The roots of the present day Breathwork process reaches back to ancient times.  Eastern civilisations from India to China to Tibet used the breath as a means of healing, for meditative connection to divinity, for daily focus and to promote well-being.


In modern psychology, breathing techniques are evident in the works of Freud and Jung who both used the breath to attain the non-ordinary states of consciousness so they could explore their theories about the role of the unconscious mind.


In the 1920’s, Otto Rank who was a student of Sigmund Freud wrote a book entitled The Trauma of Birth suggesting the traumatic experiences of birth that include physical threats to life and emotional shock through separation from our mother, are gating issues for the experience of fear and anxiety throughout life. He offered the concept that our birth is our initial wound and stated, “The inner fear, which the child experiences in the birth process has in it both elements, fear of life and fear of death, since birth, on the one hand means the end of life (former life) and, on the other carries also the fear of the new life. “


In the 1950’s, psychoanalyst, Wilhelm Reich was one of the pioneers who made the connection between body, emotion and the breath.  He observed that suppressed emotion and buried impulse responses created rigidity and impaired breathing in the body.  He developed the first body-oriented therapy to address this issue and called it ‘Vegetotherapy’.  This protocol incorporated specialised bodywork techniques that employed the breath to liberate the “vegetative” or repressed desires and instincts in order to restore homoeostasis and health.  Reich believed that changing the pattern of the breath could alter emotional and physical states. He understood that healing required an inclusive view of a person’s entire psychic and bodily character. (Lenny Gibson, 2011/12).  As a result, Reich pioneered the psychoanalytic development of intense breathing combined with bodywork. His influence can be seen in the current day work of Dr. Stanislav Grof’s Holotropic Breathwork process and to a certain degree, in Breathwork.


The genesis of modern breathing techniques emerged in the 1970’s from the work of consciousness explorer, Leonard Orr. He developed a technique called Rebirthing when he experienced spontaneous birth memories while meditating in his bathtub.  Orr also discovered that if he stayed immersed in water thirty minutes to an hour at a time, he would pass through what he called the ‘urgency barrier’ and would be moved into states of expanded consciousness. (Orr, 2013)

As Orr noticed there was a point at which the breath naturally shifted rhythm.  It was at that moment it seemed that ‘the body breathed for you’ and that experiences of healing were reported.  He called this point of shift the “energy cycle.”  He also witnessed that the altered state of consciousness that was induced seemed to open a subconscious gate that gave way to recall of perinatal memories from the experience of being in the womb, to the birth event itself. Orr eventually moved from water rebirthing techniques to dry birthing that allowed participants to lie down comfortably, relax and breathe and still achieve the same healing and spiritual experiences that happened in water.


Breathwork’s Evolution

From the influence of breath as part of shamanic and indigenous rituals to the exhaustive research and body of work belonging to modern-day pioneer Dr. Stanislav Grof, Breathwork is evolving and taking its rightful place on the global stage of legitimate healing modalities. In the hierarchy of yogic techniques and breathing in such therapeutic processes as Holotropic Breathwork, Shamanic, Quantum and Mind/Body Healing, Breathwork contributes its own unique perspective to the power of the breath in the healing process.


While there are still elements in the work where clients connect with their birth memories and heal them as Leonard Orr’s body of work explores, today the process has a much broader focus than just birth.  It spans the continuum of healing life trauma and evolving an understanding of life experiences on the emotional, mental, physical and spiritual levels.


Even though each country usually has its own Breathwork organisation with its unique approach, the essence of the focus is the same: to assist people to become all that they can be and to support healing from trauma and blocks that impede that goal.

Today, organisations such as the International Breathwork Foundation, the Global Professional Breathwork Alliance and the Australian Breathwork Association carry forward the lineage and the legacy as they build and expand on the seeds that were planted so long ago.

When you engage in a Breathwork session, it is powerful to realise that you are held in the ancestral and current wisdom of many who have and are working to grow this process and open the channels within you so that you may live from the essence of love that you are.

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