I believe that nothing is ever merely a coincidence. When you are in alignment, when you are following your path, when your body or your mind or your soul has a need, things will fall into place in such a way to make whatever it is that you require at that moment transpire.
And so it was with my exploration into breathwork. As always, it was timely and the universe’s innate way of responding, when you ask.
So what is breathwork and why was I in search of it?
Breathwork is a recent addition to the practice of breathing. Every bodywork practice, modality and activity—be it yoga, Qi Gong, osteopathy, physiotherapy, high performance sport, meditation, massage, tantra, birthing or free diving—uses breath to assist or enhance.
The term breathwork started to gain recognition and a following in the new age movement and psychotherapists in the 1960s, many of whom were experimenting with powerful LSD drugs to induce a heightened state of being and finding physical methods to help release trauma and emotional states, increase awareness, and achieve spiritual enlightenment. Czech-born American psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, in particular, pioneered a unique technique in the late ’60s called Holotropic Breathwork, applied in self-exploration, healing, and psychotherapy, without the use of drugs. Has authored many books on his ground-breaking method, trademarked in 2015, and widely practised around the world.
I have been a yoga practitioner since my early twenties and I have experienced the physical and mental states that can be brought about from combinations of breathing and yoga poses. I also trained as a Pilates teacher, which uses a different technique of breathing to aid the physical movements and help the body to achieve a deeper stretch or pull deeper into the muscles or the joints.
I was also seeing a physiotherapist to treat an old back injury that had resurfaced. In my initial consultation, she saw my C-section scar and her examination of it brought about a surprising emotional reaction. I could not touch my scar, and felt strange and fearful when I rubbed my fingers against the scar tissue. Her recommendation was to focus my breath into this area, directing oxygen into my abdomen to aid in the release of trapped trauma and to heal emotions that come with it.
When my children are upset or they find it hard to relax before sleeping, we breathe together. Long, deliberate inhalations through our noses and slowly exhaling out of our mouths.
I had already been practising breathing techniques for a long time when my exploration into breathwork initially began as I started to read and learn more about conscious parenting—which is another article altogether. Almost every practitioner I came across recommended using breathwork techniques to help release our own childhood traumas so as not to apply it when parenting our own children. For instance, focusing on the breath and using specific techniques when we are feeling frustrated with our children and so on.
I am a practical person and a doer and this motivated me to find a breathwork practitioner in the city to see how and if it could help me.
In my search, I found many online breathwork courses, classes, sessions, training as well as apps to download. But I wanted a face-to-face experience and as I mentioned previously, ask and you shall receive. Within 24 hours of searching, a friend happened to recommend consulting Michael Lim at OhanaJo Studio.
Michael learnt his technique, rebirthing breathworks, in Rishikesh, India, and combines it with yoga and eastern esoteric philosophy. In my group session with him, we used the chakras as the theme and incorporated seven cycles of rhythmic breathing. The session lasted 90 minutes, but I have been told that it can go for much longer with more experienced participants. Part of the session is spent on preparation, incorporating visualisation exercises and stretches, before lying down and then being guided by Michael through a programme of breath sequences accompanied by instructions and visual prompts.
After 10 minutes or so, there was a distinct feeling in the body, almost like wind rushing in your veins and a lightness in the head area. Scientifically, this is the result when the endorphins in the body—the feel-good chemicals that are naturally produced as a result of the formula of breaths (short, long, shallow, deep, hold etc), the release of carbon dioxide and the additional oxygen inhaled deeply in your system—start to have a profound effect. As a result, our blood starts to become more alkaline, which helps activate the nervous system, specifically the vagus nerve, which affects our emotions and the body naturally goes into response mode.
This is when the “magic” happens—the transcendence, the release, the healing. I felt it as a rush in my body, a surge of energy that made me feel all the parts of my body, and become more aware of every part of me. At the end of the session, when the other participants in the group shared their experience, a few spoke of a tingling feeling in certain parts of their body, the need to cry, a feeling of wanting to laugh. One person said she felt tight and unable to move for a while, before feeling like she wanted to drift away into space …
Whatever the sensation, we all experienced a buzz, and afterwards, a mental clarity and connection between the mind and the body.
Depending on who is facilitating the breathwork session, he or she should be able to explain and enlighten the participant on the feelings and thoughts that come up, in relation to the theme or intention of the healing. In my session, it was related back to the chakras. There were a couple of participants who felt tingling in the area between the eyebrows, which is representative of the ‘third eye’, and could be an unblocking of that person’s intuition and openness to things beyond what we see in front of us.
We will definitely start to see more breathwork practitioners in the next few years. It is gaining more popularity in the west and there are many books about the subject, breathwork retreats, and organisations dedicated to teaching it and training practitioners. It’s becoming as well known and acceptable as reiki as a healing modality and seems to have gained a lot of credibility and support from healers and the medical profession.
Breathwork has now branched out to many different schools incorporating esoteric practices, somatic influences, combining with yoga, or mental and physical endurance building.
Transcendance breathwork, shamanic breathwork, holotropic breathwork, the Wim Hof methodology—these are a few of the different types that you will come across in a Google search.
Interestingly, it still seems to sit on the periphery. And there are a few practitioners who do not advertise it openly. I think this is because there is a danger of the client/patient/participant potentially entering an emotional state that may be dangerous. Sometimes deep breathing can lead to hyper-ventilation, which can potentially cause panic and disorientation.
Deep breathing can sometimes reach into our deep subconscious and bring out emotions which we have buried, experiences that we have forgotten. While it is considered cathartic and healing to bring these feelings out, we need to be with someone who is qualified and experienced enough to guide you. As with any type of activity, always check the background of the practitioner and be aware of your own medical conditions and emotional state.
Breathwork options to explore: