Breathwork is a practise that involves different techniques of breathing. Hyperventilation and linking the inhalation and exhalation breaths during meditation and psychotherapy are such techniques. It is believed that these different forms of breathing are essential in reaching alternate states of consciousness.
Breathwork is thought to play a very important role in reducing stress, and in battling insomnia and depression. Moreover, sustained breathwork meditation techniques have been found to have psychological, spiritual, physical and emotional benefits.
Breathwork is a term that can refer to yogic Pranayama, Tibetan Tantric Tummo, and Buddhist Anapanasati; spiritual practises that have contributed to the modern Western therapies. However, modern breath-orientated therapies are also said to have been influenced by psychotherapy, and the human potential movement. In addition, there is the work of two practitioners, Leonard Orr and Stanislav Groff, which has had a major impact on modern techniques of Breathwork.
Rebirthing Breathwork stemmed out of Leonard Orr’s work, and the term was first used by Orr to describe the subject in his book, Rebirthing in the New Age. During various experiments with breathing techniques, Orr discovered that the practise of particular procedures triggered the resurfacing of memories of birth. Furthermore, he also came to understand that by reliving these memories through connected breathing, he was healing the trauma of birth.
Therefore Rebirthing came to refer to the technique that reverses the traumatic effect of human birth. Rebirthing-Breathwork practitioners believe that the trauma suffered by a child in labour has a profound, unconscious effect on that child’s psyche, perception and experience of life. For example, if a child has been delivered with the help of forceps he/she may be in the habit of relying on other people to get out of destructive situations. The premise behind this notion is the belief that in addition to cerebral memory, a human being also possesses cellular memory, which is the memory distributed and contained amongst the body’s cells, tissues and organs.
Practitioners also believe that Breathwork is important because human breathing does not supply enough oxygen to the body, and consequently tensions accumulate, and are suppressed. This is the cause, they state, of all physical and mental illnesses, which may easily be cured or prevented by the practise of Rebirthing Breathwork techniques which work by detoxifying the body and simultaneously releasing such tensions.
Another breathing technique similar to Rebirthing is Holotropic Breathwork, a psychotherapeutic approach to healing, developed by Stanislav and Christina Grof. Holotropic Breathwork allows the individual to access several states of consciousness, with the aim of heightening self-exploration in order to help the person facilitate his/her psyche’s natural capacity for healing.
This practise is derived from modern consciousness research as well as Eastern spiritual practises. It is a technique that involves five elements: evocative music, group process, intensified breathing (so-called hyperventilation), focused body work, and expressive drawing. It is typically practised in groups.
General Breathwork Examples
The most basic Breathwork technique is easy to learn yet has a major impact in reducing stress and anxiety. The individual, sitting or standing simply relaxes his/her shoulders and head, and breathes deeply and slowly in through the nose. After holding his/her breath for a moment, the individual slowly releases the breath through the mouth. This is repeated at least three times, and works by heightening the individual’s awareness and calming the mind.
Alternate Nostril Breathing, used in the practice of yoga, is another breathing technique. It is a method that is believed to stimulate both parts of the brain simultaneously, in order to create tranquillity and balance in the body. The individual here, places his/her thumb on his/her right nostril and breathes in deeply from the other while counting to four. The breath is held for a while and then released through the right nostril while the individual counts to eight. The same process is repeated using the other nostril, and the cycle is practiced three times.