Below is an account of my experience with breathwork over 18 years or so. I can’t remember all of my individual experiences from each session but I have thought about what I wanted to share and the experiences that stood out the most are below.
What is Breathwork?
For a detailed explanation click here but basically it is a method of breathing with the aim of releasing trauma, meditation, altered states of consciousness or just for relaxation. There are different types of breathwork with differing belief systems, methods of breathing and techniques. For example Leonard Orr’s Rebirthing method is nasal breathing into the upper chest. Sondra Ray suggests mouth breathing. Holotropic Breathwork has a different style again.
Some of these beliefs and theories are very out there – like immortality (wtf!). But each to their own. For a while I submerged myself into it all seeking answers and entertained a lot of it.
I was brought up Catholic, Sunday schools, communion etc. and hated church. In my teens in high school I developed an interest in the bible. Looking back now I needed something to keep me going – I was extremely depressed and confused with little support or good structure in my life and feeling very alone. I feelt like I was lost in a tunnel.
Despite my families strong and at times hostile objections I developed an interest in the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I needed some type of answer to how I felt and what life was about and guidance. I felt I had little support and nurturing anywhere in life. Religion seemed to provide me with what I felt I was missing. I explored and submerged myself into the religion for 4 or so years.
However, I was so unhappy! I wasn’t feeling free or “special” at all. I I was becoming more and more suppressed inside – a part of me sought freedom. I was almost completely controlled via guilt shame and indoctrination. I was also figuring my sexuality out at the time – mucking around with men without anyone knowing. JWs are very homophobic in their writings and beliefs. I was closeted, and then feeling like utter shit while going to meetings wondering why I felt so different and alone.
Looking back now – thank fuck I was gay! In a way this saved me from many religions and belief systems. This part of me was at the time just a tiny weak voice saying I need out. I need freedom. I just left and severed all my ties. I had just enrolled in some further studies and this is what I needed to give me the strength to make the cut.
New Age Crapola
I then developed an interest in all things new age and psychic. I had always liked things like telepathy and psychic powers (from reading comics) and it all seemed interesting. From one belief system to another, eh?
For about 4 or 5 years I looked at all things in the new age world. None of it really made sense looking back – there is so much contradictor and its all fairly airy fairy – full of lost souls and bullshit. Its a fun and an accepting world though. As I was never into drinking or partying to me this world was more interesting and I had some direction again.
Trying to figure out my health, and my life, was my goal. My IBS was getting worse it was literally crippling to me. In my 20s I was started passing huge amounts of mucous for weeks at a time. I don’t think I had regular bowel movements for years. In fact it would be almost a 8-10 years before my bowel movements would normalise to some degree. Until then I had days of mucous, diarrhoea, pain, itching, bloating and depression. I just kept on going to college or to work while in pain. Its just what I had to do. My work didn’t suffer although I did, and so did my social life.
On a side point I never knew that most people didn’t have the health issues that I did. I had always had tummy aches and so forth. I was even in hospital when I was young with stomach pain. But I though everyone suffered like I did until a doctor sent me for a barrage of tests and told me I had IBS.
The beginnings of Breath
I was introduced to a few breathing style in my early 20s.
I was interested in a healing technique called Ki Force healing. Through this I met some people and introduced to a breath technique. I can’t remember what this exact method was called. The seasons were not that productive and I had many session experiencing physical pain and confusion. I gave up after a while. I felt something though but I felt I was only on the edge of something but nothing really made sense or happened.
I then had a session with Clare Belton. I had no idea what to expect but my session was similar to my other breathing sessions however she managed to move me through the pain – I found out it the pain was called Tetany – when you resist the breath the body may experience pain particularly felt in the fingers and mouth (and for me in the stomach/abdomen area quite strongly). She had me hit pillows and breath quickly in a certain way and bam! I was sobbing my guts out and the words that popped out were something like “My grand mother was the only person who loved me.. sob sob sob” and I was feel in sorry for myself deep in grief. This session took a lot out of me. I wouldn’t be able to continue with Claire as she lived the opposite side of the city to me. I did over the years have maybe 5 or so further sessions with her.
I then had some breath sessions with a woman named Kym. She was a strong willed person who introduced me to weekly sessions as part of a breathwork / touch group. This was particularly confrontational and I had stomach aches every time I went until I got home.
I never felt I got a lot out of breath work at this point as a lot of it didn’t make sense to me. I was still trying to figure it all out. I did read a lot of information and learnt a lot about birth trauma and other things which made sense to me. I was born premature and I started reading about how this can affect ones life and health. A great book was Birth and Relationships by Sonra Ray. I would read it and feel triggered reading some of the chapters – particularly the pages on premature birth. I was very drawn to the material. But breathwork still didn’t really make sense to me in an experiential way.
I also had some session with a woman named Makita who was Maria at the time. She was very kind and helpful to me but I still didn’t really “get it”, so I stopped.
I didn’t go back to breathwork for many years. In between I found Body Electronics which would help me develop a different understanding of myself and my pain. Ill blog about his another time.
Return to breathwork
After many many years of B.E. (or Pointholdings) I returned to breathwork. At the time I was in a very stressful and mis-managed situation with my at the time workplace environment. I was suffering physically under the stress and I chose to continue with breathwork if at all just for the relaxation. Jules had studied breathwork with Sondra Ray and I had several session with Jules. She worked with affirmations and asked lots of questions based on material Sondra Ray had written in some rebirthing books. The sessions were relaxing and I still had pain in my stomach during the sessions but the tetany was a lot less. My relationship with my pain and my thoughts and feelings was different.
Months later after working through that stressful situation at work I commenced a 10 day rebirthers training in Queensland. This was an experience in itself. I would like to say it was all awesome but a lot of it was not. I wouldn’t pay to do something like this again. To me Leonard Orr was not who I expected. Many of us at the retreat were divided by the experiences of the retreat and lack of teaching we received. Someone at the retreat tried to justify this due to his spirituality being more “advanced”. I am a lot wiser now. I did have some interesting breath experiences and without going into all the stories behind each session, after 10 days:
- My breath shifted from my stomach to my chest. In breathwork this is the belief that one has worked through their birth trauma and achieved a breath release.
- My new breathing pattern shocked me at first – my chest felt alive and was moving all the time. Looking around and noticing that other peoples chests didn’t move – it was like – are you alive????
- Constant discomfort and pain in my stomach/belly is gone. I can now wear belts and clothing without that awful pain or need to get out of tight clothing – very profound for me!!
- Peaceful and blissful experiences. My relationship to my breath and myself was certainly different to that of my 20 year old self.
- little tetany or if I developed some I moved through it quicker rather than resisting.
My IBS improved again (since B.E). It was up a notch from where it was if that makes sense. But as it has always been for me – 1 step forward 2 steps back.
I was having probably the toughest time in my life after I moved interstate. My existence was an issue. I was unable to find work and it seemed like no one wanted to hire me, know me or help me out despite my 15 years experience in my industry. I hit rock bottom.
It was enduring, tiring and stripped me down until I felt like nothing. I was in utter despair. I was literally screaming into pillows every day and wanted to rip my hair out or hurt myself. I felt like I went unstable for a few weeks. I had no money. No work. I was suffering considerable mental and financial stress as I had a mortgage but limited savings. My savings were going out the window paying my monthly mortgage, food and the commuting I needed to do. I couldn’t receive any government financial assistance as I owned a property and I wasn’t living in it. I had fallen through the cracks. This period of my life was awful. I didn’t know what to do.
Alone in a new city, depressed and seriously contemplating suicide for weeks, nothing seemed to change no matter what I did. I was receiving lots of advice from the few people I had met. These people happily gave advice and made it seem so simple. I hate advice. I really just needed people to just listen to me and encourage me, not give advice. I was feeling shit. I know how to look for work. I had worked for 15 prior successfully. Surprisingly my IBS was not a huge issue in this period. I did have weeks of mucous on maybe one or two occasions over the next 2 years but other than that my digestive health was much better than in my 20s.
I was able to secure good accommodation thankfully. One morning I was in bed and once again was in apathy – I couldn’t see a reason to get out of bed. What was the point? I was planning on buying a rope and was imagining where and when I would “do it” but while vividly visualising my death and what it would be like to struggle for breath and die I suddenly felt the warm pumping blood in my veins as if my body body screamed “NO”. I realised I wasn’t quite ready yet and felt almost disrespectful to my body. Not ready to go yet. This was a turning point for me.
During these fist few months of “shit” I somehow pulled myself together enough to develop a plan manage the stress while still trying to seem upbeat while looking for work (that was a lot of acting).
To help me regain strength and resist the stress my plan was to stop looking for work (strange i know). Instead for 2 weeks I focussed on me. I did my own breath session every day. Hours of affirmations and positive thinking and the Work of Byron Katie to challenge all my stories including everything I was doing in case it was all crap.
I still screamed into pillows. I exercised as much as I could with the money I was able to spend. I walked and found the cheapest gym i could $3.50 a casual visit. I ate cheaply mainly rice and milk. And every now and then I took myself out for lunch and a movie. Even though I didn’t know when I would get money again I thought – well I may die tomorrow might as well enjoy some food, my walk, the cats, the flowers, the library etc. It was really hard somedays watching everyone who seemed happy and cheerful driving around in cars and buying things which I felt I may never do again. I still felt really mucked up but I had direction. I read as much as I could to stay positive and did what I needed to do to feel good. Some of what I read or did was in hindsight rubbish or unhealthy but I had to do it to get though.
One day during this low period I was rebirthing myself in a bathtub with a snorkel, head down in a hot bath that I had a extremly memorable experience. I tried this for a few days but couldn’t stay underwater for very long and maintain the breath – its a connected inhale and exhale without pausing. The idea is to breath uninterrupted for up to an hour. But I kept getting up and stopping after 10-20 minutes due to discomfort and resistance to manning the breath.
On this occasion I had a phenomenal experience. Suddenly the resistance gave way to feeling like God is killing me. I was hysterical and really submerged in this feeling. I sat up and kept breathing through it for what must have been 20 minutes while balling my eyes out. I kept the continuos inhaled and exhale as best as I could but also applied some techniques from Body Electronics – look for thought (memory – when have i felt like this before) – feeling and word (expressing words and thought patterns outwardly and mentally).
I did this for 20 minutes or so until the feelings subsided. I was really shocked and out of it mentally. The memory had felt like I was very young and and realised that god would judge me and I am a sinner.Nothing clearer than this but lots of religious thoughts were about me the next few days. And of my parents and their own upbringing.
The next few weeks were confusing for me. Was all this stuff always there? Bubbling under the surface, in my body, backseat driving? Who knows. It was pretty intense at the time. I felt like a can or worms opened up.
I thought that I had already let go of my religious beliefs form my early 20s but looking at it now – I had not let go of the trauma. To help move through this I used the techniques of Byron Katie to challenge all these beliefs.
- It it true?
- Can i absolutely know it is true?
- How do I react when I think this thought?
- Who would I be when I think this thought?
- And finally turn it around, to the opposite, the other and to self.
I took every belief to paper and did the work.
God is punishing me became god is rewarding me. I pondered this for a while and what this meant for me. The conclusion I came to was to enjoy myself as best I could in the circumstances I was in. I wasn’t on the dole and I had time at least.
God is punishing me then became I am punishing me. I was punishing myself? This could be just as true. It was hard and shocking to think this. I can’t force someone to hire me… But I bash myself up over it.
Who would I be without this thought? I would be still here. Nothing has changed. I would still have no job or friends in this city or money. Just living in the situation I am in. But I imagined it was just peaceful. Calm.I would then spend time just doing nothing. I learnt to let go of my identity to a job. Instead I was just a person. Walking to the library. Feeding a cat. Eating an apple.
This was a daily process for a while.
Some days I still hit rock bottom. But I still got up. I learnt it was ok not not work because that was the reality for me right now I realise now that somedays we are trapped in a corner. And thats just he way it is. I couldn’t bash my head against the brick wall again. Or I could get on with what I could. This is more humbling and profound than listening to people tell me to do more affirmations or that you haven’t “cleared yourself yet” (new age denialism and crap).
There is a God, became maybe there is no god? I would sit with this for months. Could this be just as true as there is a god? I thought I had let of of my god beliefs but I think i just transferred them over to other systems instead. There was a true sense of freedom in sitting with “there is no God”.
This led to other questions regarding human behaviour and life – morals and altruism. I looked at these beliefs as well. I don’t know all the answers but for a while I just kept telling myself that I was open to the truth. I was open to change. I would just investigate my stories, beliefs and resistances. I had nothing else to do while looking for work.
I looked at so many beliefs and many view points during this period over 6 months to a year that I think I “overdosed” on it. But I felt better. The guilt of changing my beliefs was very apparent and to some would be a sine and reprehensible.
This is how it works. I was often infused with guilt and shame in my life, it wasn’t easy to look at these thoughts. Some parts of me seemed to really resist the change due to fear. But I feel I’m in a better place now in doing so.
Sondray Ray Workshop
I then did a 3 day Relationships Training with Sondra Ray. I didn’t resonate with her as I thought I would after reading her work for all these years. There seemed to be a lot of Hinduism in her teachings, chanting, gurus and masters. Her workshop had a lot of material. Some of it was interesting and fun – lot of exercises and affirmations. Some of it was meh. Saying that you can only do these things to learn form them.
She had us work a lot with affirmations and I entertained a lot of these beliefs. Im not sure I am a huge believer in affirmations due to my past experience with them.I did do them while I was really depressed but after this workshop and months of affirmations Im a bit wiser.
Listening to people crap on about the theory for years I have to be up front and honest. I don’t think they work like people claim. An affirmation enthusiast will tell you that we can change and manifest your desires with affirmations. They say that if they are not working you are not trying hard enough or not believing enough. This is when I realised how destructive those comments, and people must be.
In my experience goal setting, and positive statements may make you feel good for a time but things only change in life when they change. And many things never change. This is more humbling and honest than to say to someone your just not doing it properly. Im not saying give up or not “believe” but some times you have to suck it up or re -evaluate your goals and the reality of life.
Sometimes we live life. Sometimes life lives us. And sometimes life has other plans. I also think some peoples’ ego get carried away if something positive happens to them that they think they are suddenly ‘special’ above all others.
I believe affirmations can be helpful – can stimulate hope and provoke your resistances, for meditation and contemplating but I don’t get too carried away with them anymore.
We had three breath sessions during the workshop. I remember breathing through grief reading the death of my mother again. It was very emotional and It felt good to get it all out. This workshop was also memorable to me as I encountered a offensive and ignorant homophobic public comment from someone who I thought was an intelligent friend. Ill blog about homophobia in another post. Lets just say that a wolf in disguise revealed himself to me. When I spoke up for myself his ego only justified his comments and he refused to look at his own resistances, or keep his opinions to himself.
Im sure I hit PTSD during those first 6 months of moving interstate. I think it lasted several years to eventually work through it all. I eventually found some casual work but not in my usual industry and my life, although still hard, was not so backwards. I had some income. The depression lifted slowly but I don’t feel the same as I did before my move interstate.
I tried a few sessions of Holotropic breathwork in the last year. Its very cathartic. I once heard a woman on the other side of the room go into an evil witchy laugh. She was cackling away. I couldn’t help but chuckle. Then I would breath and would expressing anger, while others were laughing or crying. Then we were all laughing. Then we were all quiet. It’s a very unique experience. Chaotic but a strange safe environment to get it all out. Cheaper than a big night out. I would do this type of style again if not just for fun. It reminds me of the world we live in. A world full of war, joy and peace and craziness, all at the same time.
3 Years later.
I feel that I’m free of needing to believe in anything right now and I am enjoying it. Instead It makes more sense to just be myself, learn, grow, make mistakes and just let it all be. In fact I laugh and cry and the despair and dogma of religions and spirituality and how people seek it out when there is nothing in my opinion to really seek. I was there. I get it. But its ok to be just a nothing. Its humbling, and honestly more relaxing. Maybe my beliefs will change again but for now I am enjoying the peacefulness of believing in the nothingness. I found a counsellor who worked with me for a while. I really appreciated those sessions.
At this point in my life i’ve decided that it’s ok to be skeptical and that we all believe in things which are probably not true. Everything is a story. Good or bad. Maybe we are all just winging it.
I believe that I’ve learnt to see through many of my stories and beliefs. Some people can’t or won’t be able to critically look at their own trauma or have a go at cleaning their own warped windows in life. But I feel lucky that I have been able to do so on quiet a few occasions at least and the trick is to be willing.
I don’t know if I believe in anything anymore and to be honest I have never felt happier about that. I feel more intelligent, healthier, relaxed and that my teacher is my reality – my experiences, my thoughts and feelings. Not someone else’s texts books, dogma or preaching.
If I am wrong its ok. It is guilt and control that is wrong.
Do I agree with everything in rebirthing and breathwork?
No. I think there is a lot of utter nonsense or crap in breathwork. One can easily get caught up in it. You have to figure it out for yourself but I can’t say what you yourself should or shouldn’t believe in. Perhaps beliefs are an organic thing.
Is it worth it?
Yes. I do think there is value in actually taking the time to have some breath sessions and coming to your own conclusions. You can have some phenomenal sensations and experiences. I have heard people say its better than getting high. Some people find it personally extremely insightful and amazing. Other people would prefer to watch grass grow.
Will every session result in something amazing?
No. In my opinion many sessions don’t seem to do or result in anything while suddenly a session may bring up a lot of thoughts and feelings like traumatic experiences, grief, or stories. Don’t rely on breathwork for anything but if you are consistent with your sessions and maintaining your breath while in a session you will have your own experiences for what they are. Its up to you to make what you will of them.
Don’t allow others to tell you what to think, feel or say about them. Think of breathwork as “me” time – for relaxation. Give it a go if you want to. If something happens good. Let it do what it does. If not what can you do anyway? You can’t control life. My IBS definitely improved. But I can’t say it would work for anyone else.
Make sure the person sitting with you while you breath understands what it means to mind his or her own business and shut up while you are breathing. Many people think they are being wonderful and great by constantly giving advice. Most of my interesting or profound sessions I have had were with nobody sitting with me or the person sitting with me saying little or even nothing. They simply sat with me and encouraged me to keep breathing for the hour without interfering. Some of the most frustrating sessions I have had are by people who constantly give advice, telling me what I “need” to work on. Its quite disrespectful. Its even worse when these people can’t see that what they are doing is potentially harmful. Many people in breathwork are simply acting out their own pain and stories. Its a learning process for all of us.
Do I hate religion?
No. I do think there are positive and negative aspects to all belief systems but I don’t believe in preaching, judging others, misogyny, hypocrisy and homophobia. Some of the most happiest and intelligent people I know don’t believe in anything. This chart is interesting. Some of the most miserable but most self righteous are usually religious or new-agey. Including breath workers.
I do forget at times where I have come from. I still bloat and don’t “go” regularly with constipation but I don’t struggle every day like I used to. Im certainly not in daily pain. Im not saying I’m completely “healed” but I’m definitely different. I think better.