On Breathwork . . .
By Robert Ross



“The breather may experience body tingling that excites into ecstatic joy; waves of sexual pleasure surging everywhere; a profoundly deep relaxation; powerful insights into the nature of life; visions of deep, mystical content; or an unforgettable spiritual rebirth.”
 From:  “Breathing, Expanding Your Power & Energy” by Michael Sky

Breathwork is bizarre! One minute you might be in a state of deep relaxation, brought on by a specific breathing pattern, and within a millisecond you are glimpsing visions of a past life or having birth memories. And breathwork promises a lot — deep relaxation, the release of negative emotions, the healing of traumas, and the ability to connect with higher levels of self. Breathwork promises a lot . . . promises and delivers!

 I guess what intrigues me the most about working with the breath is its potential. As a tool for healing, and as a tool for personal growth, it just may be limitless.

My journey into breathwork began more than two decades ago. I was taking a personal growth seminar. One of the exercises in the seminar had us lying on the ground, on our backs. We were following a simple meditation presented by the seminar leader. After many minutes in this relaxed state I noticed my breathing pattern shifted, and then suddenly, my legs and arms (and face muscles) began to involuntarily cramp up — curl up, would be a more accurate description.

To make a long story short, within a matter of seconds, I was in the fetal position, back in the womb! At the end of this exercise, the seminar leader brought us back into the room so to speak,  instructing us to become aware of our surroundings and follow our breathing. As my leg and arm muscles had involuntarily contracted, they now began to involuntarily release and relax. I lay there on the ground in the most profoundly peaceful state that I had ever experienced in my life. And, as I breathed in oxygen, I noticed that the air flowed into my lungs and continued on down through my lower body, my legs and out of the bottoms of my feet. My lungs were, for a short period of time, bottomless.

In the seminar, the following weekend, the experience repeated itself. Months after this incident, I was to learn that my “in the womb episode” was a “spontaneous rebirth,” an event that was brought on by a shift in my breathing pattern. The breathing pattern I experienced is referred to as circular breathing or more commonly,  rebirthing.

Breathwork is . . .
Breathwork comes in many forms, from taking a few deep breaths before giving a public speech, to the more focused pranayamas followed by some yoga practitioners. For those interested in the personal growth and healing aspects of breathwork, there are four modalities I am aware of, currently making the rounds in personal growth circles. These modalities are Transformational Breathing, Holotropic Breathing, Rebirthing, and the Art of Living’s breathing techniques. Each of them is described in more detail on their website but the following excerpts highlight the essence of their philosophy.

Transformational Breathing 
( ) “utilizes a specific breathing pattern that clears past repressed traumas, revitalizes the physical, and transforms emotional and mental traumas on the cellular level.”

Transformational Breathing can be experienced in a group setting or by utilizing a Transformational Breath facilitator. After experiencing and working with the breathing pattern, one can work on one’s own, follow a CD, or utilize a Transformational Breath facilitator for a private session.

Holotropic Breathing ( ) developed by Stanislav and Christina Grof in the mid-seventies, is a technique that “includes deeper, connected breathing, music, art, and trained facilitation.”

Holotropic breathing is taught and experienced in a group setting, in which individuals are paired off, working on a reciprocal basis. Certified facilitators provide information, instruction and support during the process. Holotropic Breathing utilizes evocative music, art and “focused energy release work.” Private sessions are also available utilizing a trained facilitator. The goals of Holotropic Breathwork are “wholeness, healing, and wisdom.”

Rebirthing ( ) is “a breathing process that increases our ability to feel and resolve the effects of our past. It involves breathing in a full, free manner (as guided by a trained Rebirther); the result is an increase in the level of physical and spiritual energy in our body, thus cleansing the many tensions held there.”

Rebirthing was one of the original breathwork techniques that came out of the personal growth renaissance of the sixties and seventies. Rebirthing can be experienced in a group setting, individually, or utilizing a facilitator.

The Art of Living ( ) offers a basic course in which three breathing techniques are taught, which when combined together “help to release stress and the toxins related to stress.” The cornerstone of the Art of Living course is a powerful yet profound breathing technique known as the Sudarshan Kriya.

The techniques taught through the Art of Living can be practiced on one’s own, or, if there’s a group in the community, in a weekly get-together, referred to as a “satsang.”

Over the past twenty or so years, I have had an opportunity to experience all four of these breathing techniques. I’ve found them all to be beneficial and appropriate to what I was looking for at the time. And, in each case, Rebirthing, Transformational Breathing, etc., I heard anecdotal stories of healings, transformations and of insights gained, that went way beyond the ordinary.

Breathwork has a draw for me, for not only what it promises, but for the adventure of it. You’re exploring territory on an emotional, physical and psychic level, to which one ordinarily does not have access.

For those new to breathwork, one of the best introductions is Dr. Andrew Weil’s “Breathing, The Master Key to Self Healing,” which includes two cassette tapes and a booklet. Dr. Weil offers an explanation of the benefits of breathwork and a series of eight breathing exercises.

Dr. Weil sums up the value of breathwork in the booklet that accompanies the tapes by saying  “If today you can be aware of breathing for ten seconds more than you were yesterday, you will have taken a measurable step toward expanded consciousness, deeper communication between mind and body, and integration of your physical, mental and spiritual functions. I can recommend no single more powerful — or more simple — daily practice to further your health and well-being.”

I would have to agree with Dr. Weil. Breathwork truly is a powerful and simple way to further your health and well-being!

Well . . . I think I’ll turn off my computer now and unwind by doing a little breathing.

Robert Ross can be reached at: 

(c) Copyright 2003  by Robert Ross, all rights reserved

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