What is breathwork? Could you spend a moment explaining this for someone who hasn’t encountered your work before?
Sondra: Breathwork is a spiritual purification technique. Breathwork is not like other types of conscious breathing - such as in yoga or ballet -- because breathwork takes place in the upper chest, which is where most of us had damage to the breath mechanism at birth. Since our first breath is typically associated with pain, most people continue to semi-ventilate with very shallow breaths throughout their lives. hey are not rejuvenating their bodies. So in breathwork, we are trying to heal the damage done to the breath mechanism in the upper chest. We breathe in a smooth circular rhythm without pausing at the top and or the bottom of the breath cycle.
Breathwork is also different from the deeper breathing that comes with exercise, in which you are breathing more but also using up the energy you gain. In breathwork, you lie very still with just your chest moving, so that the energy builds in your body. The breath energy has kind of an innate intelligence - it knows where to go to cleanse you of whatever is stuck in your body. Usually, these are preverbal negative thoughts, which go all the way to birth.
Markus: Imagine an oxygen bath! When you’re breathing deeply in a connected way, and lying down and not using up the energy by exercise or jogging, this has an expansive effect on your cells - it’s like filling up a balloon. Normally your cells are actually under-inflated. This works directly on cellular memory, which is the idea that memory is actually embedded in our cells.It’s a physiological practice but at the same time it makes a psychological impact. By expanding your cells, breathwork can tends to bring up negative memories from your past. In breathwork, people experience memories of their birth that they weren’t previously conscious of, and they can see clearly certain belief systems that they formed in early childhood, such as ‘life is dangerous,’ or ‘life is painful,’ which are still embedded in the cells. Through the process of breathwork, these belief systems, as well as memories of people’s experience of their birth, are brought to the surface and released.
How does breathwork differ from other spiritual practices?
Sondra: People have cosmic and spiritual experiences through breathwork. They sometimes encounter past life memories. A lot can happen for different people at many different levels. What comes up particularly in breathwork is memories of birth, and we use this opportunity to release the trauma we experienced at birth. Even in what is seen as a normal birth, without forceps or anaesthetics or anything, there is a lot of trauma. For example, I was born in the 1950s, and the babies of my generation were hung upside down, we were induced, we were put in nurseries — all kinds of things down to us as newborns. So breathwork is, particularly, a way of releasing the trauma that most of us experienced at birth.
However, today we do see people exploring ways of birthing that a more gentle transition from the womb. There are a lot of new ideas around birth emerging in the world, but the medical profession is still so in control. Traumatic births are still happening, but there are alternatives that didn’t exist 20-30 years ago. If someone is interested in having an enlightened birth experience, the information is out there for them, which is an amazing thing.
What advice would you have for someone who is interested in beginning to work with breathwork?
Markus: In order to reap the full benefit of any spiritual practice, you have to make it your own and make it a lifelong practice. Breathwork — as with other spiritual practices like pranayama or meditation — is something you do daily. Breathwork is a long spiritual process! We like to say that until you’re like Jesus and Baba-ji and Amma-ji, you still have something to clear. There is always still something on your path that you need to do.
Sondra: Go for it as soon as you can! Don’t hesitate, go for it, because It feels really good! You have to find a breathworker that you like and trust. Interview breathworkers to find out about their training and use your intuition to decide if this is the person you want to work with. At that point, you need to stick with them for at least 10 sessions. You don’t want to jump around from one breathworker to another - you want to work with one person who helps you go deeper and deeper each time. We say it’s a lifelong path - so my advice is to go for it and stick with it!
Sondra Ray was launched into international acclaim in the 1970s as one of the pioneers of the Rebirthing Experience, along with Leonard Orr, its founder. Since then, she has trained thousands of people all over the world in this conscious connected breathing process, and is considered one of the foremost experts on how the birth trauma affects one's body, relationships, career and life.Markus Ray received his training in the arts, holding an MFA in painting. Also a writer and a poet, he brings spirituality and sensuality together in these mediums of expression.