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  • Mark Sutton

Breaking Free: Breathwork and the Transformative Process

For over 20 years I have been a breathwork practitioner, I love breathwork I find it incredibly beneficial for my Physical, emotional and mental health. For over 5 years I have been teaching Tantric breathwork and as I move into a specialised form of Trauma Therapy: Biodynamic Breathwork (the Biodynamic Breath and Trauma Release System) now begin to teach and practice in this system.

But what is breathwork? It is a general term for a therapy that utilises breathing exercises to improve mental, physical, and spiritual health. It has its roots in the ancient eastern practices such as Tantra, Yoga, and Tai Chi but incorporates western psychology techniques, body work and talking therapies and really came to prominence in the 60s and 70s with the development of re-birthing by Leanord Orr and Holotropic breathing developed by Stanislaf and Christina Graf. This was followed by Clarity Breathwork developed by Jacqueline Small in 1991 and Biodynamic Breathwork by Giten Tonkov. In addition, there are other forms of breathwork available: Transformational, Shamanic and Integrative breathwork but all have a basic premise: restoring balance, releasing blockages and releasing energy.

All forms can support alleviation of the many symptoms associated with stress and trauma Including: Anxiety Chronic fatigue Attention deficit disorder Apnoea Depression Obsessive compulsive disorder Inability to focus your thoughts and mind Physical and emotional pain Post-traumatic stress disorder Difficulty in sleeping Hypervigilance and overwhelming emotions such as Anger Dissociation and Shutdown

In the modalities that I am most familiar with there are similarities and differences: In Tantric breathwork for example the breathing is circular (no pause between the inhale or exhale), but is slowed down and relaxed and the focus may (or may not) be on the pelvic region, it can be moved through visualisation through the body (via the inner flute or the microcosmic orbit for example) and releases blocks and allows sexual feelings to be expanded away from the genitals and into the body as a whole. With Biodynamic breathing, the breath is still connected and through the open mouth, but is deeper and stronger to charge the body and stimulate the Sympathetic nervous system to help release the trapped energy held within tissues. Tantric Breathwork stimulates the Parasympathetic and so calms and slows (and incidentally helps arousal but reduces ejaculation, which is a function of the sympathetic nervous system). Of course this is a generalisation as if you speed up tantric breathing then the intensity does increase as the sympathetic system is activated and it moves into a more dynamic form.( Interestingly at the end of both types of session it is not uncommon to see the orgone energy or orgasm reflex as described by Wilhelm Reich and Alexander Lowen kick in and waves of spontaneous tremouring flow through the body).

Biodynamic breathwork doesn’t focus initially on a specific area like, say the belly or pelvis, but is a whole body breathing. This helps me as your therapist to observe where the blocks are occurring in your body and support the release of the tension that is restricting the breathing. To illustrate this, for myself and many others one of the areas most constricted is in the region of the diaphragm: just below the ribs. For me this is typically associated with emotional protection and manifested as an inability to exhale: I was holding onto myself through a particularly difficult time emotionally. My healing occurred when this tension was released during my last period of training in Poland and required a deep touch to open the diaphragm. The results of this were felt immediately, I could feel the whole of my chest open as repressed emotions were given full expression and I felt more alive and whole than I had in many months. Similarly with clients, when release is supported, the breath can physically be seen moving into previously constricted areas of the body as they open up.

In addition to connected breathing both Tantra and biodynamic breath encourage conscious vocalisation, movement and emotional release as a way of unfreezing stuck responses so the modalities are similar but different in their focus. It is not uncommon for me to use techniques from one modality in the other modality to support the people I work with in the most effective way. Two differences are apparent though: in Biodynamic breathwork touch is a valuable resource to aid release and so are TRE (Trauma Release Exercises) to induce neurogenic tremouring in the body which is invaluable in trauma energy release.

Some people, when first starting breathwork, are surprised by the ease with which shifts occur and the feelings they have afterwards. Some are worried about the physical sensations, particularly a tingling and the hands cramping: It is a known phenomenon called Tetany and is associated with hyperventilation. But as regards hyperventilation, Graf says that the traditional concept is obsolete and has to be revised. The tensions that develop typically leads to culmination and resolution with continued breathing. A biochemical situation in the body occurs that helps old emotional and physical tensions associated with traumas to emerge. This situation actually represents a unique opportunity for healing as the unconscious material with strong emotional charge emerging is the material is most ready for processing. In my personal work with clients I have observed that hyperventilation associated with anxiety results in breathing shortening, becoming more rapid and appearing in the chest region and by skilful guidance can use this to release energy in small amounts without the client becoming overwhelmed: A process know in somatic therapies as Titration. It is important to to work with a certified practitioner as they will have the necessary skills and experience to guide you through the process.

Breathwork then presents a powerful means of healing and transformation, it also can introduce states of ecstasy and bliss and is an essential component of spiritual practices such as Tantra, Buddhism and other eastern practices by allowing us access, via the body, to our essential selves and through that to our spirituality. Whatever the reasons for wanting to experience breathwork this modality needs to be experienced to be understood. If you would like to know more or are simply curious, then please contact me.

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