I always say we’re this treasure chest. When we’re born, it’s just pure. Then, as time goes on, we get buried underneath experiences, beliefs, fears, other people’s fears, trauma. All sorts of shit just gets buried, and we get disconnected from this gold treasure chest.


“Belly, chest, let it go!”

My hands started to clamp closed, thumbs involuntarily moving towards forefingers and middle fingers. “He said this is normal,” I repeated to myself. A numbing tingle flowed from my face down my abdomen where a deep breath began again. After another giant inhale through my chest, the air was pushed out, forcing the curve of my back flat against the yoga mat that hugged the wooden floor  that Monday night. My first time visiting 235 Hill Street.

“Keep breathing!” Rob yelled out over the music. With each laborious breath, I wanted to stop but followed his cue for the next 14 minutes until the music quieted and a countdown began.

“3, 2, 1… scream!”

With my eyes still shut tight, I let out a high-pitched scream amidst the screams. I screamed for the CEO who laid me off. I screamed for the guy who let me go. I screamed for all the questions. And I screamed even more for answers. The gongs sounded, and the room vibrated as everyone’s worries, fears and regrets bounced off the walls and echoed through the room. Once stillness set in, I anticipated answers to come. I waited for wisdom. I listened intently for instructions on how to sort through the shit I carried through the door that evening.

Getting Buried

On a Monday morning in Chicago, empty bottles lined the kitchen counter. He hadn’t found what he was looking for, even at the bottom, so, in a hungover daze, Rob headed to work to continue searching with each sales deal. Maybe winning one would fill the void left from a lifetime of playing for them on the field.

As a kid learning football in DC to Running Back and Wide Receiver at Georgetown University, football became not only his passion, but his identity. While focused on being the best player he could be, there was little time left for figuring out who he was beyond that.

“When you’re playing, when you’re doing anything you love, you’re totally engaged in the present moment,” Rob said. “And I knew if I could get back to that place, whatever that place was, I’d be happy.”

But that place, and that person, had been buried. It had been buried beneath bottles, other people’s perceptions and a traumatic experience from college he hoped would heal over time – but caused a sense of fear that would only worsen.

You Are Your Only Problem

On September 30th, I rode my bike towards the beach to attend Rob’s sunset breathwork class. As Oprah’s Super Soul podcast played through my headphones, my mind drifted to earlier that morning, lying face-down on the Crossfit gym floor at 9:35am between wall-walks. My head was mildly aching, and my body moved slow as wine seeped from my pores.

I stayed in the night before consuming 2.5 bottles of discount wine in the company of only Netflix. With each glass, I hoped to numb the sting of rejection, forget about my feelings and find comfort. Relief was only found upon passing out until the next day when my anxious thoughts were exponentially multiplied, meanwhile blaming anyone but me.

On similar days, I boasted that working out while hungover and/or still drunk was my superpower, but for the first time, I started to see it was Kryptonite. It was my way of unknowingly glamorizing a problem into a strength.

“You are your only problem,” Rob called out over the sound of waves crashing as we settled into our breathing that evening. I took a deep inhale. “You are your only solution.” I let out a large exhale.

I knew what I had to do.

Digging for Treasure

In a small pocket along the PCH in Malibu was parked a ‘92 Chevy van, gutted and built out with shelves from its previous owner, a carpenter who built them himself. In it resided a new owner had purchased a one-way flight to LA on April 28th, 2017 to build a life for himself.

“I committed to myself in coming out here, ‘You’re going to do whatever it takes to get to you,’” Rob said. “‘To get to the bottom.’”

In Southern California, the options available for self-growth are endless, and Rob took full advantage, from yoga to meditation to sober living. However, breathwork was the tool that resonated most, allowing him to dig deep.

“I went every single week, every Monday, to Jon Paul’s class.” Rob was introduced to Jon Paul’s breathwork in Chicago after a friend visited Santa Monica. A quick Google search revealed his technique, allowing Rob to practice on his own. Like an avid football fan watching the game front-row at the stadium instead of from their living room, the energy felt was unparalleled.

“It was making me feel better. The stress, all the shit, all the anxiety, all the garbage we carry around would just evaporate,” Rob explained. “It really transformed my life.” Rob soon became trained to teach breathwork and took over the Monday evening class when Jon Paul moved to Oregon in an effort to help others experience its healing effects.

 

However, on a Monday morning in June, Rob woke up feeling heavy, overwhelmed, stressed out, anxious and scared. As the class grew so did the fear to stand in front of it, and an internal dialogue played on repeat: What will people think of me?

Paralyzed by his thoughts, Rob turned to the tool that he knew, the one that had been used hundreds of times before. However, the result was a first: crying, screaming and a massive release.

Chipping away through layers of self-doubt uncovered an experience that had been buried for 11 years and lay at the root of the fear. A sexual assault he experienced in college unconsciously seeped so deep into his being that it created a filter over everything. By suppressing the incident and keeping it a secret, a constant concern of judgment had been created and accumulated over time. What will people think of me? Will they question my sexuality? Will they say mean things to me? Will they not like me anymore?

He knew what he had to do.

You Are Your Only Solution

“Over the course of the past 11 years, I’ve been dealing with a sexual assault that happened in college,” Rob said to the class last Wednesday. “And it was something that was guiding and steering my life and that I didn’t really know was the root of a lot of fear.”

The cool air met his confession under the string lights outside Ceremony Meditation, a new addition to Rob’s growing schedule of breathwork classes. The admission has become part of the introduction to each class since that eye-opening breathwork session in which a message told him, “In order to get through this, in order to shed all the shit that you’re carrying around through this incident, you’re going to open up about this in front of class tonight.”

A collection of people, each carrying their own set of fears and experiences, listened with a sense of comfort in knowing that they weren’t alone. On my 38th day of being sober since beach breathwork, I was certainly one of them.

The Gold Treasure Chest

“What stories are you creating that are preventing you from becoming the person you want to be?” is written across the top of a page in my journal from September 10th following class.

Breathwork hasn’t given me answers to my immediate questions. It hasn’t provided the words to say or the next steps to take. However, it has been a tool to figure out what I ultimately want which will lead the way.

I’m not certain what Rob has discovered in his chest; however, I have a feeling what it includes. If breathwork is the tool, he is the guide. He’s the one who holds the lantern, lighting the path, and encourages you to keep digging. With this help, I’ve realized a few things that my treasure chest holds: laughter, love and peace.

“Towards the end, I saw my eye, my eye three years from now,” I wrote in my journal. “It was looking and actually seeing. That is the person I want to be.”


For more about Rob and breathwork: robstarbuck.com | @starbuck.rob
Song in video: Levitate by The Palms
Video and photos by me