Breathing Work, Breathwork, Breathing Exercises, Breathing.
What’s the difference?
You can learn to positively effect every aspect of your life and transform your way of being into an increasingly joyful and nurturing existence in space and time. The foundation for this is in intentions, commitments, habits, food choices, internal cleansing, environment choices and the way you breathe.
It is going to be helpful in the future to think of basically three schools of breathing: 1. breathwork, 2. breathing work, 3. breathing/pulmonary/rehabilitation.
Pulmonary rehabilitation is what you get from the hospital.They are masters at keeping people alive in the surgical arena. But due to their audience being largely comprised of sick people, they rarely get opportunity to work with optimal breathing techniques, exercises and nutrition. So their clinical research is centered around illness instead of wellness.
Breathing is hopefully just “natural” effortless breathing. Breathing work is more about the mechanics of the way you breathe. Breathing exercises can be both breathing work and or breathwork. They both include specific things one does to effect specific changes.
Breathwork or connected breathing is more about the Energetics as related to altered states of consciousness, spirituality and rapid personal transformation. Each contains aspects of the other.
You might say that breathing work represents the body, and breathwork the body/mind/spirit, but we know that the body and mind and spirit are not separate; to work with one is to work with the other. It is a matter of priorities; energy creation and distribution. What are the goals and needs of the breathing person.
I classify the breath in five major categories. There may be many more levels or sub-levels but this is as far as I have gotten at present.
Passive; Semi active; Active; Extra-active; and Super-active. There is something of an energetic hierarchy to this. From receiving passively (Reiki) to actively doing it by oneself (Opera singing, Rap, or Heavy metal shouting/screaming). Some schools of the breath include all these levels and often advocate their school as the superior school, i.e. Secret or Magic or the "this" breath or the "that" breath.
All systems I’ve come in contact with need to add key breathing pause and reflex insights that are the basis for effortless lung volume increase, diaphragmatic rise (excursion) and deep relaxation.
The Major categories of Breathing from a volitional perspective
Passive would be walking through the forest and not doing anything with the breath whatsoever. The trees breathe. The plants breathe. Everything in life has a pulsation, an expansion and contraction. Even the entire earth expands and contracts approximately two feet each day.
Walking down the beach with the ebb and flow of the surf and all those wonderful negative ions. Totally relaxed body positions that speak to an unhindered inhale and unobstructed energy pathways. Majid Ali might call this Limbic Breathing.
Passive exercise positions such as the reflexive breathing in The New Optimal Breathing Kit and Secrets of Optimal Breathing Self Help Manual soon to be published in early 2009 and proper chairs that facilitate a bigger, easier breath.
Imagine the breath as it ebbs and flows like the ocean surf. Watch the body breathe as in a breathing meditation. You do influence the breath just by watching it as in Vipasana™, or even keeping your eyes open.
That’s why it is more accurate to measure someone’s breathing than to have them do it themselves – this is a good way of exercising for focusing and concentration. My favorite breath observing exercise/meditation is The Watching Breath™, a four thousand year old Himalayan practice.
Here we consciously trick the body to create a natural breathing reflex that allows the rib cage to open more readily than it would by trying to effort the response. This technique is extremely calming and can rehabilitate a non existing pause (inhale, exhale and pause is the natural breath cycle).
This has tremendous implications in health and longevity matters as it actually increases breathing volume and ease and the “breathers” can be easily trained to do it; providing they are flexible enough in the rib cage. It is the type of exercise that needs to be introduced into the hospital pre surgical and recovery wards. See the New Optimal Breathing Kit. to be published early 2009.
Hatha yoga may be included here depending on the stretch. Actually Yoga is probably represented in all the levels though I am not familiar with any in the semi active category. Weight trainers, some “hard way” martial artists and barrel chested public speakers and emphysema victims may have difficulty with breathing reflexes but they are well worth the extra time needed to develop them and let them guide the workouts and Katas..
Also techniques that press on the ribs that precipitate an exaggerated breathing reflex. Bodywork, massage, chiropractic, acupressure kinesthetic sensing; how the breath feels and noticing its changes and subtleties, expansions and contractions that result from slight changes in movement or posture.
Middendorf, Speads, Rosenwork, Dennis Lewis's Authentic Breathing and first and foremost The New Breathing Development Fundamentals series and the New Secrets of Optimal Natural Breathing™ manual speak to this level.
Conscious control of the breath to create and direct mostly gentle and manageable energy for self healing or specific methods of communication as with regular speaking. Extending the exhale, extending the inhale, holding the breath, and breathing coordination. Removing the blocks in the throat caused by breath holding.
Most yoga including pranayama, chi kung (Qi Gong), asthma and emphysema techniques. Bioenergetics, Yoga, Tai Chi and Chi Kung.
NOTE: When you try to take a deep breath as with many breathing “exercises” you actually tighten the rib cage a little or a lot and restrict the easy in-breath. This can create breathing problems over weeks and months of repetition. The breathing tests help you gauge your progress or digress.
Some Qigong and pranayama techniques such as chanting and breath of fire for high energy creation, experience, containment and guided or controlled expression. Singing, both classical and popular as with the Bel Canto school; voice coaching and public speaking. Special techniques for removing leg, pelvic, belly, solar plexus, chest, sides, back, throat, and jaw blocks or energy excesses to natural full self expression.
This involves what I call “cathartic breathwork”. High intensity connected breathing to create radically altered states of consciousness for the experience of “breakthroughs” of emotional stuckness and mind bending states of high intensity energy ranging from enlightenment, ecstasy and incredibly rapid growth transitions to stark mind splitting terror. Included here are Reichian Therapy, Rebirthing, Radiance Breathwork, Holotropic Breathwork, Radix, Shen, Vivation, and Optimal Breathing’s “Advanced Working Breath”.
Due to the opening up of deep emotional issues that may need professional counseling and processing, this work necessitates a skilled facilitator and preferably one with many, many years of training and or a professional mental health background including working with the breath. Gifted non-academically trained facilitators exist but are a rarity.
Al of the above influence endogenous (internal cellular) breathing and exogenous (external) breathing which are whole separate subjects in of themselves and not a part of this article.
A recent addition by colleague and world class breathworker Denis Ouellette.
"Dear Breathwork Friends,
This is a well done article on the limitations of cathartic breathing that appears in the latest edition of Breathe Magazine, a publication based in the U.K. published by a colleague and friend, Robert Moore. (He has printed several of my articles.)
This article, which refers to my PTSD article, "Getting the War Out," is by Austrian psychotherapist, Wilfried Ehrmann. I have scanned this from the magazine to share it with all of you, and for you to use as you see fit in your trainings and breathing work.
The author makes a very important point that needs to be well understood by all breathworkers, that it's not the intensity of the breathing or of the emotions that make a good session. The true goal is the relaxation, so the body can heal itself slowly and safely, under guidance and care.
There are many ways to work with the breathing, and if bringing up the intensity of it, it must be done advisedly and gently, especially when there has been trauma and injury still locked in the past and in the body.
It's the reason why we have developed Integral Breathwork as we have, and it shows the forward moving evolution of breathwork practice in the world. And why cathartic breathing should be considered part of the experimental past as a sometimes non-productive way of using the breath.
It's good to see the breathing community, mainly via psychotherapists in Europe, agreeing with what Mike White and I have been concluding here in the states with Integral Breathwork. We assess and correct the breathing dysfunctions first, and focus on fuller, slower, more relaxed, diaphragmatic breathing. This smooths the way for the healing to take place.
Wilfried Ehrmann was a keynote speaker at this year's Global Inspiration Conference (GIC) in the U.K., a worldwide gathering of breathworkers sponsored by the IBF. Mike and I presented at the 2006 GIC in Canada.
Enjoy the article... and thanks for being a part of our breathwork family.
Pass it around to anyone who wants to learn about proper transformational breathwork.
Gratitude to the author, Wilfried Ehrmann, for his great work in Austria!
Cathartic Breathing & Its Limitations
Editor: Some schools in breathwork focus on creating intense emotional experiences as a way of healing. This article, by a keynote speaker at this year's GIC, looks at the value and the limitations of this approach.
Why Does Intense Breathing Cause Intense Feelings?
One explanation for the often dramatic results that can be achieved through intensive breathing can be found in the fear centre of our brain: the amygdala. This small organ, the size of an almond, situated deep down in our brain, is developed in the third month of pregnancy and works as an accurate storage of all events that caused fear and emotional overwhelm.
It works totally unconsciously and has no reference to chronological time. This means, for instance, that the amygdala stores the memory of a barking dog I perceived as dangerous at the age of one, without taking a note about the time. So, the same fear, with the same intensity as I had experienced it in early childhood, is produced when meeting a barking dog in an adult age.
The task of the amygdala is to react within a very short time to sensory data from outside that indicate a dangerous situation. This is why the connection from the ears to the amygdala is extremely short. A signal that is coming in from the ears needs to jump over only three synapses to reach the alarm center in the brain, and these three jumps do not need more than eight milliseconds.
Consequently, the amygdala is able to set off the complex stress reaction immediately by activating other brain centers, mainly the hypothalamus. Thus, an overall change in the whole body, including intense breathing, is triggered. All the body's resources for "fight or flight" are mobilized so we can face challenges in an effective way.
Intense Breathing and Fear
In a breathwork session, we usually start with relaxing the body. It is important for the client to let go of obvious muscular tensions, so that the breath can start to flow easier and deeper than usual.
Then, the breathing can be intensified by will and encouragement up to the point where the amygdala is reminded of a danger in which this form of breathing had appeared spontaneously in any former time in the history of the person.
At that point, the amygdala starts the stress reaction in the body similar to the past traumatic experience. The client experiences strange body sensations, bizarre movements, and intense feelings of fear, anger, or sadness up to the point of cathartic release.
The amygdala also connects to the other memory storage in the upper regions of our brain, the cortex. The connection is mediated by the hippocampus, which is our unconscious organizer for conscious memories.
In this way, sensual memories from the past are activated and can be experienced as images, sounds, or body sensations, which come along with the intense feelings created by the amygdala. Past situations of traumatizing power will arise and can be faced consciously until we are ready to integrate them.
The Amygdala, Memories & Time
We can understand the fact that memories come up often far beyond the range of our conscious memory storage, because the memory capacity of the amygdala reaches back to the earliest time of pregnancy.
The visual impressions that come with it may not always be accurate, since they are formed by the associative cortex, under the governance of the hippocampus. Their production does not follow a strict rule and principle, yet it can provide a lot of relevant details.
Our brain does not work like a historical scientist, who carefully separates facts from fiction, but more like a poet, who creates images with complex meanings. (This is the area where false memory syndromes can come in.)
The memories from the fear storage are provided in a different format that is simple and accurate. This information is far from being complete or objective. It is like a database with very few parameters and it focuses on detecting dangerous signals in the environment quickly and precisely. For example, if I got hit by a red car years ago, the same color in a tiny spot in my vision could trigger the original panic reaction.
Due to the early development of our anxiety memory, we can recall information about danger starting from the first stages of pregnancy, around birth, and up to the early phases of infancy. But this information is stored in simple detail, always connected with emotion, and with very limited knowledge about circumstances.
Detailed knowledge is organized by the hippocampus, which starts to develop some time after birth and matures a few years later in childhood. The data is stored in our conscious memory (declarative memory) that is situated in large areas of the associative cortex.
The memory storage of our amygdala seems to be the source for early memories that can come up in breathwork sessions. They often arise as strange body sensations or bizarre movements and evolve into intense feelings and cathartic release.
Just bringing up fearful information does not help to heal it. On the contrary, it would intensify and strengthen memories in the sense of retraumatization (c.f. Denis Ouellette: "Getting The War Out" in Breathe Magazine, #109, 2008). But if the client can maintain a relaxed state, in which the body reprocesses the traumatic memories along with a sense of safety provided by the therapist, then they can integrate the memory.
Integration means that the fear, stored in the amygdala, is strongly linked to a timeframe from the higher regions of the brain, so that the client is able to allocated the fear far back in the past, while able to experience the present as safe and trustworthy.
Here, another important center of the brain comes into play-the prefrontal cortex (PFC). This is our agent for reality checking and responsibility. It matures during adolescence. The PFC is able to quiet our fearful amygdala when old memories are brought to consciousness.
It assures us that old experience was very frightening for us, but now that we are grown up, we are no longer in danger. (This is called top-down-control.) But the PFC needs calm circumstances, because when anxiety prevails, its reasoning is set aside by the alarm centers.
One client of mine came to a breathwork session because she felt highly disturbed after a breathing session in a group, where the person who was assisting her became unsafe to her during the process and could not give her the support she needed to integrate the emotions that came up. So she needed careful attention to work through and integrate this disturbing experience.
When the right circumstances are provided, the client experiences the intensity of the emotion and feels safe enough to face it and to cope with it. She stays consciously focussed on the breathing, so she cannot be totally overwhelmed by the emotion as in the traumatic situation of the past.
The therapist is present and aware of the needs of the client, encouraging the client to experience the feelings and to stay aware of their breathing. He serves as a grounding anchor and a connecting bridge to present reality.
When daily life provides another situation that could trigger a pattern of fear that came up in the session, it is much less likely that the fear will arise as intensely as before. After some time, the person will be able to stay calm and not even think of being afraid.
Limitations of Catharsis
Cathartic breathing has some limitations we should be aware of when using it as a therapeutic method. One limit is that strong emotions from past trauma can arise too quickly for the organism to integrate them. This brings the danger of over-stretching and damaging a fragile ego structure.
This could cause severe disintegration and decompensation, resulting in psychosis. People with a fragile personality structure and a weak social background should not be guided into intense breathing sessions.
They have to become acquainted with their body and their breath in the first place. When they have learned to feel grounded in their bodies and to relax with their exhalation, they can slowly be led toward increasing the volume of their inhalation.
Another limitation can be found in the learning abilities of the amygdala. When exposed to frightening signals over a period of time without anything dangerous happening, the signal loses its frightening character-when we hear a car alarm going off every two minutes, we stop listening.
Similarly, after some experiences with intense breathing, the amygdala stops getting anxious when the breathing rhythm intensifies and the pauses of relaxation are omitted. It has learned, with the help of the prefrontal cortex, that there is no real danger in the situation.
The client has learned to integrate her fears to a certain degree and has strengthened the top-down control to tame the lower emotional center to fire off unnecessarily all the time.
We observe that most clients who come to breathwork on a regular basis, reach a level where they can breathe strongly and intensely in a connected rhythm without producing intense emotional responses or outbreaks.
This does not mean that all their traumas are healed, but that their body, including their brain, has managed to cope with the changed breathing pattern and is ready to move on from that level.
At this point, the method of cathartic breathing has reached its purpose and needs to be changed. Working with relaxing the breathing, especially the out-breath, combined with a full volume, can provide deeper levels of healing.
Still, not all issues of suffering can be eliminated by conscious breathing. We need complementary approaches to access these ailments. This can be emotional-level breathing, systemic breathing, interactive breathing, or any other approach in breathwork or complementary therapies, which open the door to the different levels of the soul.
The Drama-Resolution Cycle
Some therapists and some clients become disappointed at the point when cathartic breathing fails to produce remarkable and sensational results. As we know from wave theories, even the strongest waves cool down and disappear after some time.
When the client and the therapist associate therapeutic success with high waves, they think, after a smooth and quiet session, that something essential is missing. When dramatic breakthroughs are considered to be at the core of the therapy, with intensity as the marker for success, the lack of intensity can appear to be the sign of failure.
The therapist will transfer his concept to the client, whether it is shared verbally or not. Both, therapist and client become addicted to a drama-resolution cycle-a drama is needed to obtain freedom, so dramas have to be created to gain the benefit of a feeling of resolution.
This would be like seeking the experience of how good we feel after recovering from a severe disease. But it would not be considered normal to acquire intense illnesses just for the sake of the nice feeling we have after recovery!
If the therapist feels stressed to deliver dramatic results, she will look for new means of producing such. Ways to provide a high level of excitement and dramatic tension can be with interventions on the physical level. Applying pressure on certain points of the body will inevitably produce strong emotional reactions.
Some breathworkers claim that more breathing is better breathing. They motivate their clients for intense breathing and assume automatically (and incorrectly) that less intense breathing indicates psychological resistance. More breathing is equated with more life energy-this is often stated as dogma.
But those therapists do not consider that the level of energy that the body can withstand from our breathing metabolism does not depend on the quantity of air taken in, but on the ability of the body to integrate the oxygen. Simple measurements can show that strong and rapid breathing takes more energy from the body than it adds to it.
The question is whether any further healing can happen under such manipulative and ideological circumstances. Healing cannot be measured by the quantity of dopamine in the brain, which is likely to be high at the end of a cathartic session.
Becoming addicted to emotional arousal is bound to create more suffering and to deepen neurotic patterns. When therapy turns into a sportive exercise, it would be better to tell the client to do an hour of running instead of the session-probably giving the same or even healthier results.
Good Breathing Is Relaxed Breathing
In many cases in breathwork therapy, catharsis is useful used to open up the blocks that stand in the way of gaining more relaxation. This is, however, an episode along the way. Learning to intensify the breathing is needed and can be used up to a certain point, which is different for each person. When this point is missed, the deepening of relaxation is blocked and the craving for tension becomes an addictive pattern.
Therapy should result in weakening and dissolving patterns of dysfunctional behavior, in reducing underlying fears, and in enlarging the opportunities for relaxation in daily life. A healthy life can have its intense moments but they should not arise from stress, fear, or craving. They should be associated with joy and pleasure as in the playful side of relaxation.
A good breathing pattern is a sign of a healed body-mind system. In my view, a good breathing pattern can be measured by the amount of relaxation in the breathing muscles, and not by the quantity of air flowing in or out.
A relaxed breathing rhythm is flexible and can adjust to different situations, calming down to slower breathing when the circumstances are pleasant and free of challenge, and speeding up when things need to be done. It provides the minimum of breathing activity that is needed to fulfill the actual demands of reality.
Wilfried Ehrmann, Austria
Reprinted from Breathe Magazine (UK) Issue #110, May-August 2008.
Dr. Wilfried Ehrmann is Vice-Chairman of Atman Association. He is a Trainer for Integrative Breathwork in Austria, a psychotherapist, author of "The Manual of Breath Therapy" (in German) and advanced trainer in Hungary, Italy, and Greece. He is the author of several articles on breathwork in English and German, and has contributed to Breathe Magazine over the years. His contact email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Formed in 1991, the Atman Association is an Austrian association for integrative breathing and spiritual growth. It is a professional association of Austria's breathworkers and breath therapists. The aim of Atman is to "promote the harmony of mind, soul and body through techniques of breathing, meditation and breath therapy." See: http://members.aon.at/atman.at/.
The amygdalae (Latin: also corpus amygdaloideum, singular amygdala, from Greek, "almond, tonsil") are almond-shaped groups of neurons located deep within the medial temporal lobes of the brain in complex vertebrates, including humans.
Shown in research to perform a primary role in the processing and memory of emotional reactions, the amygdalae are considered part of the limbic system. [Wikipedia]
How long one can go without breathing (our breathing tests stats say maybe 30 seconds on average-one day being 86,400 seconds).
How long without water, (maybe 2 weeks 86,400 x 14 days = 1,209,600 seconds ) then how long with out food (breatharians -I find hard to believe but they DO have some great spiritual principles-aside perhaps 6 months - 86,400 x 180= 15,552,000 seconds). What percentage of 15,553,000 is 30?
Actually the answer is more than 99.99999 percent for breathing, not 90%, but 90% makes it too hard to believe as in hyperbole and probably not enough percentage (respect) for the idea of food and exercise.
I try to keep breathwork out of the world of hyperbole, even if some of the awesome results are possible but may or may not be probable. Science likes to control and replicate and be "dependable" ad infinitum ad nauseum.
Most breathwork often does not and can not be in control of what presents and though it greatly errs on the good side it still can present the bad. To me it needs more grounding. This aspect inspired me to co-create a new world breathwork paradigm called www.integralbreathwork.com .
With Optimal Breathing Work as a factor we try to be in more in control but without controlling. Call it advanced breathwork if you will. You out there may be doing similar work but not call it that. I rely on your integrity to discern that for yourself once you have learned more about Optimal Breathing®.
See also Dan Brule's 12 month breathwork program.
By the way, breathwork can be thought of as a form of exercise including passive aerobic. As an exercise it might be more understandable/acceptable to the "must have science" community.
OVER THE TOP EXCESSIVE AND SOMETIMES HARMFUL
My advice is to begin working with your breath by first releasing your breathing. See the below testimonial of what may occur.
Removing the obstacles to self realization and peak performance: breathing as a metaphor for living.
"I spent four days in private sessions with Michael White. My breathing was fast (23 to 28 breaths per minute) and I was having a very hard time catching my breath without using muscles in my core and shoulders to consciously draw in the inhale. My girlfriend tended to feel anxious around me and wanted to break up. Decades of breathwork and other somatic processes helped improve my confidence and joy in my life, but the mechanics of my breathing had not improved. I went to North Carolina with the following goals:
1. Improve breathing mechanism to catch my breath and breathe naturally and automatically.
2. Relieve "body armoring" from emotional traumas.
3. Have a deeper inner peacefulness.
4. Improve my relationship with my girlfriend.
5. Hike and run without inflammation in the lungs (chest) area.
6. Learn to sing in a way that sounds good and is enjoyable.
Mike made me feel very welcome and comfortable. We got right into some baseline testing followed by a wide variety of exercises and bodywork techniques. After four days, my normal breath rate was down to 10 to 14 breaths per minute (from 23-28). could take a full, satisfying breath most of the time. My inhale started to occur automatically, without using my core and shoulder muscles.
More important to me, is that my girlfriend is excited about the new me! I backed off on my running a bit with the intention of adding it back gradually being careful to avoid lung inflammation. I bought a karaoke machine and have been using it and enjoying it. I had considered myself "tone deaf" and only sang (traumatized myself) once in public as a child 40 years ago.
I have to admit that it took me several days after returning home to gradually add some of the Optimal Breathing exercises back into my routine. I realize that it will be a process to fully transform my life and breathing and heal my lungs. But thanks to Mike White, all of my six goals have started to come to fruition!"