Why Breathwork Works
Early in life we learn to suppress our emotions physically by tensing muscles and restricting the breath. Over time, this protective process becomes chronic and automatic, and we lose the capacity to experience and express emotions. The accelerated breathing reverses this suppression, allowing for the release of the long-held emotional charges. The process also reduces the primacy of the cortical functions / logical mind and relaxes psychological defenses.
In the same way that we have a force inside us that heals our physical body when it is injured or sick, we also have an inner healing force that heals our emotional body when it is out of balance. Doing Breathwork allows this inner healer to work with great power. One reason is that you are drawing the veil between the conscious and the unconscious. Another reason is that you are circumventing your resistances to healing.
Things that Happen in Breathwork
Breathwork allows access to an expanded, or nonordinary, state of consciousness. This might feel strange to you, but it is a universal phenomenon, our birthright, and one that has been experienced by most humans around the world and back through time. Not only is Breathwork a safe way of accessing nonordinary states, it is actually healthy for the body. Though the journey can be scary, especially at first, you are always in control of the process.
Experiences can be physical, emotional, and intellectual. They can include material from your history, your unconscious mind, and even your birth. They may also tap into transpersonal or spiritual dimensions, such as past life sequences, archetypes and symbols from the collective unconscious, experiential identification with animals or other life forms, encounters with various deities, or merging into the light.
Along with held back feelings, memories may emerge as well. However, experiencing old memories and emotions through Breathwork is quite different from experiencing them in real life -- not so overwhelming. It is more like watching a movie of them, because you retain your current adult ego state. Sometimes you can feel the old pain and the bliss of letting it go simultaneously. When you are in touch with old memories, you can create a reparative experience by changing the outcome – making noise and expressing when you couldn’t before, or having someone hold you when you lacked that as a child.
About 30% of new breathers will experience tetany, which can range from a tingly or numb sensation to spasms and cramps. It seems to be an indication of blocked energy or armoring. The most important thing to know about tetany is that it is not dangerous and that it always passes. If you have this experience, relax into it the best you can. You might also ask yourself, “How does this energy want to express itself?” or “What am I holding onto right now or in my life?” Often, finding a way to let go of the physical holding provides an insight into a valuable letting go that can be applied to life circumstances. If you are blowing or forcing the exhale, letting it come out naturally will reduce the tetany.
The Breathing Technique
At the beginning of the workshop, we will demonstrate a fast and full breath, and give you a chance to try it. It involves breathing through the mouth, mostly into the chest, with the inhales and exhales connected, so it’s sort of like a circular breathing. More effort goes into the inhale, with the exhale being more of a letting go. Once you get into a rhythm of breathing that works for you, you can stay with it without worrying about proper form. The main thing is to breathe faster and deeper, because that is what drives the process. The more air you pump, the deeper your experience is likely to be. So, if you feel that you aren’t getting very far after 20 or 30 minutes, increase the breathing, or ask for help. Otherwise, at the end, you could end up saying “Nothing happened!”
Some people find this way of breathing to be liberating and joyful, while others experience much resistance. If you are having a hard time, it is important to stay with the powerful breathing as much as you can anyway. In a workshop, if we see that you have stopped the accelerated breathing, we would be able to check in with you and see what is happening. When you are on your own, you will need to inspire yourself to keep going. Sometimes it’s like riding a bike uphill, and after awhile you get to experience the ease of the downhill ride. The resistance can be about many things, mostly having to do with being afraid to feel the feelings that your inhibited breathing has served to keep suppressed. If you trust the process and let go, the scary feelings will come up and you will be able to move through them, providing access to a new freedom.
When asked how long to keep up the breathing, Stanislav Grof, co-developer of Holotropic Breathwork, says, “Breathe until you’re surprised.” If you are wondering whether it’s time to back off on the fast and full breath, then don’t. When you are in the place you want to access, you will not be having this type of internal conversation. If you go into a process, spend some time there, and come back, feel free to resume the accelerated breathing. Some people go through several cycles in one session. If the music is still powerful, you will know there is plenty of time left.
As you do the breathing, you might also begin to notice, to scan, your body. Notice physical sensations as well as emotions that may manifest in physical form in your body. For example, the emotional component of neck stiffness may be anger or frustration, tightness in the chest may have sadness underneath, or nausea may be covering terror.
Again, we will have time to answer your questions at the beginning of the workshop and to demonstrate the breathing technique.