The Bodywork Perspective – Learning Breathwork

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We’ve been look­ing at the com­po­nents of the body for signs of block­age. Now, we turn to ways to release the blocks. The first method is through Breath­work — a method­ol­o­gy for using breath­ing to release ten­sion in the body.

It’s a stand­ing joke at The Haven — there will be some­one doing “work” — clear­ing a block, deal­ing with “old stuff.” The emo­tions are run­ning high, the observers are lit­er­al­ly “hold­ing their breath.” Some­one will say, “Breathe!!” and there will be this col­lec­tive big breath, fol­lowed by a group laugh. 

When stressed, we tend to hold our breath. Which, when you think about it, is exact­ly the least help­ful thing to do.

After all, the brain is fed by oxy­gen. The more oxy­gen, the better.

In order to breathe ful­ly, you have to take in a deep lung full of air. We were born doing this. If you watch a baby or a young child breathe, you’ll notice that their entire bel­ly and chest rise and fall. 

By the time we reach adult­hood, the vast major­i­ty breathe with the upper 1/4 of the lungs. The move­ment is all “upper chest.”

dan tian
Breath The­o­ry

In ori­en­tal think­ing, the breath is the source for the chi — the vital ener­gy that “runs” the body. The breath can be direct­ed, guid­ed, led. The breath can then enliv­en the whole body, as it it first stored and then con­vert­ed to more and more refined chi.

The Chi­nese believe that the breath is con­vert­ed into chi at a place called the Low­er Dan Tien, a spot locat­ed 2 inch­es below the navel. (This loca­tion cor­re­sponds to the sec­ond Chakra.)

There, breath is con­vert­ed into ener­gy. On the out-breath, the breath/chi can be direct­ed, say, to the hands.

Breath­work Training

We’re going to look at one par­tic­u­lar breath exer­cise, devel­oped and refined at The Haven (and thus called “Haven Breath­ing,”) and help you to estab­lish a pat­tern for breath­ing. As we’ve said before, work­ing with a part­ner is best, as your part­ner can watch you breathe and make sure you’re tak­ing a full breath.

Standard Breathing Posture

breathing posture

Here’s a video demonstrating the breathwork posture: 

Breathwork posture

Stan­dard breath­ing pos­ture – The posi­tion is as follows:

  • Lie on your back, arms to your sides.
  • Bend your knees, draw­ing your feet toward your butt.
  • Your feet should be around 10 inch­es for­ward of your butt.
  • Feet and knees should be 3–4 inch­es apart. Now for the hard part: open your mouth.
  • Your mouth should be open enough to insert the tips of three stacked fin­gers — if your mouth won’t open that far, do the best you can. 

As you breathe in, you or your part­ner watch the top of your chest and your bel­ly. A full breath will cause your upper chest to raise, your rib cage to expand out­ward, and your bel­ly to rise. Con­grat­u­la­tions. That was a full breath in. 

Now, exhale deeply and smooth­ly, mak­ing noise on the out breath. A sigh or and “Aaaah” will do for now. Repeat.

If you con­tin­ue this exer­cise, for, say 15 — 30 min­utes a day, pret­ty soon you will notice a cou­ple of things. 

  • You’ll notice a tin­gling in your body.
  • You’ll even­tu­al­ly notice that your legs, then your whole body, will trem­ble. This is actu­al­ly the direc­tion you want to go in. What you are feel­ing is the ener­gy (chi) of life flow­ing through your body. Just keep breath­ing and enjoy the vibration.

If you’d like to learn more about chi vibration during Breathwork, here’s a video. 


As we not­ed, most peo­ple breathe with the top quar­ter of their lungs. Tak­ing a full, deep, even breath, at the very least, oxy­genates the entire body. As the breath­ing ses­sion goes on, the mus­cles, now full of oxy­gen, begin to relax. There will be a trem­bling in all parts of the body, as the Breath­work continues.

Your part­ner, or you, need to pay atten­tion to a cou­ple of things. First of all, the intake and out­flow of the breath (remem­ber — the mouth remains open for both) should take approx­i­mate­ly the same time. Sec­ond, the breath should be tak­en in and exhaled even­ly. Third­ly, the breath should fill the lungs even­ly. The goal is to get past the air fill­ing the upper part, say, and then rolling down to the low­er. The chest, all the way down to the bel­ly, should rise as a unit. Last­ly, remem­ber to make a sound on the out breath.

emotional aspects of breathing

Emotional Aspects of Breathwork

As you breathe, you may find your­self feel­ing your emo­tions. Just let them hap­pen, and con­tin­ue to breathe.

In Breath­work, often the painful feel­ings emerge first. As they are expressed, they are replaced, or joined by, plea­sur­able feel­ings. Sim­ply notice what­ev­er feel­ing arises. 

You may decide that you need to move parts of your body, or you may feel the chi flow­ing, and your body might shake. Just fall into the waves of the chi, fall into the feel­ing. If you find your­self hop­ping into your head and say­ing to your­self, “I can’t go there,” just have anoth­er breath and fol­low the ener­gy. Your body, as the chi increas­es, will allow for the build­ing up of more and more chi, and the ener­gy may build to the point of release. This can be a very pow­er­ful, stim­u­lat­ing, even emo­tion­al and sen­su­al expe­ri­ence. Sim­ply allow the process to unfold.

On the oth­er hand, you may want to stop, or to yawn, or to talk. This is the way your mind gets you to stop the build-up of the ener­gy in your body. In oth­er words, you are build­ing a “charge” of ener­gy, which your mind isn’t used to. It looks for ways, then, to dis­charge. Keep breath­ing, focus on the breath.

If you wish, you can ask your part­ner to press in on your jaw hinge points, or press into the upper chest (se pic­tures, above.) The pres­sure hurts — so keep breath­ing and let more sound out. As you prac­tice breath­ing and let­ting the emo­tions flow, you’ll find you have more “capac­i­ty for feeling.” 

Adding a Pelvic Tilt

  • pelvic tilt up
    Pelvic Tilt, “up”
  • pelvic tilt down
    Pelvic Tilt, “down”
  • pelvic tilt in motion
    This is the tilt “in motion”

Now, we’re going to add a Pelvic Tilt to the Breath­work. We dis­cussed flu­id­i­ty in the pelvis above. From a Breath­work per­spec­tive the removal of pelvic rigid­i­ty is para­mount, so we’re going to add a pelvic tilt to each breath cycle.

If you’d like to see a video of the pelvic tilt, including how a “partner” can help you learn it, here’s a video. 

Adding a pelvic tilt

Let’s remem­ber that the pelvis tips back and forth, side to side and rotates in a cir­cle, (as in the hula.) The pelvis is basi­cal­ly a large bone held in place and con­trolled by mus­cles. So, the idea is to use the mus­cles in the pelvic region to move it.

Let’s return to the breath­ing pos­ture. Using the mus­cles of your butt and upper legs, tilt your pelvis up. As you do this, the small of your back should not leave the floor.

Then, relax the mus­cles and let your pelvis set­tle back. As it does, push it a bit back, so that it feels down (slight­ly past the neu­tral position.)

You can also prac­tice stand­ing up. Play some pelvis music like Alan­nah Myles’ “Black Vel­vet,” or just stand there and rock your pelvis back and forth. Remem­ber, though, you are tip­ping and mov­ing your pelvis, not rock­ing your legs back and forth.

Return­ing to the breath­ing posi­tion — with a part­ner, you can have your part­ner place their hands on your pelvic bones. Or place you own hands there. As you tip your pelvis, you’ll feel the pelvic bone roll under your hands. Alter­na­tive­ly, your part­ner can place their thumb on the pelvic bones, and their hands around the sides of your pelvis (sort of like putting your hands on your hips, but low­er.) As you rock your pelvis, your part­ner can help by rock­ing their hands.

You may be won­der­ing why I’m using such long expla­na­tions and ideas here. I’ve been teach­ing Breath­work for many years now, and have sel­dom seen a per­son do a pelvic tilt on com­mand. Peo­ple lift their bel­lies or raise their butts (sort of like head­ing into the yoga posi­tion “the bridge.”) I usu­al­ly end up using the hand posi­tion I just described, and help­ing the per­son learn to feel the movement.

That being said, do the best you can. Now, breathe as we dis­cussed in the above sec­tion. Deep, even breaths, mouth open. Now, on the out breath, tip the pelvis toward your head (if you were stand­ing, we’d say tip it “up.”) Hold. On the in breath, let the pelvis drop or even extend it a lit­tle back. Repeat. Many times.

After a bit, this tip­ping may feel quite good. If you find your­self real­ly enjoy­ing the feel­ing, try breath­ing faster, or slow­er. Enjoy the sen­sa­tion of the free move­ment of ener­gy. Notice that you feel the ener­gy not only in the pelvic region, but through­out your body.

Prac­tice breath­ing a cou­ple of times a day, for 30 min­utes at a time, if possible.

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