Week 4. Tantra and breathwork: Connected breathwork Copy

As humans we have a drive to evolve. Referring to the Maslow’s pyramid/hierarchy of needs, when we have needs met at one level, we set our sights on the next level. At the top of the hierarchy is the need for self-actualization/ transcendence. 

We evolve from each stage to the next going through some transformation. We make ourselves better in our material needs, mental needs then we move to our emotional needs and our spiritual needs and in every area, we transform into someone we aspire to be. 

There are different ways and mean of transformation, some slow some fast, some spiritual and some non-spiritual. Some are outside-in approaches and some are inside-out approaches. 

There are number of techniques in the world that focus on outside-in transformation. For example, techniques like NLP (Neuro Linguistic programming) are very much focussed outside-in. However, most transpersonal psychology and spiritual techniques start from within. They are inside-out. 

Tantra is a spiritual technique that starts inside-out. In fact, the focus is always on the inside with the understanding/knowing that the outside will follow suit. 

So, what is TANTRA? 

The word TANTRA in many Indian languages simply means technique.  

Tantragyan – तंत्रज्ञान – directly translated to English is the word Technology.  

Information Technology in English translates to माहिती (Mahiti meaning Information) तंत्रज्ञान (Tantragyan meaning Technology).

Below is from Osho’s The Book of Secrets#1, “The World of Tantra” 

First, the world of Vigyan Bhairav Tantra is not intellectual, it is not philosophical…. Tantra means technique. So, this treatise is a scientific one. Science is not concerned with why, science is concerned with how. That is the basic difference between philosophy and science…. Tantra is science, Tantra is not philosophy…. As you are, you can understand philosophy – but not Tantra.

There is no pretence in Tantra, only acceptance. We start where we are and with whatever we have as a vehicle of expanding consciousness.

The ultimate goal of Tantra is expansion of our consciousness into cosmic consciousness.  However, Tantra has techniques for all at all hierarchies of the Maslow pyramid of needs. It has techniques for relaxation, feeling good, stress release, sexuality, deep intimacy with ourselves and our partner, healing, purifying nervous system, raise kundalini energy, liberation, and enlightenment. 

There are 3 primary tools used in Tantra for transformation: BreathSound and Touch

Let’s focus here on Breath and it’s use in Tantric technique of Connected Breathwork. 

The Healing Power of Breath  

Since earliest times, virtually every major psychospiritual system seeking to comprehend human nature has viewed breath as a crucial link between nature, the human body, the psyche, and the spirit. This is clearly reflected in the words many languages use for breath. In the ancient Indian literature, the term prana meant not only physical breath and air, but also the sacred essence of life. Similarly, in traditional Chinese medicine, the word chi refers to the cosmic essence and the energy of life, as well as the natural air we breathe by our lungs. In Japan, the corresponding word is ki. Ki plays an extremely important role in Japanese spiritual practices and martial arts. In ancient Greece, the word pneuma meant both air or breath and spirit or the essence of life. The Greeks also saw breath as being closely related to the psyche.

Profound changes in consciousness can be induced by both extremes in the breathing rate, hyperventilation, and prolonged withholding of breath, as well as by using them in an alternating fashion. Very sophisticated methods of this kind can be found in the ancient Indian science of breath, or pranayama.

Specific techniques involving intense breathing or withholding of breath are also part of various exercises in Yoga, Sufi, Buddhist, Taoist, and many other meditation practices.

(Ref: Holotropic Breathwork: A New Experiential Method of Psychotherapy and Self Exploration Stanislav Grof)

Tantra and Breathwork

Taoists say that pain indicates stuck energy and pleasure indicates flow. 

The physics formula for electric current states that Current (flow) is inversely proportional to Resistance (blockages). The lesser the blockages/stuckness the greater the flow. 

Most Tantric Transformation techniques involve purification of ourselves or removal of blockages within us. This involves cleansing our nervous system of unprocessed and unresolved emotions. 

Clearing the nervous system is getting rid of all the emotional debris stuck there. This cannot be done by an outside-in technique. Emotions can be felt and not thought; so mental logic is useless when working with emotions.  

The Conscious Connected Breathwork (CCB) primarily focusses on the breath as a vehicle of transformation. There are also the Pranayama techniques taught in Yoga that can help achieve the same. Breathwork is a modern concept modality which arose in the late 1960s and 1970s. Both Pranayama and modern Breathwork help purify the nervous system. 

Many techniques have evolved from a CCB practice originally described by Leonard Orr in the 1970s.

  • CCB uses a core practice of conscious connected breathing.
  • This causes shifts in our physiology and allows us to explore altered states of consciousness.
  • CCB allows deep awareness of self and our connection with self, others, and nature to develop, providing the groundwork for profound personal development.
  • A variety of CCB schools have evolved from Rebirthing, each combining a unique set of additional healing modalities with the core breathing practice.
  • The addition of modalities including sound, bodywork, water, affirmations, and coaching has developed these practices into a powerful psychotherapeutic approach.
  • Techniques include: Rebirthing Breathwork (RB), Holotropic Breathwork (HB), Integrative Breathwork, Shamanic Breathwork, and many more.

While many CCB techniques have unique features and spiritual frameworks, the majority include four primary components:

  1. CCB: no pauses between the inhale and the exhale.
  2. Diaphragmatic breathing: active inhale into the belly with relaxed expansion of the chest.
  3. Relaxed exhale: breathing out is a passive movement (let go).
  4. Breathing channel: breathe in and out through the same channel.

(Ref: Dr Pippa Wheble & Dr Ela Manga, IBF Science & Research Group https://ibfbreathwork.org/consciousconnectedbreathwork/)

Holotropic Breathwork is an experiential method of psychotherapy and self-exploration that Stanislav and Christina Grof developed in the 1970s. This approach induces deep holotropic states of consciousness by a combination of some quite simple means: accelerated breathing, evocative music, and a technique of bodywork that helps to release residual bioenergetic and emotional blocks.

In Holotropic Breathwork, the process is supervised by trained facilitators, who assist participants whenever special intervention is necessary. Following the breathing sessions, participants express their experiences by painting mandalas and share accounts of their inner journeys in small groups. Follow-up interviews and various complementary methods are used, if necessary, to facilitate the completion and integration of the breathwork experience

Rebirthing Breathwork helps release the traumatic experience of birth from the subconscious mind. It consists of maintaining a conscious connected breathing rhythm for an hour or longer. This is usually done with the eyes closed and while laying on a mat. The conscious connected breathing rhythm is a type of circular breathing without pauses between the inhale and the exhale. This breathing pattern take time to master. The conscious connected breathing tends to activate unresolved emotional issues and traumas and, simultaneously, the consciousness of these conflicts eventually leads to their resolution. This is called a somatic-cognitive cycle and it can usually last from about fifteen minutes to two hours (De-wit, Oliveira, Cruz, & Menezes, (2019).

Looking at Breathwork through Psychotherapy, there are nine phases that can occur during

Rebirthing Breathwork as per Paulus de-Wit and Roberto Cruz (2020):

Phase 1: During the first phase, which can commence within minutes after starting a connected breathing rhythm, ‘unusual’ somatic and/or emotional experiences start to emerge like bodily sensations and/or emotions. They can vary in intensity from very subtle to quite dramatic.  

Phase 2: The defence stage, where the individual begins to feel dissociation and the connected breathing begins to become quite difficult to maintain.  

Phase 3: Immersion phase, where the individual surrenders/immerses in arising sensations/emotions; the breathing rhythm adapts to the experience to adapt to the breather’s experience.  

Phase 4: Inversion stage. Inversion of consciousness from central to peripheral (the inversion itself is usually not experienced consciously); short spasm is experienced.  

Phase 5: The most important phase is the association phase, a rapid succession of memories of other events and experiences, associated with the experiences during the immersion phase, starts to fill consciousness.

Phase 6: Insight and epiphany phase. The individual is suddenly wide awake with a realization connected to the past event(s) just re-experienced. This phase may not occur consciously during the session, the insight can also become conscious afterwards, while sharing the session, or at a later time.

Phase 7: Transliminal stage, is where breathers can have a transpersonal and spiritual experience.  

Phase 8: Deep relaxation stage, in which breathers are deeply relaxed and can even experience a possible short period of sleep. In fact, individuals are said to look as if they are asleep in stages seven and eight.  

Stage 9: Return phase. Here, individuals begin to return to their bodies, open their eyes, and regain movement in their fingers, toes, hands, feet, legs, and arms. They also engage with others.

Benefits of Connected Breathwork:

(Ref: https://chopra.com/articles/)

  • Body – When you engage in breathwork, you change the nervous system’s response to stress. This means less stress hormones like cortisol being released your body.  
  • Mind – Deep breathing can also help calm and slow down the emotional turbulence in your mind. In fact, there are studies that show breathwork can help treat depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
  • Spirit – When you practice breathwork, you can move beyond your body and mind, and connect with your core spirit—your Self. In other words, you can remove your ego and connect to your true Self and the Universe. Many people who practice breathwork experience spiritual awakenings or attunement to their inner being.

Contraindications for Connected Breathwork:

It is advised that people who have following conditions to seek medical advice before participating in a Connected Breathwork session: 

  • Pregnancy 
  • Chronic pulmonary diseases (COPD, Asthma) 
  • Cardiovascular Diseases (including prior heart attack, pacemakers, arrhythmias) 
  • Chronic diseases  
  • Cancer, unless it is prescribed by a doctor 
  • Acute somatic and viral diseases 
  • Epilepsy 
  • Detached retina 
  • Glaucoma 
  • Mental disorders (manic disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder etc) 
  • Strokes, TIA´s, seizures, or other brain/neurological conditions 
  • History of aneurysms in immediate family 
  • Use of prescription blood thinners 
  • Hospitalized for any psychiatric condition or emotional crisis within the past 10 years (including psychotic episodes). 

Critic about Breathwork

  1. Critics say that Breathwork is dangerous because it is hyperventilation. However, Breathwork is different form our conventional perception of hyperventilation. When you hyperventilate you do not control your breathing in a conscious way. Hyperventilation is typically upper chest breathing and it tends to be rapid and unsteady. You exhale more than you inhale, causing a rapid reduction of carbon dioxide in the body. But in Breathwork, the in and out breath are both long, deep, and rhythmic.
  2. People are not sufficiently supported to integrate the experience after group breathing circles. This might be a valid point especially for people who are more inexperienced with shadow work and do not have a support network or access to a therapist/coach to integrate deep experiences. (Ref: conni.me)
  3. There is some critic about using breathwork to fast track spiritual realisation by skipping years of meditation practice and experience the same as the great enlightened masters. The argument is that the person skips the philosophical aspects of the meditation practice (the philosophical questions´ self-inquiring practice), and when these are left out, many different types of spiritual self-deceit can be created. (Ref: https://mortentolboll.weebly.com/a-critique-of-stanislav-grof-and-holotropicbreathwork.html)

Maybe that is the same case as with any technique/tool, it can be helpful or unhelpful based on the intention of use similar to like when using a knife or electricity.

Breathwork is a powerful modality with the ability to transform ourselves. As Breathwork can bring out deep unresolved emotional issues, self-compassion and non-judgement is very important for the participant and for the Facilitator to create a compassionate container for the process to unfold.

Sign in

Join InnerCamp

New to our community?

Sign up now!

Join InnerCamp