Updated: Nov 29, 2020
Working consciously with the breath is a very simple, yet powerful embodiment practice.
Breathwork can help us:
Get in touch with and process emotions
Release pent-up emotion and tension
Quite our minds
Love and accept ourselves more fully
Free ourselves from past social conditioning
Connect more deeply to our sense of purpose
Tap into our inner wisdom
Feel good and connected to our physical bodies
My road to a breathwork practice:
I discovered breathwork in 2011 in Venice, California in the living room of Michael Stone, who would become a major mentor and dear friend over the years.
I had been doing some pretty intense bodywork called Structural Integration (Rolfing) that realigns the connective tissue throughout our bodies and in parallel can trigger emotional experiences. As my bodywork sessions went on I began to experience a range of emotions coming to the surface that were quite uncomfortable.
As my bodyworker adjusted the connective tissue (fascia) especially deep in my hips and legs I started to notice anger, grief and sadness that seemed somehow out of place. But yet- those feeling were stored in my body unbeknownst to me and I had been carrying them around, albeit outside of my awareness. After some of the sessions, on my ride back from West Hollywood I found myself in tears. It wasn't due to the physical discomfort but the emotional unpacking that the process had started.
While investigating options for processing emotions, I came across the work of Stan Grof. His Holotropic Breathwork peaked my interest immediately. Stan was one of the medical doctors/psychiatrists who was tasked to explore a potential therapeutic application for LSD back in the1950's. His research with LSD eventually got put on hold due to changing political circumstances and ultimately the criminalization of most psychedelics in the United States under the Nixon administration in 1970. During Dr. Grof's time at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California he came up with a protocol to induce expanded states of consciousness similar to what people experienced under the effects of LSD without a substance.
Holotropic Breathwork as it eventually was called, uses a combination of a simple breathing technique plus a particular sequence of music, eyes closed and a supportive team as needed. Over the years Holotropic Breathwork has become popular globally along with other forms of similar breathwork techniques.
Holotropic Breathwork sessions are roughly 3 hours long and during that time a lot can feel like it is happening or shifting in the body as well as on the emotional level. Other shorter breathwork practices can be good to achieve similar experiences. Some sessions can have similar themes but typically each session is unique.
There is something powerful about dedicating a block of self time focused on turning our awareness inside. Breathwork is more active than meditation but less physically demanding than certain forms of yoga. Cultures for thousands of years have been using different breathwork techniques to enter into expanded states of consciousness for healing or when looking for answers. Adding a breathwork practice into the mix adds a level of depth to our healing work that I can't underemphasize. We incorporate breathwork in several of our programs.
Michael Stone - a major thought leader on the topic has a beautiful online program focusing on what he calls Neurodynamic Breathwork if you are looking for a deep dive into the work that can be done from your home. He also runs large scale in person Holotropic Breathwork events which I’ve had the pleasure to assist with for several years.