Breathing Work, Breathwork, Breathing
Whats 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.
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
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
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 Ive 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. Thats why it is more accurate to measure someones
breathing than to have them do it themselves this is a good way of exercising for focusing and concentration. My favorite breath observing
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
Included here are Reichian Therapy, Rebirthing, Radiance Breathwork, Holotropic
Breathwork, Radix, Shen, Vivation, and Optimal Breathings
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
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
I have a subscription to Breathe Magazine
through my membership in the International Breathwork Foundation (IBF).
Also, see www.ibfnetwork.com.
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 &
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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."
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
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
www.breathing.com/breathingkit.htm 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.
Western-Eastern Breathing Overview
OVER THE TOP EXCESSIVE
AND SOMETIMES HARMFUL
My advice is to begin working with your
breath by first releasing your
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
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
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!"
About the Optimal Breathing
An MD recommends Optimal Breathing®
stamina, recovery, sports, gentle yoga, breathwork, Pilates,
Qigong, Tai Chi
6. Smoke or Smoking Recovery
7. Shortness of breath including
Asthma Bronchitis COPD Emphysema
8. Singing, Speaking,
9. Sleeping, Snoring
11. Most other
chronic challenges are Control-Find searchable in the Supplemental material
CD included in the Kit.
THEMES TO ENHANCE:
1. General breathing
2. Deepest Calm for: emotional
regulation, 12 Steps, anxiety-panic, headaches, high blood
pressure, pain reduction,
stress management, immune strength
Free Breathing Tests
Undetected Unbalanced Breathing
Private one on one training on
Skype and in
Exercise, Rest & EWOT
"He who breathes most
air lives most life."
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
"Mike's Optimal Breathing teachings should be incorporated into
the physical exam taught in medical schools as well as other allied physical and mental health programs, particularly
education, and speech, physical, and respiratory therapy."
Dr. Danielle Rose, MD, NMD, SEP