When a small tumor was discovered on the neck of yoga teacher Yonah Offner, doctors advised removing the growth with surgery. That was fine with Offner, as long as the surgeon allowed him to use his own special version of Pranayama breathing in place of anesthesia during the operation.
"Are you crazy?" H. Michael Roark, M.D., surgeon and director of the Alvarado Institute of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery in San Diego, California, recalls saying. "I didn't think it was a good idea. I wasn't comfortable with it at all."
Offner, already a veteran of using "PowerBreathing" to avoid a root canal and have teeth filled without anesthesia, chose to postpone surgery. He tried using prayer and enlightened thinking to help shrink the tumor. But one and a half years later, it had grown to the size of a baseball and needed to be removed.
Again, Offner asked to do PowerBreathing in place of local anesthesia. This time, Roark, who had developed his own interest in alternative medicine, agreed—provided that back-up anesthesia be available in case Offner's breathing couldn't control the pain during surgery.
Last year, on April 14, a serene and smiling Offner walked into the operating room, confident he would succeed. He lay face down on the operating room table; his head was propped on a special pillow that allowed him to do the breathing. Offner centered himself by chatting for 10 minutes with a mentor who accompanied him, and they asked everyone in the room to join them in a nondenominational prayer.
Offner then began PowerBreathing. A longtime yoga teacher, he developed the technique 12 years ago and now travels the country leading workshops on the technique (www.powerbreathing.com). It involves deep, slow breathing through the nose at only three breaths per minute. The goal is to allow the diaphragm to work properly by unblocking the three lowest chakras.
"It's a specific type of breathing that gets the abdomen and lower abdomen to relax," says Offner. "Most of us are very tight in those areas, so the diaphragm can't work properly. The diaphragm is the least used muscle in the whole body."
Once Offner had the PowerBreathing under way, he raised his hand for Roark to begin the surgery, which was filmed by a local television station. "I laid the knife on the back of his neck and he did not flinch or move," Roark says. "I made the incision and went deeper and deeper."
Offner experienced a lot of tugging and pulling as Roark extracted the tumor and scooped it out, but there was no pain. "I felt like I was in a wrestling match for about an hour," said Offner. He even withstood the 1800 degrees Fahrenheit electric cautery, which decreases bleeding by coagulating blood vessels with the heat from an electric current. "When I thought there was going to be some pain coming, I went back to the PowerBreathing. It was like magic."
The operation took approximately one hour. When Roark finished sewing up the incision, Offner sat up, drank some water, and walked out of the operating room. Although there was slightly more bleeding during the surgery—local anesthetic is usually mixed with drugs that reduce bleeding—Offner's recovery was uneventful. "The skin edges bled the whole time during surgery," said Roark. "He bruised a little bit more, but he healed just fine."
Even so, Roark doesn't plan on making PowerBreathing a part of his medical practice. "Would I recommend it? No. But it is a super testimonial for how someone like Yonah can walk the walk and talk the talk. It was really amazing."
As Offner said, "I didn't do the surgery to encourage other people to do this. I did it to demonstrate that if I could do PowerBreathing in this extreme condition, imagine how people could use this in their daily lives." Anyone interested in Offner's techniques can e-mail him at email@example.com.