The Rhythm of the Breath in Stress Mastery

Stress is a state of inner personal anxiety and can occur in all aspects of our lives. It triggers processes of non-communication that hinder productivity, creativity and intimacy. All of us, in some way or another, can be affected by this ‘condition’. Symptoms like bad moods, prolonged tiredness, anxiety, lack of motivation and negative vision are almost normal in today’s world, yet prolonged exposure to them will create serious unbalance in our systems. A major difficulty of healing this ‘illness’ lies in the fact that stress continuously feeds back on itself. Once it is present in the organism, its effect becomes a cause. It is important to differentiate between what I call “Creative Tension” and “Real Stress”. Creative Tension is a stressful situation where we retain a certain control, such as in sport or the organisation of a wedding. Real Stress appears in a situation where we have no control over the event, such as an accident, natural disaster, economic crisis, etc.

Stress inhibits breathing

One of the most devastating effects of stress is the inhibition of breathing. With the repetition of stressful situations, the result becomes chronic and generates serious hang-ups such as lack of creativity, low productivity, chronic fatigue and mood swings amongst others. The symptoms experienced can be repressed emotions, frustration, lack of purpose, difficulty in expressing love and gratitude, all of which will affect our access to intimacy.

In order to fully liberate ourselves from the effects of stress, the study and practice of breathing techniques is an excellent place to begin.

Breathing

Breathing is a life-sustaining activity that we begin to practice instinctively from the moment we are born and continues uninterrupted until the moment we die. The rhythm of our respiration is such a familiar practice to us that most of our lives we are even unaware of our participation in this vital action. Remember, however, that though we are able to survive for many days without food and not quite so long without water, if we are prevented from breathing, most humans will be dead within three or four minutes. This is how fundamental the breathing process is to our well-being.

Breathing dynamics

Let us take a closer look at the dynamics of the breathing process. Singers and wind instrument players, amongst others, are always conscious of breathing as their music depends on being able to deliver a continuous flow of breath across the vocal cords or through their musical instruments. Athletes depend on powerful breathing rhythms to be able to deliver high levels of oxygen to their performing muscles. The air that we inhale into our lungs contains a percentage of oxygen and when this oxygen content comes into contact with the blood circulating in the spongy tissues of our lungs, it is absorbed into the blood stream. The steady pumping of our heart supplies oxygen rich blood to our brain and to the muscles and organs of our bodies where the oxygen is consumed in an energy-supplying mission. When we are working hard our hearts beat faster and we breathe more strongly to supply the increase in energy required by our bodies. In a healthy body, this biological breathing dynamic manages itself naturally and instinctively without the requirement of any conscious intervention.

Energy levels

We are, however, capable of intervening in this natural sequence by intentionally modifying the character of our breathing rhythms. For example, if we choose to breathe more strongly than usual whilst remaining physically inactive, we alter the natural supply and demand equilibrium, creating a higher than usual level of energy throughout our bodies. Research and practical experimentation with the effects of unusual body energy levels has led to the development of many physical and spiritual practices that we find in disciplines such as martial arts, tai-chi, chi-kong and yoga and meditation to name just a few, and therapeutical disciplines such as Conscious Connected Breathing/rebirthing, holotropic breathwork, integrative breathing, transformational breathwork amongst others.

Processes of transformation

The breathwork techniques in the practices of martial arts are concerned with the development of the chi so vital to success in combat. Breathing is also used in massage techniques such as shiatsu and touching hearts massage. In meditation, yoga, tai-chi and chi-kong, practices have focused more on using the inner calm created by the breathing to develop chi, awareness, presence and mindfulness. Rebirthing breathwork, also known as conscious connected breathing, adds to all the above a greater sense of self-awareness and, above all, the improvement of mental, physical and spiritual well-being, achieving a consciousness of wholeness. Both ancestral and modern practices acknowledge the importance of breathing in processes of transformation.

Conscious Connected Breathing / Rebirthing / Breathwork

Conscious Connected Breathing / Rebirthing is one of many techniques based on working with the breath, being a part of ‘Breathwork’, a more general term which encompasses many different techniques.

Breathing is a life-sustaining activity that we practice instinctively from the moment we are born until the moment we die.

This methodology is a powerful therapeutical process because of its depth, simplicity and efficiency. Conscious Connected Breathwork teaches how to breathe fully, releasing emotional energy stuck in the system and clearing the pathway to holistic well-being. It was developed in the early seventies by Leonard Orr. Its major goal is to help release energy blockages caused by suppressed experiences and traumas that have been stored in the body and mind, hindering the healthy flow of breath and energy and preventing many people from breathing to their full capacity.

Conscious Connected Breathwork works deeply with two very human activities, breathing and thinking. These fundamental elements help each individual to understand and accept that all the resources needed to develop their creativity and holistic potential are already within themselves. This enables the possibility of coherent actions. All we need is time, energy and space.

When working with clients, the process of Conscious Connected Breathing begins with an in-depth interview about present concerns and questioning about events of life history, somatic exploration, counselling, then 40 to 60 minutes of conscious connected breathing concluded by the sharing of feedback.

A complete initiation cycle will include 10 to 12 sessions with a professional Breathworker, enabling the client to integrate the process and be able to practice breathing sessions by themselves, even though their therapeutical process may continue.

A Conscious Connected Breathing/Rebirthing/Breathwork session.

Through practical experience, the client learns to breathe, relax and remain aware with an attitude of acceptance. A personal inner atmosphere is created that allows repressed ‘material’ to come to the surface of the consciousness. Such thoughts and memories also have their emotional counterpart and a physical reference point in the body. As the associated energy is released and begins to circulate throughout the body and the mind, physical tensions are softened and eventually dissolved. Emotions are expressed and conscious decisions are made. As this physical and emotional relief is expressed, breathing becomes deeper and flows fully and spontaneously. The client is assisted to resolve and integrate past experiences and to progressively release the old traumas and develop a breath that circulates easily and freely.

The rhythm of the breath

We find that it takes considerable motivation and willpower to breathe steadily and rhythmically for extended periods whilst remaining physically inactive. The mental effort of full lung inflation, along with balanced flows of inhale and exhale, leaves little room in the thought process of the mind for any of our habitual chit-chat brain activity. This situation of focus can create emptiness in the mind similar to the void experienced with the lengthier breathing rhythms of meditation. However, during the Rebirthing Breathwork, we have also created a high-energy level with the connected breathing rhythm and perhaps it is this that enables access to the subconscious. Some specific connection with thoughts and wisdom from the depths of our psyche can take place and memories may begin to filter through, to appear in the waiting void. The increased mental sensitivity, created by the higher energy level in the brain, picks up these realisations and releases them to the conscious memory. When recalled and revealed during the integration of the breathing session, this phenomenon often helps us to understand and explain certain personal characteristics that are blocking our relationship with the self and others and tangling us in a struggle with life.

We have seen that the physical result of Conscious Connected Breathwork practice is to increase the level of energy circulation in the body. The sensations associated with this increase can be temporary feelings of tingling in the skin of the hands and feet or around the mouth, can be shivering cold reactions or hot flushes, there can be moments of numbness felt in various parts of the body. Each one of these sensations has a particular explanation, as each individual is unique. The accompanying mental reaction that goes side by side with these physical experiences is also very interesting, as the holistic process seems to facilitate a release of memories stored in the subconscious zones of our minds.

Somatic therapy

Conscious Connected Breathwork is also a somatic therapy. An hour-long session with the rhythm of the breath, used in this technique, influences neural activity, enhances memory recall and expands emotional awareness. It helps to release suppressed blockages from the autonomic nervous system.

Also, it can access supressed non-verbal memories, being a huge support as somatic therapy and working toward understanding and healing  -PTSD- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Since 1993, I have applied this breathing technique in various contexts of stress including recovery from addictions and I have found it to be very powerful in supporting and advancing the treatments, since our bodies hold our traumas and yet are also able to self-heal.

The release of physical tension is the first effect and reframing past and negative experiences the second, completed by integration of the self. It can be used as a stand-alone therapy or as an add-on to medical treatments. Conscious Connected Breathwork can also create access to an extraordinary state of consciousness often leading to the experience of bliss and transcendence.

Meaningful life

Conscious Connected Breathwork involves a holistic approach. It serves not only to untangle chronic difficulties and struggles but also open up connection with joy, creativity and development of abilities. We can also choose to go into this process simply to involve ourselves in personal development, seeking to transform our behaviour with the motivation to live a joyful, lively, pleasant and more meaningful life.

One of the key elements of Conscious Connected Breathwork is making the connection with this inner source of knowledge. The source of the learning is oneself. The realisations and information are released from within, giving you the opportunity to feel the power and the value of your own experience, adding value to what the Breathworker and therapist could be telling you about your amazing qualities, or the roots of your problems. The personal source makes the information much more difficult to deny than when the information is given to you by others. When you are breathing in a session, it is you who is in the driving seat, you who provides the motivation to continue or wind down and you who must find the courage to keep going when the process gets tough. This aspect increases our sense of self-worth and develops the confidence to believe in our inner wisdom and ourselves. Upon this base, we can then develop the strength of the foundations for our relationships with others.

Another attraction is that once you have learned the breathing technique through practice and experience, it becomes a valuable personal asset that you will take with you and use by yourself, wherever you go. You can practice short intervals of conscious connected breathing, unnoticed by people around you, at many different moments of your day, when you sense a need to calm yourself during a conflict, or before taking an important decision. Breathing can bring renewed clarity to a pathway or relationship where confusion exists, or hesitation has appeared.

Relaxation and stress cannot exist at the same time in the same place, therefore the more we breathe consciously, the more time we will be relaxed and the less time we will be in stress. Easy equation.

Holistic therapy

There are different types of stress and the reference here is to stress produced by experiences that were neither accepted nor integrated into our life, with a subsequent development into traumas. These were probably situations generated by fear, shame, anger, loss, or other limiting emotions and were experienced at an age when we were unable to manage the event, or the perception of the event. The situation could have occurred in a moment of extreme vulnerability, creating a wound that couldn’t heal completely. Searching to survive to the pain, we learned how to create a variety of defence mechanisms, but the wound remained there, getting deeper, becoming chronic and sometimes extremely acute.

Following through the therapeutical journey of understanding and healing the wounds of such experiences is a must for a return to balanced life. Holistic therapy is a choice that uses energy work such as Conscious Connected Breathing alongside with the psychotherapeutic process. We are holistic beings and we need to heal in all our dimensions (body, mind, emotion, spirit/meaning).

Such healing processes can include learning to express, to feel and to understand. releasing, resolving and transforming, leading us to accept and integrate, benefiting then from the joy and the bliss of the intimacy with yourself and your partner.

Each healed wound may leave a scar. Those scars are the testimony of the journey of healing and as such we can even be proud of them.

When those wounds were still open and unattended, an accumulation of difficult situations or some new and acute stress could lead us to a breakdown. However, once the wounds have been attended to and have healed, even though we are carrying the scars, when similar situations appear, we will be able to break through them and learn from the experience. This is what I call “Emotional Freedom”.

“To explore the internal labyrinth of the mind, body, spirit and emotions, we should not work with the Psychology of the Dysfunctional, what is needed is a Psychology of Freedom, with the appropriate tools to find our own truth and help others to find theirs.” Abraham Maslow.

Be inspired … breathe for it!

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