Breathwork is a powerful, body-mind practice that activates a deepening of awareness and assists conscious evolution. Breathwork might be considered as a “ritual of awareness”, a process by which we intentionally tap into the energetic potential of conscious, connected breathing and its transformative power to heal.
Utilization of conscious, connected breathing can be conducted alone, in pairs, or in groups within safe, secure and comfortable settings.
The aim of these guidelines is to be wide enough to support an extensive range of Breathwork styles/differences, yet specific enough to contain some key cohesive principles such as Method, Safety, Inner Healer, Unconditional Positive Regard and Confidentiality.
What is Conscious, Connected Breathing?
For the purposes of this guidelines document we shall be referring to the method being used as “Breathwork”, otherwise known as “Conscious, Connected Breathing”, “Rebirthing” or “Continuous Breathing”.
While some of the Breathwork school lineages have additional and unique features, the majority practices a form that includes the following primary components:
- Conscious connected breath: Awareness is focused on the felt-sense experience of breathing and there is no pause between the inhale and exhale.
- Diaphragmatic breath: The primary muscle used in respiration is the diaphragm.
The inhale is drawn from a relaxed belly and pelvic zone up through the diaphragm, into the upper chest and shoulders zone. During the exhale, the belly and pelvic zone stay relaxed, allowing the diaphragm maximum space for mobilization.
- Relaxed exhale: No effort or force is applied to the exhale (let go and let gravity do it…).
- Loose jaw: The jaw, mouth and throat are consciously relaxed, and regularly monitored. (A loose jaw triggers relaxation in the deep fascia tissue located all along the spine, thus encouraging pelvic relaxation.)
- Breath is a circular/closed loop: Breathe through the nose or the mouth, but not in the nose and out the mouth or vice versa.
Other components in the practice of Breathwork
Although these aspects may vary slightly between different traditions, the following four components may be formulated in order to give added framework, depth and direction to the breathing process:
(Please note: It is NOT a requirement to believe in these concepts to have a successful Breathwork experience.)
- Recognition and alignment with The Inner Healer and / or The Spirit of Breath
Most forms of Breathwork embrace the experience of non-ordinary states of consciousness during the Breathwork experience. This may be seen most obviously in the conscious invocation of what is referred to as the Spirit of Breath and/or more personally attributed as the client’s Inner Healer.
- The Power of Intention
Intention is a causative force behind all actions. Breathwork could be defined as conscious connected breathing with a healing intention. It can be helpful to formulate a healing intention for yourself before beginning your session. Communicating it to your partner (in the case of dyad work) is also recommended. That said, some of the most transformational results may be experienced from having no intention at all for the session…
- Sound, Movement and Music
For some breathers the use of sound, movement and music can be useful in opening and liberating the body. Facilitators may elect to introduce music at some point in the session if they feel it is appropriate. Generally sessions are conducted utilizing the power of breath as the primary generator.
- Drama vs. Discharge
Discharge designates any authentic release that happens during a Breathwork session (crying, laughing, shouting, trembling, shaking, etc.). Drama refers to a performance (sounds, words, gestures…) that may dissipate some energy but does not effectively resolve a blockage or pattern. Breathers are encouraged to recognize and engage fully in authentic release and if possible, abstain from dramatic outbursts as they hinder effective resolution and integration of trauma. During phases of emotional expression, it is important to keep the breathing rhythm flowing.
Flow of a Breathwork Session
- Preparation – Attend to inner / outer environment
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing; have water on hand, and writing material if desired.
- In a group setting, appropriate time should be taken to help make partner choices.
- Clarify if there is an issue to focus on during the session and formulate a healing intention if desired.
- Decide whether to begin the session in a sitting position (as opposed to lying down).
- Establish a clear contract (intervention protocol) between partners.
- Verify personal felt-sense of safety and security before beginning the breath cycle.
- Initiation – Establish a connected breath and maintain awareness of felt-sense.
- Activation – “Breath into” thoughts, feelings, memories, sensations etc. as they arise…
- Release – Surrender into the intensity of the experience, engage fully and maintain the connected breath as the primary focus as material emerges from within.
- Integration – Wind down with a slow, gentle breath and a period of silence, followed by a period of verbal exchange to articulate insights and understandings.
Roles of the sitting partner and the Breathwork practitioner
In a group Breathwork session conducted in pairs, the main purpose of the sitting partner is one of sustained presence; to surround the breather with unconditional positive regard, help with physical adjustments (e.g. blankets, pillows, tissues, water…), and support in any way that the breather requests (e.g. holding hands, putting a hand on some part of the body). The sitting partner is not orchestrating the session, but rather trusting the organic unfolding of it. If appropriate, the sitting partner may intervene verbally and/or by touch as per mutually agreed intervention protocols.
In the context of therapeutic Breathwork sessions, the Breathwork practitioner will usually play a more active role, including orchestration and containment of the session, strategic verbal and/or physical interventions, guardianship of the relationship dynamic between client and therapist, coaching, counseling etc.
Varieties of experience in breathwork
A diverse range of experiences may occur during a session; e.g. physical tensions released, repressed emotions expressed (anger, sadness, joy, fear, etc.), transcendental states of consciousness, visions, memories from childhood and/or birth, archetypal imagery, etc. These experiences may bear relation to the healing intention formulated for the session.
Participants are asked to respect total confidentiality with regards to all session content.
Breathwork Immersion: From Science to Samadhi. OMEGA Institute, USA – September 15-20, 2013
Guidelines for Breathwork Sessions was co-authored by the Global Professional Breathwork Alliance Board of Directors for publication at the congress, Breathwork Immersion: Science to Samadhi, hosted by Omega Institute, USA, September 15-20, 2013. Please quote “GPBA Board of Directors” as author of the document.
GPBA Board of Directors at the time of publication: Jeremy Youst, Judee Gee, Helaine Iris, Tilke Platteel-Deur, Binnie A. Dansby, Ann Harrison, Alice Wells, Jessica Dibb, Jim Morningstar.