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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