I wrote this post right after the breath work workshop ended last Friday, but I have not had a chance to finish and post until now. Time moves fast on my travels! I am excited to share about the week because I think a lot of people have no idea what happens during a breath work retreat!
The type of breath work we did is called Transformational Breath, developed by Judith Kravitz. Judith is a really sensitive bodyworker, and one of the most eye-opening things about the week was how incredible our bodies are. In one demonstration, she pressed into different points of a woman’s body to determine how she was holding her breath back, and what that resistance meant. As she pressed into the woman’s body, while the woman engaged in deep circular breathing, Judith could feel the energy moving and shifting and releasing. The woman started sobbing during the work, and emerged famished and feeling very light. It is fascinating to see how we can work with our bodies to aid emotional and spiritual growth.
During the week, we experimented with different forms of breath work: gentle sessions, intense ones, sessions focused on specific blocks/obstacles in our lives, sessions outside breathing in nature. Rather than try and recap each session, I’ll review one of my more powerful experiences. This session was the one dedicated to working with a specific block/obstacle. My intention was to let go of control over a situation involving another person, to find freedom and peace with the way things are. My breath starts out as a forced mechanical exercise. Deep breath in, release, over and over. As time passes, my conscious mind settles down and I am fully immersed in the experience. Deep automatic breathing kicks in. I am no longer directing the breath. Instead, it is taking me for a ride. I am both curious and slightly afraid of where it will go. I feel lots of energy that erupts into anger. I let the anger express itself in toned vocalizations (sound is a key way to release energy. Tones are better than yells because they integrate and raise the energy, rather than having it remain a chaotic yell). Behind the anger I find deep sorrow and sadness. This feels new and big. I realize I have been trying to avoid feeling this sadness. The more I relax into it the more vulnerable I feel. I keep on breathing deep, circular breaths, letting these waves of sadness wash over me without tensing against them. Another realization: I am strong enough to feel this sadness. I feel an incredible sense of peace and lightness, truly protected and cared for. When the session ends, and I open my eyes, I can barely talk. I giggle and smile instead, amazed by my sense of well-being. The world feels new. I am overcome with gratitude, and a sense of surrender to the situation with the other person that is deeply physical and rooted—not just a mental concept. If you have ever had insights while in an altered mental state….and catch a glimpse of how beautiful and simple and tender the world is if you just relax into it… it was like that. Over a week later, and I still carry this insight within me, in my body’s code.
Even though breath work is intensely personal, it occurs in the context of a community that is hugely important. For me actually, the community is just as important as the personal work. At the beginning of the week we were 20 strangers, of different ages, races, geographic locations, and genders. At the end of the week, we were joined by the journey we had just taken together. It is such a blessing to be part of the group experience! So many people go through life pretending that they don’t have emotions or numbing them, because there is no space in modern society to dig deep. Sure, you can have conversations with your best friend or partner. But those private conversations can feel like you are sharing a secret, a confidence just between the two of you. When you get together with a group of people and openly bare your joy and pain and love and fears, you that discover that everyone has similar struggles. The love and support you receive melts parts of yourself you did not even realize had been frozen. And you get to give others the same love in return. After having had intense experiences of community like this over the past year, I find myself wanting to carry this love out of these safe spaces and share them with others in my daily life. In other words, I find myself being stronger, more authentic, and more compassionate with others because I see what is possible. Screw it if people think I am sappy. 🙂
One final thing. What I didn’t realize until the end of the week was that Judith’s son, who had suffered a brain injury years before, had passed about ten days before our workshop. At the end, she dedicated the workshop to him and told us how much it meant to her to be doing this work and helping people heal. For me, it brought home how precious it was to be able to spend the week together with everyone, laughing, crying, dancing, playing, and loving. Grateful to be alive.