Sometimes words are not enough. That’s just the truth.
I’ve been a mental health counselor for 17 years, and I do believe that talk therapy is worthwhile, but I also know, from my own personal journey and through my professional experience, that sometimes it isn’t enough, and sometimes it can only take a person so far. At a certain point, talk therapy can reinforce the notion that things are all in our head and that our ability to rationalize and verbalize SHOULD make everything better. Talk therapy has nothing to do with embodiment and can only take us so far into integration. Talk therapy has little to do with healing the body and the soul. Its ultimate focus is the mind, and often only accesses the very surface.*
I started doing Breathwork in late 2013 after my Mother died. I am a physical person. I am deeply connected to the sensations in my body – sometimes almost hyper connected. I am also pretty woo-y. I think in terms of energy and color, and have been practicing yoga, conscious dance, and trance for years, so when I tried breathwork healing for the first time, it wasn’t too surprising that it resonated with me. My then partner invited me to a group session, and I knew at that first meeting that I wanted to continue working with the healer who led the experience. I started working with him privately almost immediately.
Honestly, at this point in my life, I was filled with anger and sadness. I was grieving my Mother, and I was pre-processing the loss of a very important relationship. I couldn’t verbalize any of it at the time – at least not well. In a session, we would sit together quietly for a few moments and invite the Universe and any of our guides to join us in the space. Then he would invite me to share what I was bringing into the breath. That was it. He didn’t offer opinions or any kind of counsel. He would listen, and then he would say, “let’s get breathing.” I would lay down on the ground, cover my eyes and take a breath to my belly, a 2nd breath to my chest and breathe all the way out. There was always music, and there was always my healer’s voice – “good breathing. Keep going. Breathe through that. What does your body feel?” That would go on for between 22 and 27 minutes, and then I would stop and float in a stillness that I have never been able to replicate outside breathwork sessions. Sometimes I would cry, sometimes I’d find myself laughing. Sometimes, in the middle of the breath, he would have me open my mouth and yell or laugh or say something. Always, those messages came from my body-mind, not my thinking-mind. Answers and sounds and sensations and hysterical tears or almost violent laughter would bubble up from down below. And then it was over. We might talk for a few minutes after but generally, we would hug each other, and I would leave, going home to open my art journal and scribble or spray colors or tear and glue paper. He made himself available if I had an experience that bubbled to the surface that I felt I needed to share, but he never made comments on my experience; I was simply allowed to experience my own knowing.
We’d do it again the next week.
This practice, this specific breath was profoundly healing for me. I found a powerful magic and a deep sense of safety in my body, and though I’d been involved in physical/introspective practices for a long time, I discovered a body/mind/spirit/soul connection that I had only, to that point glimpsed out of the corner of my eye. I found messages that had been held in my body since I was a young child and was able to start unwiring some of the hard beliefs and habit patterns that were getting in my way.
How does it work? Well, put simply, the 3-part breath, which tends to be more rapid than our normal breathing, alters the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. It leads to an altered state of consciousness and a state of deep relaxation. During the breath and the period referred to as the float (the deep relaxation space after the breath), one might experience visions, sounds, physical sensations, memories and/or insights that could not be accessed in normal, waking time. When combined with the intention to move toward healing and wholeness, these can lead to profoundly integrative experiences. Various styles of Breathwork, including the 3-part breath that I practice, have been used as alternative/complementary therapy for depression, substance use disorders, behavioral addictions, anxiety and even trauma. When used in combination with talk therapy and/or coaching, Breathwork, in my experience, can help us open doors and discover direction for deeper conversation and healing work.