When stressed or nervous, we are often told to “take a deep breath”. This advice is not the cliché it would seem to be. Naturally, we take breathing for granted, but it has the potential to be a powerful healer. Few people realise that it can take one on trips better than any mind-altering drug, or that it can bring about more relaxation than any tranquilliser.
Conscious breathwork is a science that has had astounding results. It is a means of releasing stress and bringing about physical, mental, emotional and spiritual harmony. It can be of assistance on the path of self-development, the achievement of goals or healing past trauma in quick and effective ways. The techniques of breathwork are simple – anyone who can breathe can benefit from it.
Eastern practices have acknowledged the power of breathwork as a healing tool for thousands of years. Conscious breathing is the basis of many styles of meditation (such as Pranayama) and is fundamental to most forms of Yoga. Hatha Yoga, for example, employs the conscious breath to ease the body into strenuous positions, since the breath maintains a state of physical equilibrium.
Conscious breathwork has gained therapeutic application in the West since the 1960s, with Rebirthing and Holotropic Breathing becoming popular healing modalities. Breathwork is also an effective tool in working through pain or emotional blockage in such therapies as Cranio-Sacral treatments and bodywork/massage.
The Science of Breathing
The stressful lifestyle of modern society is exacerbated by the fact that our breathing pattern is unbalanced – we tend to inhale less than we exhale. Inadequate inhalation wrings energy from the body’s reserves. A balanced in- and out-breath brings about a state of physical equilibrium and optimal stress.
Conscious breathwork is a means of controlling the body’s autonomic processes such as the heartbeat and the Sympathetic Nervous System (which mobilises the body for action). The breath is also linked to the mental processes. Fast or shallow breathing reflects stress, dissonant internal dialogue and a beta-state of consciousness. A deeper and more conscious breathing pattern brings about an alpha-state of consciousness. This is relaxed and creative, allowing for greater clarity of thought.
Breathwork positively affects the physical body since it increases the intake of Prana or Chi (‘life-force energy’). Prana feeds and nourishes all living cells, and cleanses them of impurities. It has an intelligence of its own, in that it ‘knows’ where its healing energy is needed.
Breathwork and Healing
Since breathwork involves such a simple technique, anybody can do it. There is no right or wrong way of breathing, and each session is unique. Breathing may take one into deep relaxation, emotional trauma and release, or bring about profound spiritual experiences.
The conscious breathwork technique involves a form of respiration that is either deeper, faster or slower than normal (depending on the modality or the desired outcome of a session). Breathing is most often through the nose, as this purifies the energy entering the body. Connected breathing is the most conscious technique, and involves allowing the in-breath to flow into the out-breath without gaps or pauses in between.
Breathwork is safe because the client takes on only as much of a healing release as he or she can handle. The unconscious mind knows what needs to be shifted. The client maintains personal control during a breathe, since the process is internal and not open to manipulation by the therapist. The therapist merely facilitates the process and offers support or comfort when needed.
The breathwork session takes the participant into a naturally-induced state of altered consciousness. The depth of the altered state depends on the intensity of the breathing style, the length of the session and the participant’s intention. An altered state is desirable for healing purposes, since it transcends the defence mechanisms of the ego and creates a supportive space for the body.
A Metaphysical Context
The belief that physical illness reflects mental and emotional imbalance is gaining widespread acceptance. This means that mind, body and spirit are seen to be integrally linked. It follows that a healthy mind will reflect as a healthy body, and vice versa. The natural function of the body’s cells is to perform their required tasks and to continue growing and regenerating. Illness overrides this function because its instructions come from the ‘big boss’ – the human consciousness. The latter is riddled with traumas and stresses, which impact upon the body in unconscious ways.
Going beyond health and the body, metaphysical philosophy holds that all material form follows on from what we think or believe. This implies that the events and people in our lives are the symptoms of our conscious or unconscious expectation. When we heal negative thoughts, our realities can change in miraculous ways.
One example of a breathwork technique used for therapeutic purposes is Rebirthing. It is a holistic modality that combines cognitive therapy techniques with breathwork. Its scope is similar to that of conventional psychotherapy, although the method employed is significantly different.
The approach of Rebirthing is metaphysical, thus the client’s manifest reality is examined as a means of determining where psycho-spiritual blockages lie. The types of people in the client’s life, the circumstances surrounding money and career and the client’s habitual patterns of reaction are some of the indicators concerning personality make-up. Rebirthing deals specifically with developing unconditional self-love, and acknowledges the inherent innocence and divinity of each individual.
A session’s duration is usually about two hours, half of which involves discussion and diagnosis, the other half consists of the breathe. In this way, the cognitive understanding of issues is brought into the body for integration via the process of breathwork.
The breathing session is gentle and shifts energy in a non-linear way. This means that an emotional or mental ‘complex’ is shifted – like fear, for example – without every aspect of it needing to be examined. Thus, fears may be shifted energetically and physically, as opposed to thinking about and analysing them.
The Effects of Breathwork
Significant changes often take place in the client’s outer reality after a breathwork session. Since inner shifts have occurred, it is logical that external reality will follow suit. Sometimes the client may feel that nothing significant happened in the session itself, but changes in personal relationships or the easy achievement of goals may occur immediately afterwards.
Anybody can benefit from breathwork. It is not like a state of hypnosis or meditation, which some people feel they cannot enter. The uniqueness of breathwork lies in the fact that the participant does not need to think about the process or to concentrate on maintaining it. Conscious breathing has an intelligence of its own, which takes over and makes for a powerful healing experience.
The 6-Step Breathwork Process
This Conscious Breathwork Process, a course offered by The Book of Floating Pages, is a synthesis of the breathwork knowledge, based on several decades of experience. It is a means to purify your being and to expand your awareness through conscious breathing. This programme introduces various breathwork techniques as participants benefit from the deep healing and insight that Breathwork brings.
Conducted over 24 days, the 6-Step Breathwork Process explores 6 main breathwork techniques via audio breathwork recordings as well as videos providing theory and instruction.
If you would like to know more about the content covered in this course and view the introductory video, please follow this link to the 6-Step Breathwork course detail page.
A Breathwork Exercise
‘Twenty Breaths’ is a simple technique often used in Rebirthing. It is a very effective means of becoming focused in the body and the present moment. Use it when stressed, when wanting to clear your thoughts or as a preamble to meditation.
Take four short breaths through the nose, followed by a long, deep breath. Be sure to connect the inhale with the exhale.
Repeat this set three more times, making a total of twenty breaths.
Keeping your eyes closed, spend a few minutes feeling physical sensations in the body, or the emotions that may arise. These are clues as to where work may be required.