How is it ‘advanced’?
One great gift of advanced breathwork is its effectiveness in helping us to access and self-heal the emotional pain body. The emphasis on emotional release is why it is sometimes called cathartic-style breathwork. The catharsis in advanced breathwork signifies authentic, spontaneous emotional release, not a superficial, forced, or artificially-created emotional response.
Early in each of our lives, we were confronted with experiences that we interpreted in painful ways, overwhelming our capacity to cope with such strong feelings. We avoided feeling them by tensing our bodies and restricting our breath, locking in the emotional energy. We also developed an array of defenses against this internalized pain, defenses which may have served us very well to survive the trials of childhood. Over time, those same defenses that once protected us often become more of a liability than an aid to survival. For just a few examples, defenses might take the form of numbness, addictive behaviors, unconsciously manufactured chaos, judging others, or running away from ourselves and others.
Meanwhile, the feelings we avoided for so many years have not gone away — they remain locked in our physical and energetic bodies. This can result in symptoms ranging from physical ailments, to anxiety or depression, to recurring problems in relationships or work, to stuckness in spiritual pursuits, to sheer exhaustion from the waste of energy required to keep emotions suppressed. The avoidance of the emotional pain body results in energy and consciousness not residing fully in the physical body; we can become ungrounded, disembodied, living in our heads and avoiding full presence in all sorts of ways.
In a breath session, the pockets and layers of suppressed emotional memory can finally surface to consciousness and be safely felt, transformed, and dissolved. This seems to happen both because of the cleansing effect of the breath energy and because the breath energy helps to soften the barriers between the conscious and subconscious mind. The emphasis is not on mental-level analysis, though new insights often arise. Nor is the purpose to re-experience the pain on an artificial or superficial level (which could be re-traumatizing), but rather to integrate the energy formation of the pain in a way that renders it harmless. We discover that what we once believed was too painful to allow was just a feeling waiting to be received with self-compassion.
In conjunction with the breath, another important tool I use to work with defense patterns is neo-Reichian characterology as elaborated by Alexander Lowen and others in the practice of bioenergetics, by Barbara Brennan in energy healing, and by breathworkers like Jaan Sanaam and Jim Morningstar.
A skilled facilitator helps the breather work through their habitual defense patterns, both in the session and in their daily lives. The cumulative effect of this process over repeated sessions is a tangible experience of wholeness, integration, embodiment, and profound self-acceptance which is itself transformative.
Is it for me?
Everyone can benefit from one of the many styles of breathwork. Advanced breathwork is a relatively strong and potent style that most people experience as very beneficial. It is best approached with a spirit of adventure and a willingness to take responsibility for one’s own path of inner growth. Some people come to advanced breathwork after feeling stuck and frustrated with other techniques and find it to be the missing key for accessing and releasing emotional memory. It complements any program of spiritual practice, healing, or counseling.
Here are some examples of times when advanced breathwork may be for you.
Advanced breathwork has been transformative for many in these and similar circumstances. If your situation differs, feel free to contact me to discuss whether advanced breathwork may be right for you.
For those with certain medical or psychological conditions, a very gentle style of breathwork may be more appropriate and this can also be arranged. You will be asked about the relevant conditions during the free phone consultation. If you are not sure what style would be appropriate for you, call me and we can discuss your questions.
What happens in a session?
A typical session lasts between 1½ and 2 hours. The first session begins with a half-hour consultation, allowing time for us to get to know one another and to discuss your intentions for the session and your larger goals. The next part of the session is the breathing, which lasts for about one hour. Usually you will be lying down, though in some cases you may sit or stand for a portion of the session. I will support you to relax and guide you to breathe through the mouth at the optimal depth and speed. The breaths will be connected with no gap between the inhalation and the exhalation and you will relax deeply on each exhalation. This is called “conscious connected breathing.”
As the breath energy accumulates it naturally moves to the areas of blockage in the energy body that are ready to release. By this means, we can trust that we will receive only what we are ready to process and that the session will be just what we need. This also means that no two sessions are alike. Among the range of experiences that might occur, you may notice tingling or vibrating, tension and release of tension, trembling, sensations of heat or cold, emotional memories, insights, or release of emotions such as sadness, anger, fear, or joy. As each of these is resolved through relaxation and expression, a peaceful, alive, and open state is reached.
After the breathing portion, if appropriate and time allows, I may offer a complementary coaching technique. While continuing to lie down, you will breathe more gently while I guide you through this process to explore the early decisions made in childhood that still drive your behaviors as an adult, often unconsciously. This portion of the session lasts for 10 to 20 minutes. This technique is a powerful complement to advanced breathwork. It helps to facilitate the release of limiting patterns. This technique can also be done remotely with a shorter period of initial breathing.
After this, you will rest to enjoy and integrate the experience. Then we will have the remaining time to debrief the session. I may also suggest exercises and practices you can take into your daily life to support the softening of habitual defense patterns that are no longer serving you.
On completion of an energy cycle, people commonly report feeling light, clean, open, rejuvenated, peaceful, joyful, or blissful. Usually a session ends at a complete energy cycle; however, in some circumstances a cycle may complete some hours or days after the session or it may require more than one session to resolve completely. In those cases, a session may end with the breather feeling somewhat raw, emotional, or with symptoms of detoxification. This is a good indication of deeper issues being resolved, a process which will complete once all the necessary conditions are met. Then the enjoyable feelings will arrive, along with deeper inner peace and strength.
How is it different?
There is often confusion around the different names and techniques used in the field of breathwork, and other breath-related practices. The style of advanced breathwork I offer places special emphasis on release and transformation of difficult emotions. Like rebirthing-breathwork, holotropic breathwork, and their many advanced breathwork offshoots, it uses the accumulation of breath energy to access non-ordinary states of energy and consciousness, fostering an environment for personal growth and self-healing. All these schools use variations of “conscious connected breathing.” There is some difference in emphasis and approach among these forms. For example, holotropic breathwork aims to support transpersonal healing experiences and rebirthing-breathwork tends to support spiritual cleansing. However, each facilitator has their own style, each breather has their own path, and no two sessions are alike, so the distinctions tend to break down. Also, different approaches may be appropriate at different times in your path of growth.
Wim Hof, the Dutch extreme athlete, has popularized breathing exercises inspired by Tibetan Buddhist tummo practice. Wim Hof breathing exercises commonly use a combination of deep breathing and breath holds for an energizing and cleansing experience. These exercises can also rapidly activate the breath energy body, giving a felt sense of that, and may lead to some emotional release. In my experience, they differ from a facilitated advanced breathing session using conscious connected breathing in that they are oriented toward physical and mental conditioning, not toward being supported to go deeply into vulnerable emotions or deeper states of consciousness for therapeutic and spiritual growth.
How is breathwork different from potent healing modalities that make use of plant medicines or psychedelics? Psilocybin, ketamine, cannabis, and other substances are used in some therapeutic healing practices. Stan Grof, who with Christina Grof developed holotropic breathwork, began by researching psychedelic therapies. There are clearly some parallels between them, but both fields—breathwork and psychedelic therapy—are under-researched. I don’t have personal experience receiving or facilitating healing with substances. My impression is that, as potent as advanced breathwork is, the experience is more natural feeling, less lengthy, less intense, and with more feeling of control than the substance-aided modalities. Some people report that they can go deeper with breathwork because they feel safer when they have more sense of control over the experience. This may be a matter of personal preference.
In any style of breathwork, and other deep healing modalities, it is important to find a competent, well-trained facilitator you can trust in order to feel comfortable to let go of habitual defenses and explore deeper realms of consciousness.