What is breathwork?

Breathwork is a form of psychological and bodywork therapy that uses a deepening of the breath to support an integration of health in the client. There are a variety of models of breathwork. The model I have specialised in - source breath - uses a breath into the upper chest, in supportive conditions, to allow the client to integrate core life-affirming messages about life.


How does it work?

Our first breath itself, into the upper chest, is our first voluntary act as a human being. It is a signal moment saying, ‘I am here, born and alive’. As we take this breath, specific physiological events take place in the body. The conditions this breath was taken in, for example, whether we were connected with our mother, felt safe or not, contribute to an imprint that informs how we handle intensity and transitions later in life.

Some of these breath-linked thoughts have the life-affirming message, ‘everyone is happy I’m here’, and some are life-diminishing such as, ‘there is no one here for me’. These label-like imprints may inform decisions we make as growing children and as adults too, particularly in times of stress. The breathwork therapist will create conditions where these decisions and beliefs can be reevaluated in an organic way that is manageable and liberating for the client. 

What can breathwork be used for?

When you take a breath, can you let it all the way in, or is there a catch in the breath that’s always been there? The breath is linked to the experience of being in a body. If a formative moment taught us to breathe and receive and exchange with the world around us wasn’t safe, then having that as an ongoing basis for connection with life can be limiting.

Hesitations in our relationship with the world around us are indivisible from relationships with others. The ‘drivers’ that run these basic life expectations are updateable. If we find our expectation of relationships, for example, is one of ‘everyone always leaves’ or, ‘life hurts’ then the creative power in those beliefs may draw those experiences to us.

Breathing into life-affirming statements such as, ‘everybody is safe with me’, and ‘the entire universe is here to support me’, in a safe environment, allows old framings to be released and new ones to emerge. The work is about creating conditions where these life-affirming statements can be integrated at physical, mental and spiritual levels.

This is very much foundational work with the psyche and the body and can be used to work with life-long challenges, trauma and wounds. When we know, for example, the truth in the statement, ‘the universe is here to support me’ - however that may sound to our everyday mind - we step forward in a surer fashion without having to think twice.

The universe is here to support me.

What can you expect in a breathwork session?

In a breathwork session, there is a consulting period of approximately 60 minutes followed by approximately 45-60 minutes lying on the table (usually), breathing with support. There is a short review at the end. I am with the client all the way through the session. The consultation is an opportunity to understand the focus and intention the client is bringing and develop a starting point for the direction of the session.

Once on the table, I encourage the client to breathe with an open jaw into the upper chest. I will speak the affirmations we have agreed on and other similar ones as appropriate. If there are a series of sessions, the gaps between the sessions can be negotiated for what works in a practical sense. There are many viable kinds of breathwork and breath practices. I am describing a particular form I have trained and worked with for approximately 20 years. 

Why is breathwork so powerful?

Breathwork can be powerful because the breath is central to our instinctive, autonomic responses at critical stages in our development and relationship with life. The power of breathwork comes with the integration of life-affirming thoughts in the physiological and psychological and spiritual openness brought about by an intentional breath practice. Healing will only happen in a safe and supportive therapeutic relationship.

What’s important is the access and depth that the breath allows to take place in a more creative way than when the challenging experience was imprinted in the first place. Often there is deep emotion and physical memory held in the place where the breath can access - it's important, therefore, the client has an experience of being in choice as they revisit and the therapist creates a life-affirming environment for that person.

Much of what may arise to be worked with are experiences associated with life-threat and overwhelmed capacities to cope. If possible, the human system will hold these until its safe enough to release. A client can really only go safely where the therapist has more or less already been. Check your therapist has adequate and appropriately skilled supervision.

What does breathwork do for you?

Source breathwork, as taught by Binnie A. Dansby, has for me been a model that has enabled me to hold a life-affirming direction when faced with diminishing events and beliefs. For me, the work has helped me to see that so many core crises have, at their heart, a life-diminishing belief. Knowing there is a way to engage with that creatively has been immensely positive. This work forms a bedrock for all I do in work and life. 

Ready to give breathwork a try? Check out my profile below to find out more about me, where you'll also find a link to my biodynamic craniosacral therapy website. I work in Brentford, West London and see people for source breathwork and biodynamic craniosacral therapy which are complementary practices.

Come for a breathwork session to see how it can work for you.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Therapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Brentford, Middlesex, TW8
Written by Elmer Postle, BCST, SPB, PBT
Brentford, Middlesex, TW8

Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy is a gentle yet profound non-invasive, hands-on treatment for the whole body. Performed on a massage table, the client is fully clothed and the touch is generally light and still. The treatment is focused on supporting the always-present health of the person in a safe...

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