A couple months ago, I received an email from a woman in Mexico inquiring about coming to Guatemala, and trading her services as a “Rebirther” in exchange for free accommodations.
I’m from Austin and also lived in the San Francisco Bay area, both metropolitan areas which are teeming with yoga instructors, holistic health practitioners, meditation gurus and spiritual healers of all stripes and types.
I have learned over the years, through both firsthand experience and secondhand research, that not all healers actually heal. Many of them harm, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
The place where I live now, San Marcos La Laguna, is a mecca of spiritualism. In this tiny rural Guatemalan pueblo, one can easily encounter daily yoga classes, from pre-dawn Kundalini sadhanas to afternoon Ashtanga/vinyasa/power yoga and everything in between. You can also attend a heart-opening cacao ceremony on the front porch of an old gringo hippie shaman, get your Akashic record and/or Tarot cards read by a psychic, enjoy a wide variety of massage techniques, embark on a 28-day silent meditation course, or take a training in sexual shamanism. Among other things.
At first, I ignored the email. She persisted and resent another message via my personal blog and Facebook page.
I had gotten a spider bite in October that resulted in intense joint pain throughout my body. A week later, on the day of the full moon in late October, I went to see a doctor who’d been recommended by a few acquaintances. Instead of being medically treated, I got a one-hour psychic reading in which this doctor (who is an M.D. from the U.S.—and also tells the local children that he is a cat, I later found out) read my Akashic record.
Believe it or not, I found much of what he said to be helpful and illuminating. He mentioned breath work multiple times, and I equated that to a sign that I should open my mind and try the Rebirthing-Breathwork sessions that this lady (I’ll call her Bertha) was offering.
So, I replied to Bertha and told her she could stay at our house for a few nights. (She was planning to be in the area for three weeks.) It’s a tiny cabin, but we have a futon couch downstairs which I offered to her. I even connected her with a few friends in other areas of Guatemala.
The day that she arrived at the lake, I was out of the house all day working and running errands and forgot my phone at home. By the time I got home, it was night. She’d been waiting for me for hours in Panajachel. I explained the situation and told her to get on the boat and where to get off. She seemed to take it all in stride. She arrived with a gigantic, heavy, red duffel bag.
Bertha slept on our couch for three nights before finding a nearby cabin to rent. This woman is more of the fancy-hotel type but claimed to have almost no money, which is why she was asking to exchange her services for housing in the first place. The cabin cost $30 per week to rent. Unfortunately, she was overcome by paranoia and each night would call my neighbor (the landlord) and claim that there was a man outside the house trying to get in. (There was no one, ever, when he went to check.)
Meanwhile, she gave me three sessions over the course of a week. Evidently, there are various techniques of rebirthing which have been invented over the years. The one Bertha practices is called “Rebirthing-Breathwork” and was created by a gringo guru named Leonard Orr. Bertha is on his “international team” and refers to him as an urban yogi. He is apparently an enlightened being…as long as he takes an hour-long, hot bath and sits in front of a fire every day.
The technique that she taught me involved a short, forceful inhale through the nose, immediately followed by a natural exhale through the nose. This is done for one hour straight, with the Rebirther there by your side to give gentle guidance and support. In my first two sessions, buckets of tears and snot left my body.
Just before my third session, Bertha decided to unleash her opinions—on my marriage, on how we are raising my daughter, on her great dissatisfaction with our community in Guatemala. I wanted to go home, but she convinced me to do the third session. I did feel better afterward, but doing pretty much any type of conscious breathing for an hour will make one feel good.
When I looked up Rebirthing, Wikipedia told me:
Orr devised rebirthing therapy in the 1970s after he supposedly re-lived his own birth while in the bath. He claimed that breathing techniques could be used to purge traumatic childhood memories that had been repressed.
In 2006, a panel of over 100 experts participated in a survey of psychological treatments and considered rebirthing therapy to be discredited.
I was born in 1980 in a hospital, and the doctor used forceps to pull me out. According to rebirthing theory, this means I have a lack of follow-through and need to be pushed or pulled out of situations by someone or something. Okay, maybe that has a tinge of truth to it. Still, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth due to Bertha’s absurdly pushy personality.
The final slap in the face came this week. I (stupidly) loaned Bertha $100 with the agreement that she would pay me back via PayPal upon her return to Mexico. She emailed me the other day a long, ridiculous message full of criticism and complaints. She’s decided to keep the money in exchange for the two latter sessions she gave me. I didn’t even reply. I feel angry, naive and manipulated, but I’m cutting my losses.
Alas. Hindsight is 20/20. No more Rebirthing for me, gracias.
Author: Michelle Margaret Fajkus
Editor: Travis May
Images: Flickr/Hernan Pinera