breathing 4 min read

The Origins of Breathwork


Understanding Breathwork Therapy

Breathwork refers to a spectrum of therapies that use breathing exercises to boost mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. The practice comes in various forms today, each using the power of breath to catalyze healing. Drawing from Western therapeutic approaches and Eastern traditions such as yoga and Tai Chi, breathwork can encompass aspects of talk therapy, breathing exercises, art, music, and bodywork, and is aimed at fostering self-awareness. It can be delivered in group settings, couple's sessions, or individual consultations, requiring the guidance of a trained professional.

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Breathing Techniques in Therapy: A Panorama

Contemporary breathwork therapy takes many shapes, all sharing a core set of principles. A few notable breathwork techniques include:

Holotropic Breathwork - This approach aims to foster "wholeness" within the mind, body, and spirit. Conducted under the supervision of certified practitioners from Grof Transpersonal Training, the sessions involve lying-down breathing exercises, accompanied by evocative music and occasional massages. The goal is to attain an altered state of consciousness. Holotropic Breathwork is often performed in groups, encouraging participants to partner up and support each other's processes. Following the group exercises, individuals typically create mandalas reflective of their breathwork experiences, concluding with sharing and discussions to integrate their newfound self-awareness into their lives.

Rebirthing Breathwork - Also known as Conscious Energy Breathing, this modality is based on the premise that everyone carries the trauma of their birth. Rebirthing aims to help individuals release energy blockages entrenched in their body and mind due to suppressed trauma. Participants are guided to lie down, relax, and breathe rhythmically. By practicing "aware connected circular breathing", inhibitions surface, revealing tensions related to past traumas. Deep relaxation then triggers brain waves that help release subconscious issues and stored energy.

Clarity Breathwork - While grounded in many of the principles of Rebirthing Breathwork, Clarity Breathwork isn't confined to the trauma of childbirth. It addresses any issues obstructing a healthy energy and breath flow. The therapy operates on the belief that many individuals don't breathe as deeply as they could, making the teaching of full, mindful breathing a central objective. Emotional energy can thus be released, paving the way for healing. Sessions begin with an extensive discussion about current concerns and past experiences, followed by in-depth intuitive counseling, somatic exploration, and an hour of circular connected breathing practice.

Biodynamic Breathwork - Officially known as the BioDynamic Breath and Trauma Release System, this method encompasses six elements: breath, movement, sound, touch, emotion, and meditation. The aim is to alleviate stress, stimulate the body's natural healing mechanisms, and restructure internal organs. Recognizing the mental and physical ways trauma can be stored—through emotional patterns, ongoing tension, and blocked energy—Biodynamic Breathwork strives to harmonize these systems. Sessions may involve deep breathing exercises, emotional exploration, and could also include dance therapy, vocalization, whole-body shaking, music therapy, or sound therapy.

Other variants of breathwork therapy include Integrative Breathwork, Shamanic Breathwork, Vivation, Zen Yoga Breathwork, and Transformational Breathwork.

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Tracing the Origins of Breathwork

For centuries, humans have utilized breathing exercises to attain spiritual enlightenment, self-healing, and meditative relaxation. Eastern traditions like yoga, Tai Chi, and Buddhism are considered the predecessors of breathwork. However, the bulk of contemporary breathwork therapy emerged during the consciousness-raising movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

During this era, different breathwork types were formulated, such as Rebirthing Breathwork and Holotropic Breathwork. Some emphasized tranquility and self-awareness, while others aimed for psychedelic effects and altered states of consciousness. Leonard Orr introduced Rebirthing Breathwork, which accentuated the strenuous birthing process, while Dr. Stan Grof and Christina Grof pioneered Holotropic Breathwork from their research on consciousness and psychedelic substances like LSD.

Since the 1970s, the realm of breathwork therapy has evolved considerably. Jacquelyn Small established Integrative Breathwork in 1991, a methodology inspired by her collaboration with Dr. Grof on Holotropic Breathwork. And Clarity Breathwork, a further development of Rebirthing Breathwork, was founded in 1999. It expanded on Rebirthing's central concepts to include a wider understanding of trauma and therapy.

Today, breathwork continues to develop, offering dozens of models and certification programs for interested participants and practitioners. Organizations like The Stanislav and Christina Grof Foundation, Rebirthing Breathwork International (RBI), The Global Professional Breathwork Alliance (GPBA), and The International Breathwork Foundation (IBF) all support global training, research, and growth initiatives for breathwork therapists.

Clear Minds and Breathwork

Here at Clear Minds, we are proud to offer breathwork sessions to our clients. By incorporating breathwork into our suite of therapeutic offerings, we provide you with another powerful tool to enhance your overall well-being. Whether you're seeking to release stored trauma, heighten self-awareness, or simply learn to breathe more deeply and mindfully, our breathwork sessions can help you on your journey. Please click here to learn more about our breathwork offerings.

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Breathwork Essentials Package by Sophie (10 Session's)