For a top-notch facility which prides itself on using the latest modalities and therapies when it comes to tackling addiction, you could say Aurora Recovery Centre is going old school for its latest partnership.
Well, more specifically, breath control.
Already partnered with important recovery capital assets like Soberlink, an industry leader in remote alcohol monitoring systems, and Indigenous Awareness Canada, a well-respected First Nations educational and awareness training company, Aurora announced recently that it is joining paths with Breath Control.
Founded by a man born and raised on a farm near Russell, Manitoba, Breath Control is a husband-and-wife company that helps complicated people learn about the simple and therapeutic art of breathing. People like those seeking recovery.
The idea is to restore individuals to functional breathing and give the client the opportunity to respond intelligently to situations rather than react emotionally. When it comes to the topsy-turvy world of early recovery, that is a great notion.
“It’s all about connecting with the breath, the body, and the mind,” says Tyler Huston, 38, a certified breatheology instructor who, along with wife, Alex, are the faces and voices of BreathControl.ca.
Based in Nanaimo, B.C. and operating in person and virtually all over the world, Huston has a background which fits perfectly with Aurora. His father is in recovery. He has worked in two of the same treatment centres at which Aurora Recovery Centre president and COO, Steve Low, was employed. From driver to support staff, from intake to the nursing desk, Huston, formerly a paramedic and Licensed Practical Nurse, cut his teeth in recovery circles before making the switch to follow his breath. And yours.
Tyler Huston had the typical Canadian farm family life. In Rossburn, Manitoba, the Hustons looked after the cattle, wheat, barley, and alfalfa crops, and Tyler learned to snap pucks into top corners at hockey rinks all over Manitoba, dreaming of making the big leagues. Summers in Fraserwood, near Gimli, Hockey Night in Canada, work hard, play hard. In 1996, his father’s substance use issues led to a family move south to Arizona. The Winnipeg Jets had just left Manitoba, and Arizona was now home to the Coyotes. One of his sisters lived in Phoenix, so it was a logical and timely move for hockey-focused Tyler.
“It is a hell of a lot nicer walking into a rink with flip flops on than it is a full Ski-Doo suit,” he says of his Arizona years.
By the time he returned to Canada, painfully shy of his goal to reach the NHL, Huston was ready to settle down and head back to school. A close friend of his had a near-death experience on a Vancouver Island arena hockey bench at just 29 years old. A defibrillator, installed just a week before, saved his friend’s life that day. Not long after, his older sister experienced heart failure at age 40. She survived, but the two near losses profoundly affected Huston.
“It literally shocks your system,” he says quietly.
He chose nursing with an eye on learning all he could about pulmonary issues. But there was a secondary angle: LPNs are often hired by treatment centres, and with his father in recovery by then (he now has 28 years of abstinence), Huston knew he had found his calling in medicine.
He met Alex, they married, and his time in nursing college flew by. He learned the ropes in two different addiction treatment centres. He finished school, becoming an LPN and also an emergency medical responder paramedic. He worked in a Nanaimo hospital, in emergency and in surgery, triaging and prepping patients.
“I was also the only LPN on the Code Blue team, the emergency response, in the hospital that I worked at, so we would go flying in for any cardiac or respiratory distress.”
Behind the scenes, he became a father for the first time. Then again. With the natural abundance of water around Vancouver Island, he also discovered a love for freediving, a sport with no scuba tanks or apparatus, just the air you inhale and control. Learning all about breath control changed his life. A lightbulb went off.
“After I started doing that and getting into it myself, I started to see the benefits happening in my own life. Like I started to see my eyes getting whiter, my skin getting brighter, my conversations with my wife were growing and I had more patience with my kids, and with coworkers. I just started to see how this breathwork and how paying attention to the breath began to tie everything together.”
The sport of freediving is also the realm of one Stig Severinsen, a Danish man and four-time freediving world champion who also owns a pair of Guinness world records for swimming with one breath — one under ice, the other in a tank full of sharks. In 2012, Severinsen held his breath for 22 minutes at the London School of Diving, a record which stood until 2016. Severinsen has since retired, become a best-selling author, achieved a PhD in medicine, and founded Breatheology, an online platform focused on teaching optimal health and performance via breathing, breath holding and mental training techniques. Severinsen focuses much of his work on military veterans who suffer from PTSD and occupational stress. And it is Severinsen who began mentoring Huston.
“He had read a paper I had written on how I was implementing breathwork to help soldiers and veterans and your everyday person with addiction and trauma, and he invited me to Denmark to do some training with him,” says Huston.
In 2017, Huston and his wife landed in Vejle, Denmark for training. Four years later, everything has changed. The nurse, the EMR, the new freediver has become the teacher.
At Aurora, Huston is training staff weekly, and patients every six weeks. He is educating them all on the main components of breathwork, from the biochemistry and composition of blood to the biomechanics of ventilation and functional breathing patterns, somatic breathwork and psychophysiology, as well as psychology and motivational techniques.
In short, he is teaching the science behind what yoga practitioners, meditators, and athletes have known for centuries: Breathing is key to healthy living.
Through his training with Severinsen and Breatheology methods, and then with another world-renowned breathing practitioner, Patrick McKeown, founder of the Oxygen Advantage Program, Huston has broadened his scope of service to many outside the recovery realm. Huston has worked with emergency workers and health care professionals like first responders, military personnel, and law enforcement. He is the respiratory coach for Team Canada’s entry into the 2022 Invictus Games, slated for The Hague next April.
Breath control can improve so many aspects of life. From poor posture to sleeping patterns, from anxiety to PTSD symptoms, from sports injuries to, yes, addiction.
And the kid who grew up on the farm near Russell, who cut his teeth in the treatment centre realm, Huston continues to give back to those seeking recovery, first and foremost. Recovery requires all the assets you can find, he says, and establishing a connection between the mind, body, and spirit is a fundamental part of the process. He and Aurora’s staff are doing all they can to introduce patients to the concepts which will provide the necessary steps to healthy, happy recoveries.
“That awareness and understanding of the nervous system, that is what creates the very connection,” Huston says of his work with Aurora patients.
”While that is happening, the patients are expediting their withdrawal process. It really is that connection first off. As they begin to establish and find out what self-awareness is, that connection leads to other connections, like connection with their roommate. Or maybe their counselor. Their group. That is how the web kind of splinters out. That awareness, that self-confidence, to know what is going on with them. They can actually put themselves in their own shoes.”
Whether those shoes are high performance athletic running shoes, rugged army boots, divers’ fins or household sneakers, breath control relaxes and grounds them all in an old school science of how to breathe to clear your mind, free your spirit and make intelligent, not emotional, decisions. And when it comes to recovery, that is a winning formula.
By Jeff Vircoe