! The Softness Sessions — i.e. Breathwork 101 — start on March 19th and last for six weeks. Each session is released to my teaching portal on Thursdays and is about an hour long. We wrap up with a live group breathwork session on April 30th.
You’ve got access to all the sessions and the live class in downloadable form. You can repeat breathwork sessions as you see fit.
BONUS ALERT: If you hop on board now, you’ll get an actual real life snail mail book/journal combo to use alongside the audio. The book is perfect for recording your experiences!
If you sign up after the 17 remaining books are gone, you’ll still get the digital version and can print it on your own. Early birds get those bookish worms! Get your spot!
If you’ve got any questions whatsoever, email me: email@example.com!
Ready to do this? Grab your spot!
“It’s not the honors and the prizes and the fancy outsides of life that ultimately nourish our souls. It’s the knowing that we can be trusted, that we never have to fear the truth, that the bedrock of our very being is firm.” — Fred Rogers
P.S. Softness is the secret.
A breathwork practice is accessible to anyone who doesn’t have significant lung problems or a respiratory illness. Being able to breathe is the only requirement for participating in class.
Since the West Coast move led me to acquire allergies so debilitating that I couldn’t reliably breathe, I repeat: PLEASE don’t attempt this if you have asthma, ongoing lung issues, or uncontrolled medical conditions that affect your breathing.
If you can breathe without issue, hop in The Softness Sessions now!