I haven’t had a reason to yell in the morning since my boys were little. Those occurrences were more of this variety: “You’re going to be late for school!” “Get in the car!” or “Where are your shoes?” So, when I heard about a class that encourages you to start your day screaming, I was curious.
The platform, called Open, is an in-person and online mindfulness studio that includes breathwork, meditation, and yoga instruction. Some of the breathwork classes include screaming. I’ll admit, the classes weren’t what I expected—which is a good thing. I envisioned jumping right into a scream. Instead, you build up to it with several minutes of active breathing, crescendoing with a guttural yell.
While there are several options, the class I took lasts 20 minutes and includes rounds of breathing exercises. You take two quick inhale breaths in through your mouth—the first to fill air near your belly, and the second to the top of your chest near your heart. Then you release the air with one exhale, also through your mouth. The exercise is done in quick succession, which after a while made me feel tingly and lightheaded.
A round lasts about five minutes. At the end, you take a deep breath in and hold it for 10 seconds. Then you exhale and hold empty lungs for another 10 seconds. After the second round, the breath-holding lasts 20 seconds, and after the third round, you hold your breath for 30 seconds.
The screaming comes in after the last round of active breathing exercises. You take a deep inhale and then let out a scream. Repeat as many times as you want.
The class I took is led by Open breathworks instructor Ally Maz. “This type of class is what we call upregulating,” says Maz. “It lifts the heart rate and works on endurance for performance and mental clarity. It’s similar to [Dutch fitness guru] Wim Hof breathing exercises.”
Active breathwork can help you release stress at the beginning of your day and connect to your body. After the third morning taking the class, I started to feel more in control of my day.
But why the screaming?
Active upregulating breathwork is energizing. Screaming can help you get out emotions you may not know you’re holding.
“When we hold the classes in person, people will scream, and then they’ll either cry or laugh because it’s like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve been holding on to that thing,'” says Maz. “There’s a transformational moment. It can be scary to hear your voice, especially as a female because we’re not always in touch with our rage or have a lot of ways to use our voice in the world. We can be hard on ourselves and may be holding onto guilt or shame. Stuff starts bubbling up, and screaming is an energy release.”
I didn’t cry or laugh, but I did feel lighter after the scream. Eventually, I increased the number of times I screamed because it felt empowering.
Other forms of breathwork
Breathing—without the screaming—can also circumvent stress. I also used the platform to do quick classes that are designed to help calm you. “Downregulated breathwork practices slow the heart rate and help you recover, rest, and sleep better, which is also helpful for anyone struggling with anxiety or panic,” says Maz. “It’s all how you manipulate the breath. Different patterns have different outcomes.”
Maz calls this type of breathing a sigh of relief. Inhale through your nose, and exhale through your mouth. “That stimulates the vagus nerve, and it sets off a neurotransmitter that essentially goes to your heart and says, ‘Hey, heart, slow down,'” she says. “The breath shifts us from the fight or flight state back into parasympathetic, which is the rest and digest part of the nervous system. It helps open the lungs and reset the body. So many of us are sitting on our computers, typing, and not focusing on our breath.”
Breathwork is one of Open’s most popular types of classes, says founder Raed Khawaja. “You can actually discover a lot when you start to pay attention to how you breathe,” he says.
The more breathwork practice you do, the more you remember to take a deeper inhale, adds Maz. “I feel more at ease being in traffic, or when the stress response comes in,” she says. “I know if I can slow my breath down, I’ll slow my heart rate down, and stimulate my vagus nerve.”
I tend to be a breath holder, either when I’m feeling stressed or in deep focus with work. I don’t realize I’m doing it until I release the breath. Getting in tune with my breathing felt very foreign at first, but it’s definitely a valuable tool I can use on demand when I start to feel tension.
So, after taking classes for a week, will I keep up the screaming? Probably not every day. Maz screams weekly and says it helps her feel calmer in her life. This seems like a cadence I’ll try.
“I would call it a safe avenue to get that emotion out of your body,” says Maz. “Then it’s not coming out in road rage or at your partner or being suppressed with alcohol or numbed out through binge watching TV. It’s a really healthy way to get some of that emotion out of your body.”