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“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.” ~ C.S. Lewis
Have you ever been so anxious that every breath you took felt forced and labored like a death rattle?
If you’ve ever grieved the traumatic loss of someone you love, then you can probably identify with that experience.
You may have been healthy and alive in all other respects, but the deep, unbearable pain of grief had coiled you up into a ball of raw, intense, and entangled emotions—not just anxiety, but also sadness, depression, regret, anger, and guilt. These were eating you up inside and rendering you under their control.
When Psychotherapy for Complicated Grief and Trauma Was Not Enough
That was me—before I discovered the healing power of breathwork therapy. When, at four years of sobriety, my brother Daniel suddenly and tragically passed away from an overdose, the grief and loss that I experienced in the wake of his traumatic death were so overwhelming that I felt like I had been completely hollowed out and doomed to remain this way. (The clinical word for this form of grief is “complicated grief,” which is more likely to happen when the loss of someone you love is traumatic.)
I sought out traditional psychotherapy for relief. Although I received much benefit from therapy and learned many coping skills to relieve my pain, the sense of deep separation still remained.
After many years of believing traditional psychotherapy was my only avenue for relief, I experienced an onset of deep grief during a divorce that reignited my sense of crushing loneliness and isolation. The lingering sadness and trauma-related grief from the loss of my brother only amplified the hurt and pain.
How my Introduction to Breathwork Therapy Began
All those difficult emotions were trying to tell me something: that I had some significant, unfinished therapeutic business to address, and that it needed a new treatment approach. During a conversation with a recovering friend and mentor, she suggested I see a breathwork therapist in Delray Beach, Florida.
When I heard the term “breathwork,” I assumed my friend was recommending the more well-known practice of yoga (which pairs breathing and stretching exercises). But I was desperate; I would have tried anything to pull me out of the dark pit of despair I was in, especially when substances and medications were no longer an option for me.
My First Session of Breathwork Therapy: “Connected Conscious Breathing”
That’s how I first ended up on a yoga mat with a breathwork therapist explaining to me what was about to take place. I remember simultaneously feeling desperate and willing to try anything and skeptical about a holistic treatment I’d never heard of before. My emotional pain was also so loud that I could barely take in what the therapist was saying, catching only maybe 10 percent of her instructions.
She told me to lay on the yoga mat and breathe in a specific pattern called “connected conscious breathing,” opening the mouth as wide as possible without discomfort and connecting the in-breath to the out-breath with no pause. Within four to five minutes, I was in a non-ordinary state of consciousness and had lost all sense of time.
An hour later, when I left the session, I knew that I had cried through most of it, but that the experience of crying occurred without feelings of emotional pain. The reason for this phenomenon (which I would come to discover through more breathwork sessions) is that at this deep level of consciousness, you become the observer of your pain rather than the recipient, and your body purges leftover emotions from old wounds, but without the pain and hurt.
After these breathwork sessions, there was always a feeling of physical tiredness and hunger, like I had just worked out at the gym for an hour or gone swimming for some time at the beach. The experience can be hard to describe to someone who has not engaged in breathwork therapy, but for me and many others, breathwork therapy is an experiential, spiritual healing process. I felt a deep sense of peace and connectedness to my Higher Power (creative intelligence).
I felt reborn.
How Breathwork Therapy Speeds the Healing Process for Grief and Trauma
There is no treatment road map for breathwork. We simply keep showing up, keep breathing, keep healing, and keep allowing our breath to take us exactly to where we need restoration, whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
In 12 breathwork sessions across four months of healing, I felt better than I had in the previous four years with traditional psychotherapy. Before breathwork, I had felt a spiritual alliance with my higher power, but after breathwork I felt tapped in to a deeply connected love, an all-knowing sense of well-being.
During that period of working on my own inner healing through breathwork, I remember driving home one day from a session and intuitively thinking, “I’m going to teach this.”
How Breathwork Therapy Can Help Heal Trauma and Related Issues
My positive healing experience with breathwork propelled me to inquire about how it really worked. Through a series of synchronistic events, I was led to Carol Lampman, an expert in the field. She would become my mentor.
A lot of people have no idea what breathwork really entails. It is a simple method of connecting the in-breath with the out-breath with no pause. The individual drops into a non-ordinary state of consciousness where previously repressed thoughts and emotions can easily rise to the surface for integration. It is a highly personal and experiential process that uses an extremely simple technique to clear out any physical, mental, and emotional blocks.
After undergoing training and certification in breathwork therapy, I landed a position at a treatment center that embraced holistic interventions for addiction and mental health issues along with more traditional treatments. There I have had the incredible privilege of seeing how breathwork therapy can transform patients’ lives.
Yes, some patients show up wondering what sort of useless, New Age mumbo jumbo they have stumbled into, convinced that whatever is about to happen in the next hour will not help them. (This is usually before I lead them through a first session.) In quick time, though, and as early as the end of their first session, patients begin to open up with enthusiasm about their experiences of healing—and the spiritual, emotional, and/or physical release that breathwork facilitated.
For this reason, I have come to believe that breathwork can help all patients with trauma experiences, from veterans, first responders, and the like, to soccer moms and everyone in between. Regardless of the type or severity of the trauma, breathwork is a universal modality of healing that allows patients to purge and let go of the feelings, thoughts, sensations, and memories that no longer serve them.
I have tremendous passion for this work. To witness someone’s healing in an hour or two after you meet them is beyond magical. To do this work is such an honor. Breathwork therapy is not a “job” for me—it is my passion, and I am blessed that it not only healed me but has picked me to carry a message of healing to so many who suffer.