Breathe yourself into change 

Everyone breathes, but how we breathe can make a big difference on who we are and how we live our lives. Can therapeutic breathing help solve my problems? 

Text by Sandra Deira
Photo’s by Ingrid Godager & Ramon Mebrahtu

Breathing techniques have been around for thousands of years with roots in eastern cultures. People have been able to enter altered states of consciousness and experience all sorts of things, all by changing the way they breathe. Nowadays, it’s making a comeback in the western countries as ‘Breathwork’. Techniques like ‘the Iceman’ help people withstand extreme colds. But a more therapeutic technique can let people experience full-body orgasms, release traumatic childhood memories and support the recovery process of a burn out. Could the effects of breathing 2.0 really be as life-changing as claimed? I will give it a try.

For years I have been waiting for therapeutic help…

As an International Journalism-student in Amsterdam, who commutes for about an hour every day between two big cities, my life can be very stressful. Classes, deadlines and group assignments sometimes push me to the verge of a burn out. For years I have been waiting for therapeutic help with depression, social anxiety and personality issues. Due to long waiting lists, and a personal curiosity towards alternative ‘healing’ methods, I am eager to try new things. Could breathing really help me with all of this? 

I’m on my way to Bilthoven for a Breathwork session with Tamara Groen. Tamara has been a Breathwork Therapist for 9 years now. I already feel calmer than every other day I had spent in the big city, in the quiet and sunny neighbourhood surrounded by trees. 

Tamara was busy preparing the session, but she welcomed me with a calm voice and offered me some tea. As I sit down, a light smell of incense and herbal tea enter my nose. I wonder: Why do people go to these sessions? 

Tamara has been a Breathwork Therapist for 9 years now.

Before I can find out, Tamara explains more about what Breathwork is. “Luckily, breathing happens automatically. But by breathing consciously you become calmer”, she says. Apparently certain breathing techniques are able to lower the heart rate. “If you’re very anxious or nervous it can help you”, she continues.

A variety of people is joining today’s session. Not the woolly hippies I secretly expected. But two young, good-looking men in jeans and sweaters, a father of seven children and two young women in comfy purple and grey sweaters and yoga pants. Some are here because of burnouts, and others wants to be freed from negative thoughts or physical stress.  

It’s time for sharing and bonding exercises. Tamara tells us how Breathwork changed her completely. Before, she had an intense life as an account manager making 6000, – euros a month. “From the outside it seemed like I had the perfect life, but from the inside I didn’t know how to handle my emotions in a healthy way.” She even flew from them with addictions. “I was addicted to all kinds of things: drugs, Netflix, men, food, and work”, she says. When she had a burn out and had to stop working, she found Breathwork. Now, she uses her breath to “cope with life”. 

Soon I become light-headed and my body feels tingly.

Then, we share our intentions for the session and lay down on our mattresses. I feel pretty comfortable and relaxed already, with the sun shining on my face, the view of trees outside the window, and calm music that starts to play. We begin the 45 minutes of connected breathing, and soon I become light-headed and my body feels tingly. 

“By going back to the original way of breathing, you can research blockages in your body, and breathe through it.” This is how the technique works according to Tamara. “We go back to the original way of breathing from when we were born.” The way we breathe changes because of stressful and traumatic events. The body memorizes and stores these events, and thus affects our breathing system, she explains. 

By going back to the original way of breathing, you can research blockages in your body.

After a few minutes, I feel a stinging pain in my right shoulder and a headache is coming up. Could it be stored up stress coming up, or am I doing something wrong? 

Generally, there are two ways of breathing: horizontally and vertically. Tamara continues by telling that babies and animals breathe with their bellies more than we do (horizontal). However, they use the full breathing system, including the lower ‘rest and digest’ part, and the higher ‘fight or flight’ system (vertical). A balance between the two seems to be the key. With the sessions people can see how (im)balanced they are. 

Tamara helps us to keep breathing correctly, since it’s not a very natural thing to do. After some time, the stinging in my shoulder and knee disappear, and I become very calm. But other emotions are also present in the room. A girl and an older woman are crying very loud and intensely, a younger woman had a few laughs, while others sound relaxed. 

Breakthrough

Later on, we are instructed to do an (awkward) exercise for extra emotional release. We take a big inhale, and on the ‘exhale’ we stomp our feet, slap our hands to the floor and shake our heads while breathing very deeply while saying “aaaah”. The first time, nothing really happens other than me getting over the awkwardness. Behind me, I hear other people loudly bursting into tears. After a few more times, I break too. I haven’t cried so deeply in years.

I’m the only person that is able to fix what was broken

Weirdly enough, I am not sad. I feel relieved. Something that was apparently stuck, comes out, tearing me up. But then something really strange happens. Not a full-body orgasm, but a vision of myself as a baby in the hospital with my mom. I am adopted but never really thought too much about it. And now I see this confused baby and it somehow makes sense where a lot of my problems are coming from. I see that this baby wasn’t brought into this world on purpose, and never experienced acceptance and love from it’s biological parents. Instead it was rejected and came into the homes of a few new families. Which lead to a lot of shame and guilt and a complex view on relationships. Then I see present me. The only person that is able to fix what was broken. 

By a few minutes of breathing I had a huge breakthrough. I didn’t know therapy could ever do that.