A question I have been frequently asked is “Is Breathwork like meditation?” Or, ‘is it like mindfulness?”.
My answer is – “yes and no”.
In mindfulness we are learning to become more aware of our everyday existence and to become more present to our experience. In meditation we could say that this is a more formal way of applying mindfulness – by giving ourselves an allotted space and time to sit with awareness, essentially reducing our external stimuli and (perhaps) choosing a specific focus – such as our own breath – to be mindful of. In mindfulness meditation when a disturbance arises e.g. thoughts or emotions we may simply notice them dispassionately and allow them to move through our experience – we are training ourselves to be more aware of experience as it happens.
The major difference as I see it with Breathwork is that when a certain experience arises e.g. a body sensation or emotion, we move towards it, rather than simply being aware of it. We actively encourage ourselves to encounter the experience as directly as possible. We do this by using our breath to focus our attention on whatever we are experiencing so that we can allow ourselves to really encounter it and really feel it. This gives the opportunity for trapped energy in the form of physical sensations, emotions and unresolved experiences to surface and be fully experienced. This allows what was at some point in the past too uncomfortable to experience the opportunity to be experienced and integrated, releasing the energy for living rather than suppression.
So we use the breath first of all to surface these experiences held in our body and then to help us focus and integrate what arises. We are really allowing ourselves to accept what was at some point pushed away in ourselves. From my own experience of meditating and using breathwork, I would say that breathwork is often a more intense experience. However a key part of the breathwork process is awareness – being aware of what we are experiencing in as much detail as possible and keeping our attention fully in the present. So experience of mindfulness or practicing awareness through meditation is highly useful in Breathwork.
Becoming Naturally Present
Another aspect of Breathwork is that one naturally becomes more present in daily life. What keeps us out of our body and ‘in our heads’ is unresolved experiences held within the body such as trauma or grief. Because these haven’t been fully experienced in the first place a lot of our energy is used up keeping them suppressed. It also means our spirit cannot fully enter the body. These unresolved experiences also drive a lot of our thinking and mental activity – essentially it’s these difficult experiences we haven’t fully dealt with that lead to constantly repeating patterns of thought and mental confusion as well as holding on to belief systems that no longer work for us.
When we go through a Breathwork process and work through some of the suppressed experiences we can then inhabit the body more fully, have less mental confusion and feel more present and alive. As a consequence we become less and less ‘in our heads’ and more and more in our bodies and in the here and now, fully present. As we become more practiced with Breathwork and how to work with it, we find ourselves applying the process more and more in daily life so that when we experience something uncomfortable we are more able to just breathe, feel it as it is, without judgement and with more curiosity and openness.
“It wasn’t until I encountered Breathwork that I was able to really go to the places in myself that I needed to in order to become whole.”
Another aspect of breathwork which I have found extremely useful is that it’s a very safe container for experiencing unresolved and difficult experiences. I sometimes found when meditating that when something difficult arose I would have no way of containing it and I would be left with what felt like quite a fractured state of mind. Something had ‘come up’ but there was no way I knew of to integrate the experience. I had unlocked something deeper in myself but had no way of dealing with it other than trying to put the genie back in the bottle. In Breathwork we are able to fully encounter these experiences in a way that feels inherently safe and which brings us resolution and a more complete sense of ourselves.
More often than not in a Breathwork session, we will move through what feels like a complete process where we breathe, something arises and then we move steadily through a process of integration to a place where we feel ‘complete’ at the end of the process. Sometimes the resolution takes place in our daily lives after the session. In either case it seems our psyche has our best interests at heart and we are able to work through what arises in just the right way.
I had over two decades of meditation experience but it wasn’t until I encountered Breathwork that I was able to really go to the places in myself that I needed to in order to become whole. I see the two practices as just different keys in the journey towards a fully present self – mindfulness meditation can help us become more present, aware and attentive, while Breathwork can take us deeper into the areas of our psyche we find difficult, but which are essential for our wellbeing. Meditation can help us focus our attention, Breathwork will help clear the way for us to be able to focus with less distraction from our unresolved past.
I Once Heard…
I don’t know if this is true or not, but one of my breathwork teachers, who was initiated as a Yoga Swami and a Kriya Yoga teacher and had spent years training in India before returning to a Western lifestyle told us that “meditation is for the East, Breathwork is for the West – it fits our lifestyles better. “ It’s something I’ve always borne in mind. What I can say is that I still practice both, but Breathwork was the key for me in learning how to make my daily life the basis for my spiritual practice. It also helped to turn my thinking round 180 degrees – rather than thinking I was a physical being trying to have a spiritual experience, I am a spiritual being here to have a physical experience.
Breathwork enables us to more fully inhabit the physical and to help manifest spirit through the various material expressions of who we are and what we do in our lives. We breathe life into the magnificent creation that is our own life and everything we bring forth as we live it.
Something to meditate on.
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