Tuesday, February 26, 2008

No. 6 Achieving Integration & Wholeness through Rebirthing

The reality of our experience is that we can only ever be said to ‘possess’ the present moment. But the present is so fleeting that we are generally only aware of it after it has passed. We can only examine our experience through the lens of memory. This is because examination involves comparison and judgment – and these are all linked to memory. The process of remembering and comparing has its roots in reality, but it is only the play of consciousness with itself – quite literally, it is all in our minds.

We can appreciate this by observing ourselves in the act of thinking, feeling and sensing. We can both do these things and be aware that we are doing them – we can watch ourselves. In fact, whenever we seek to improve our performance, we use this capability. We watch ourselves and others and make comparisons on the relative efficiency and effectiveness of our behavior. So the role of the Observer serves a useful function in life and it is one that we can choose to adopt at any time we like.

The role of the Observer becomes vitally important during rebirthing. As the circular breathing raises our internal energy this highlights patterns of energy in our bodies that need to be re-integrated. We generally experience these patterns as discomfort. We may become aware of them as thoughts, feelings and sensations. Now the role of the Observer is simply to watch the patterns of energy that emerge, to watch them in great detail and in a state of non-judgmental awareness; rather as we would watch the currents swirling within a flowing river.

This neutrality with respect to our negative material is a necessary pre-requisite for integration to take place. The patterns of energy that we perceive with discomfort are still patterns of our energy – they are not ‘negative energy’, they are not something that needs to be expelled, pushed away or got rid of. We need all of our energy to meet the demands of living. Integration is a process of re-absorption, of taking back, and harmonizing the flow of all of our energy.

The alternative would be to become involved with or ‘hooked up on’ our thoughts, feelings and sensations; this would be the same as simply re-living them. Inevitably, we would end up reacting and tensing up once more. In other words, the exact opposite of integration would take place.

The present moment is not only all the time we have, it is all the time there is or will ever be. The experience of high levels of energy in our body is naturally ecstatic. When, through our Observer, we can enter a state of non-judgmental awareness and become wholly engaged in the enjoyment of the present moment; not only does the pain and trauma of the past effortlessly dissolve itself but we begin to glimpse a way of being in the world and yet not chained to it that is the hallmark of higher dimensions of consciousness.

Monday, February 25, 2008

No. 5 Modulating the Breath during Rebirthing Breathing

By modulating the use of the breath it is possible to maintain our consciousness in the space between being unconscious of our suppressed material, on the one hand, and its full – and uncomfortable – activation, on the other. It is this in-between state that offers the optimal – and most humane – conditions for achieving the integration of our ages-old pain and trauma.

The activation of suppressed material can take a number of forms. It can manifest as anxious thoughts about our current or future situation; as feelings of sadness or anger; or as physical sensations such as unaccountable aches and pains, coughing and nausea. It is into this energetic field, reflecting our life long history of trauma and upset, that rebirthing introduces us. But whilst rebirthing breathing activates our issues it also starts a process of releasing them. For the high levels of energy necessary for activation also provide a means to ‘dissolve’ long standing blockages. This process proceeds over time and depends upon the level of energy in the body and how often and for how long it is maintained. This is also the basis of such healing modalities as reiki and bioenergy.

With rebirthing breathwork the very high levels of energy that are used can also produce intense activation if we are not careful. Some schools of rebirthing do encourage intense activation but by and large this approach has now been superseded by a more sophisticated, more nuanced approach. The reason for this is that activation that is too intense will be experienced as threatening. This might cause us to discontinue our practice or to reinforce our shallow breathing and muscular tension in an effort to suppress the activated feelings. What constitutes ‘too intense’ will clearly vary from person to person. The other extreme would be to allow our breathing and hence our energy to drop to too low a level. In this situation the real issues that require resolution will lay untroubled beneath the surface of consciousness and continue to sabotage our lives!
There is therefore a need to balance our level of activation with our level of suppression so that we can continue rebirthing whilst maintaining our focus on our emotional activation. When we can do this, and it is an important part of the teaching and facilitation provided by a professional rebirther, that we can then start the process of reversing the muscular tension and shallow breathing that anchor self-limiting patterns of behavior in our bodies.

Monday, February 18, 2008

No. 4 Finding the Energy For Change

In the last post we talked about the central role of the breath in rebirthing. Initially it is used to raise the level of our internal or ‘qi’ energy. This has the effect of highlighting any areas where there is resistance or a ‘blockage’ to the flow of energy through our body.

The explanation of how rebirthing works is best conveyed by the ‘Eastern’ model or explanation of the mind, body, spirit connection. This is not because rebirthing is in any way connected to Eastern practices, it isn’t. It is just that the actual experience of rebirthing accords best with the explanation provided by the Eastern model.

By the ‘Eastern model’ I mean the classic description of the subtle energy system that under lays traditional Eastern healing systems such as acupuncture, acupressure, shiatsu and reflexology as well as the various techniques of modern Western Energy Psychology. These include Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) and Tapas Acupressure Technique (TAT) amongst others. In this model a subtle ‘life force’ energy – known variously as ‘qi’ (Chinese, pronounced ‘chee’) or ‘prana’ (Indian) enters our body with each breath. It is then conducted around the body via a system of channels or meridians that branch into thousands of lesser channels known as ‘nadis’. The flow of this energy is said to be ‘blocked’ or, better to say, restricted, wherever muscular tension exists.

Whenever we experience a trauma or negative emotional experience we tend to physically ‘block’ or limit its impact upon us by tightening up our muscles and shortening our breathing. This instinctive reaction can become a permanent condition in the face of extreme or long standing threats and upsets. Clearly what constitutes ‘extreme’ or ‘long standing’ depends upon our age and experience. What we would judge to be extreme at the age of 4 or 12 differs considerably from our judgment of the same situation at the age of 35 or 65. Nevertheless, the blockage is formed when the experience first occurs and its effects can last a life time. In rebirthing, the birth process itself is thought of as the archetypal trauma that creates the psychological disposition for future problems. In addition, the early years of life find us in a very vulnerable position in the face of upsets, hurt and abuse.

This ‘highlighting’ of underlaying blockages is called ‘activation’, a term that refers to the re-activation of their related emotional affects. Ordinarily we attempt to ‘suppress’ old hurts by trying to hold them beneath the surface of consciousness through muscular tension and shallow breathing. Another common avoidance strategy is to distract ourselves whenever we become activated, hence much of our unnecessary eating!

Since our remembrance of emotional pain is neurologically the same as our initial experience of that pain, we are naturally reluctant to accept the activation of suppressed feelings. And yet we all recognize that suppression doesn’t work very well and exacts far too high a price in terms of our stunted abilities and lost opportunities. Fortunately there is an answer to this dilemma. Just as the breath is used to both suppress and highlight our underlaying painful feelings, we can learn to consciously control and use this capability during our breathing sessions.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

No.3 Shifting Our Set Point in Life

In the last post I talked about the importance of our psychological ‘set-point’ as a determinant of the overall level of happiness and satisfaction that we enjoy in life. I want to open up this concept a little further since it is central to our concern with self improvement at almost every level.

A set-point manifests as some level of performance or behavior – whether in our professional or private lives – that we have difficulty exceeding or overcoming. It is a level to which we always seem to return, despite our best efforts. We may become aware of our set-points when we notice the recurrence of certain negative situations in life. Clashes with authority, relationship difficulties, uncontrollable anger manifesting as 'road rage' or office bullying, problems with money, and the experience of failure just as we are on the brink of success. These are all classic signs of unconscious feelings manifesting as destructive behavior.

Typically, most of us have little understanding of the underlaying ‘mechanics’ of why negative situations keep recurring in our lives. We may, however, feel that in some fundamental way, we are not fulfilling our potential. This is not surprising, since the underlaying reasons for our problems may well lay in early childhood or even, as Stanislav Grof’s research has shown, in the perinatal period of life (the period from conception through to birth). It is therefore not surprising that, on occasion, our behavior manifests as seemingly autonomous, self-sabotaging traits.

I would like to emphasizethat we are discussing the experience of average people going about their normal lives and not people diagnosed with mental health problems. People in this latter category need to follow the supervision of a qualified therapist. Breathwork can be a powerful adjunct process to other therapies, but only under proper supervision. For everyone else, breathwork can be a powerful, efficient and safe process for releasing the invisible ties that bind us to the past and undermine our ability to realize our full potential in the present.

When people feel a need for real change, and are strongly motivated to move beyond their limitations – their ‘set point’ – in life, then rebirthing breathwork can be an optimal approach to freedom. The essence of all successful breathwork is the integration of past issues, issues that we have long grown out of and which no longer serve a useful purpose. The process of breathwork raises our internal energy and this highlights any hidden problems, causing them to stand out from their surroundings. Placed in relief, we can then apply a range of approaches that will ensure their integration and permanent resolution.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

No.2 Why do breathwork?

First & foremost, to feel better about ourselves, our relationships & our lives. To understand how breathwork can positively affect these issues, we need to have some kind of model as to why we are dissatisfied in the first place. Popular philosophies to the effect that ‘life’s just like that’, or ‘I’m too sensitive for this world’, simply don’t help us.

We need to see that whatever we have, or haven’t, achieved in life is relative. In other words, judgement is a large part of our problem. But judgement against what standard exactly? Against those standards that we have internalized, ‘how things should be’ as opposed to how they are. Our frames of reference set us up for a lifetime spent running inside our cage’s wheel. The perfect self, the loving relationship, the fabulous home, attractive, well paid career, enviable possessions etc.etc. The friction between our idealized images of life and the reality that we experience day to day can be both profoundly motivating – and profoundly depressing. Research in positive psychology has demonstrated that achieving a certain standard of living has only a short term impact on our level of happiness and sense of well-being. Hence the expression the ‘hedonic treadmill’ – on the level of material satisfaction, we seldom ‘arrive’ and must just keep on running.

Moreover, most of what we dream for and actively pursue is simply not going to make us that much happier in the long run. Research has shown that even a lottery winner will have more or less the same, or worse, level of life satisfaction after 9 months than before they won the lottery! Again the research is telling. It is estimated that our circumstances account for only 10% of our happiness. Intentional activity – all that running on the treadmill – accounts for another 40%. But a whopping 50% of our happiness is more or less ‘fixed’ – it depends upon our ‘set point’ or baseline level of happiness in life. The million dollar question is, therefore, can we change our set-point?

The answer to that question depends upon what our ‘set point’ is built from. We can view the ‘set point’ as a spectrum ranging, on one end of the scale, from relatively ‘fixed’ genetically inherited traits all the way through various levels of unconscious and conscious affect and belief to how we use our minds on a day to day basis. Therapeutic and personal development approaches and techniques are interventions along this spectrum to permanently shift the ‘set point’ of life satisfaction in a more positive direction. How breathwork accomplishes this, and for what range of issues it is particularly well suited will be dealth with in a future post.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

No.1 Introducing Rebirthing Breathwork

“the breath is the junction of Mind, Body and Spirit” Deepak Chopra

Over the last 45 years, rebirthing breathwork has proved itself a popular and trusted approach to personal transformation. Rebirthing evolved largely from the research undertaken by Leonard Orr and Stanislav Grof since the early 1960s. Rebirthing breathwork has gone on to become an accepted therapeutic, personal and spiritual development practice worldwide.

Over the years rebirthing has branched out, creating many different variations. But underlaying them all is a form of breathing called ‘consciously connected’ or ‘circular’ breathing. This type of breathing raises the body’s energy, highlighting areas of our lives where its flow is congested. The high levels of energy combined with deep relaxation facilitate the integration age old fears, sadness and anger. This naturally lightens our lives and allows us to contemplate a much broader vision for ourselves, our relationships and our future.

Leonard Orr has described rebirthing breathwork as a way to “unravel the birth-death cycle”. The name ‘rebirthing’ derives from the possibility of re-experiencing and integrating the trauma of our own birth process. This typically leads to a tremendous sense of release and a new sense of freedom and purpose in life. Before this stage is reached, however, we may need to integrate many of life’s other, less dramatic, traumas. Rebirthing breathwork can also be used to integrate humankind’s most basic and universal fear, that of death itself.

Much of the writing about breathwork has concentrated only on people’s personal difficulties and how these were overcome. Inspiring as this is, there is another aspect to working with the breath. The experience of high levels of energy is naturally ecstatic. For a short time, the boundaries separating us from the world at large are dissolved. We enter into a much broader, more spiritual conception of reality, of ourselves and of our place in the world. Even after the experience has passed, this conception of reality stays with us to guide and inspire our lives. This is, perhaps, the greatest gift that rebirthing breathwork can give us.