I've often wondered about the power of landscape to move us - romantically, spiritually a and subtly. Some places just feel low key, others a bit dark or eerie, others just very bouncy and alive. So it is the case with any of the ridges running of Gulaga. Our new venue for the retreat is on a ridge running down from the mother mountain. Powerful energy, just like the previous venue. Expect the unexpected!
Breathing is a part of our whole bodymind. A spontaneous breath, that is, a breath which is full and free, helps us to establish a flexible centre, a place from which our energy remains even and self-nourishing. When using the breath in breathwork sessions we are attempting a reset point from which we can move more gracefully through any discomfort (yes that includes all types of feelings). I've recently been trying a Kriya breath on YogoGlo which really clears out my brain first thing in the morning. (9 mins of short sniffs in - through the nose, and 8 short sharp sniffs out) will leave you feeling very different!
Breathworkers can often get caught up in the question of 'if someone hasn't cried then they have not had a proper session'.
Whilst it not essential to express tears in a Breathwork session, they are a good sign that pent up tensions in the body are being released. I just came across this article by Chris Wright arguing that talk therapies in themselves cannot heal the deeply embedded toxic feelings.
'In traditional therapy we learn to counter dysfunctional issues with new, healthier attitudes and behaviors. Armed with increased self-awareness and greater understanding we can learn to develop healthier ways of thinking and acting as an adult. But does increased understanding and insight into inner dynamics and changing our behaviors actually heal the original painful feelings that lie buried deep inside? Unfortunately, repressed emotions are not resolved by learning new understandings. Otherwise the universal answer to healing our insecurities and purifying our consciousness would be simply to read widely or even get a PhD in psychology. We know, however, that regardless of your level of understanding or the sophistication of your beliefs, the underlying churning of these repressed feelings continues deep inside the brain. What does heal then? The nervous system must have a natural, innate mechanism for resolving inner stress. ' (Chris Wright)
What would that innate mechanism be? Mostly crying, shaking, shouting. Letting go of toxic feelings. That's why Breathwork can heal deeply.
Spiritual bypassing frequently presents itself as an opportunity to fast-track spiritual progress, a shortcut through delusion to enlightenment The real delusion here , of course, is the very idea that one can actually cut corners in spiritual practice. All of our attempts to dodge the messy world of difficult relationships, unpleasant emotions, and whatever else we would rather avoid only sidetrack and obstruct us, eventually generating enough suffering to draw us back to the steps we skipped or only partially took - of honoring , digesting, embodying and integrating the essential lessons in our lives.' Robert Augustus Masters "Spiritual Bypassing' One of my favorite reads last year.
Image taken from LSD psychotherapy by Stanislav Grof (1980)
Life in the womb can be as emotionally varied and complex as life outside the womb. This is what people report after Breathwork sessions. But how is this so? Medical science says that we can't actually remember life in the womb or our birth. There is no way it can happen because the cerebal cortex of the newborn is not complete, it is not myelinized (as it is called), and therefore no memory recording function is available to us.
So in a Breathwork session clients report oceanic feelings of bliss (a good womb) or a toxic womb (environmental toxins e.g. tobacco or alcohol) or a 'toxic' emotional environment.
So whilst Freud and the psychoanalytic movement tended just to focus on post-natal biography and the Freudian individual unconscious, discovering the perinatal aspect of ourselves process opens up a major door to healing distortions in our nervous systems. In my own case, I uncovered lots of repressed rage, even though on the outside I was a very nice guy. I traced this back to my high forceps delivery and being 'forced' out of the birth canal.
So when we undertake Breathwork, we can tap into some 'unremembered' areas and bring it up for processing and healing.
A major component of a breathwork session is lies in the realm of sensory experience. How do I experience my body in a non-ordinary state of consciousness?
We can feel tingling, changes in body temperature, tetany (pins and needles/numbness), subtle changes in the amount of energy in the body and not-so-subtle energy changes. In terms of my own early breathwork sessions, I had a lot of pain in my abdomen. Very intense spear like pain. This continued on for a least six or seven breathwork sessions where it gradually lessened then disappeared. From my reading it was related to some trans-personal story (past life or ancestral form of being wounded - literally!). This pain no longer occurs during my breathwork sessions.
Sometimes I have had sessions where I have felt totally leaden. Like I can't move my arm off the floor. Like some heavy tranquilizers have entered my system and I'll never escape them. But it does pass. This could be read as revisiting and integrating the drugs that crossed the placental barrier during the birthing process. A drugged mother generally also equals less quality bonding with the mother, hence less ability to bond with adults later in life.
Sometimes we just need to move our bodies. Thumping the floor, shaking the legs, moving the arms upwards, untwisting the neck. All these somatic responses are perfectly valid in a breathwork session.
So in summary don't be inhibited what your body wants to do in a session.
What are some of the things that we can find out in a Breathwork session?
According to one of the leaders in Breathwork, Stanislav Grof, the main categories of experience are;
When we explore a deeper, more connected breath style, what can often arise is feeling of numbness. This is generally read in Breathwork as the surfacing of psychological patterns of control.
Wilhelm Reich in the 1930's delivered his theory on "character analysis" in the body. His main tenet was concept of material from a patient should be enlarged to include not only the content, but also the form of the patient's communications. Reich was convinced that the non-verbal behavior of the patient - his look, facial expressions, dress, bodily attitude - was not only underestimated but often completely overlooked by many analysts.
Additionally, Reich emphasised an early concept of Freud's. When Freud first studied hysterical patients with Josef Breuer in the 1880's, he used hypnosis. He found that unless a traumatic event was re-experienced, not simply remembered, under hypnosis in all its emotional vividness, there was no alleviation of symptoms. (M Sharaf 'Fury on Earth' 1983)
As a Breathwork practitioner, whenever people complain of feeling numb or frozen this is a good indicator that a major release of emotion is not far away. This is where Breathwork is very good at by-passing the defence mechanism of the muscles and fascia - and allows deep feelings to flow. Once the emotional tension is released there is more room for 'streaming', and feelings of pleasure and joy are much more available to us when return to our ordinary state of consciousness. If the client cannot move past the feelings of numbness, then bodywork sessions may be indicated to help break down the body armouring.
There are many items in our culture that are great at holding back dammed up primal feelings and energies. Marriage. Laws against murder. Cultural norms about how to be civilized in public situations. All these are necessary at a level for a functioning society. But when our inhibited culture over-reaches into almost every aspect of our daily thinking patterns, we tend to get many neuroses arising. Dammed up sexual energy or rage are two examples. During Breathwork session, some of these feelings may be touched upon. They are welcomed.
We don't have to be 'nice' all the time. Some people are very shocked that such feelings are even residing inside themselves. Just acknowledging that they are there and speaking it clearly within a group setting can be enough to help relieve any deep internal tensions. As Freud
noted early on in the 20th century, it takes alot of energy to be civilized.
In the world of Breathwork all feelings are welcomed, all energies are welcomed and worked through either through the breath itself or some integration work at the end of a session.
Another, perhaps more accurate, term for Breathwork is Cellular Memory Release. When we engage in the accelerated and focused breathing, what lies beyond the initial "getting into the groove" phase is often unknown. You can choose to have an 'intention' for a guided result in a breathwork session, however, this is not essential. Most of the time I find it more useful to allow people to have no preset agenda. This allows more space for 'left field' to enter the session. As we deepen into the space of surrendering during a session, the body can let go and release bodily pain and emotional pain,clearing the way for more bliss to enter into us.
So what sort of experiences can we expect? The main elements are;
Breathwork is a modality that can offer very quick access into a non-ordinary state of consciousness, which can then be translated into less anxiety or neuroses in everyday life. Next blog I'll be discussing how what occurs during a group breathwork session and what I'm looking for to ensure clients have the most rewarding experience possible.